Development of a Sustainable Polyculture and Marketing System for Exotic Tropical Fruits

Final Report for SW03-055

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2003: $156,800.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $76,200.00
Region: Western
State: Hawaii
Principal Investigator:
Richard Bowen
Department of Nat Res and Envir Mngt
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Project Information


Twelve exotic tropic fruit species were cultivated organically in a 1-acre demonstration site, which was further developed into an agritourism attraction. Student chefs created and consumer-tested over 100 recipes, which are available in a publication and online. A market for brown turkey figs was successfully developed with chefs as a model for other exotic fruits. “The 12 Trees Project” has accomplished the major planned activities and exceeded them with supplemental grants, fundraising, and substantial donated community time and resources.

Project Objectives:

1. Identify 12 species of exotic tropical fruits that have a high potential for market acceptance throughout the year.

2. Develop and demonstrate a prototype polyculture tropical fruit production system based on sustainable production technologies.

3. Develop direct and wholesale markets for both fresh fruit and processed products.

4. Assist the Kona Pacific Farmers Cooperative in expanding into new activities, including the long-term marketing of the fruits developed in this project.


Small farmers in the Kona region of Hawaii struggle with high cost and limited availability of land and labor in trying to find profitable farming activities. This project was based on the assumptions that high-valued niche markets need to be developed. The project principals worked with the Kona Pacific Farmers’ Cooperative, whose members are small farmers growing primarily coffee and macadamia nuts, to develop market alternatives in exotic tropical fruits. The project also worked closely with the Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers, whose members have traditionally focused on one or two fruit crops. A holistic approach was used, from production to final uses, including both use by restaurants and retail stores and the development of agritourism as an income supplement and risk management strategy.

The project used the principles of sustainable agriculture, which the University of Hawaii’s sustainable agriculture program had been promoting in workshops and conferences. The current and previous Hawaii SARE program coordinators were co-Principal Investigators of the project, bringing specialized expertise in economics and business management in addition to knowledge of principles and practices of sustainable agriculture. The project manager brought to the project wide-ranging knowledge and passionate interest in exotic tropical fruits, with practical experience in farming, culinary arts, marketing, and public relations.


Materials and methods:

This was a demonstration project, designed to create market linkages between small farms in Kona and high end restaurants within marketing distance. Information was gathered on over 100 fruits that already are grown in the Kona region. The 12 demonstration fruits were selected based on surveys of 54 island chefs and on the project objective to have year round production.

Detailed information on production technologies and market uses of the 12 fruits was gathered in an extensive literature search. A 1-acre demonstration site was developed from unused land adjacent to macadamia nut and coffee processing facilities owned by the KPFC cooperative. The co-op provided the land and water for irrigation.

Two or more trees from each of the 12 species were obtained by purchase or donation and transplanted to the site. Organic production protocols and other sustainable practices were developed with the assistance of community farmers who grow these fruits. Given the long time lags for the trees to respond to transplantation or to develop from seedlings, fruit were purchased from area farmers for development of the culinary aspects of the project.

Additional funding from state and county government agencies and from fruit tree sales were used to develop the site into an agritourism attraction, complete with educational kiosks and displays, pathways, signage, and landscaping. The use of the site for training and education grew as the site developed and the number of visitors is increasing.

The culinary aspects of the project involved both chefs and the culinary arts program at the local community college. Fruits from farms (and later the project site itself) were donated to the culinary program. Student chefs developed and tested with consumers a variety of menu items.

The marketing aspects of the project were accomplished with the involvement of an organic food marketing company. The company sold fruit from the project site to restaurants to demonstrate how to develop a market and to establish market prices. The project helped create demand for the fruits by providing information and samples to chefs and other potential buyers and alerting them to the availability of fruit.

Research results and discussion:

a. Twelve species of exotic tropical fruits with the highest potential for market acceptance were selected, based on seasonality and the preferences of area chefs.

Information was first collected on the uses of the fruits around the world and their nutritional values. Photographs were taken of the various fruit candidates. Over 100 different species of exotic fruits grown in the Kona districts were initially considered. The information collected and the photographs were published on the project website as well as handed out and displayed at agricultural and culinary meetings and events. A total of 54 chefs filled out ballots. Their priorities were considered, along with the need to have fruit year round, in selecting the 12 fruit species to be developed in the project.

The 12 trees species selected were:
1. Loquat – 3 varieties
2. Mysore berry
3. Poha (Cape gooseberry)
4. Pomegranate - 4 varieties
5. Cherimoya – 2 varieties
6. Tamarillo (tree tomato)
7. Rangpur “Kona” lime
8. Tropical apricot
9. Grumichama
10. Surinam cherry - 2 varieties
11. Kumquat – 2 varieties
12. Figs – 2 varieties

In addition to the 12 types of fruit chosen by Big Island chefs, additional fruits were planted at the project site for purposes of agritourism and responding to the interest of chefs:

Green sapote
Mamey sapote
Otaheite Gosseberry
Buddha’s hand
Kefir lime
Ume plum
Macadamia Nut
Papaya – 2 varieties
Pineapple – 2 varieties
Rambutan – 2 varieties
Lilikoi (Passion Fruit) – 3 varieties
Tangerines – 3 varieties
Bananas – 7 varieties
Sugarcane – 5 varieties

For bananas and sugarcane the purpose was to protect rare varieties.

b. A project website was developed to disseminate information developed by the project.

Many project activities and accomplishments are documented on the project website: The website has served as a useful tool in disseminating information about the project and in involving the community in the development of the project.

The project website has been a successful way to disseminate information on the project. Roughly 2,500 people per month visit the site. Internet rare fruit news groups are spreading the word about the project.

c. A demonstration site was developed for education and training in the organic polyculture of the 12 exotic tropical fruit species.

Information on production practices for each of the 12 fruits has been collected, from experienced growers and by internet searches. This information was used to provide production information for farmers in workshops and for a published resource guide discussed later in this report.

Local farmers were recruited to advise on the appropriate cultural practices for each of the 12 fruit species. An organic farmer advised on organic practices. Additional advisors were recruited to cover various technical and organizational issues.

A local contractor installed the irrigation system, donating his labor. Deep holes were dug with a back hoe and filled with good soil mixed specifically for the type of tree. NRCS donated sample ground covers and the USDA-ARS donated fruit fly traps and weed mats.

The trees were transplanted in July 2004. The trees were either purchased from or donated by area farmers. The transplanted trees have done extremely well, recovering much more quickly than anticipated. By the end of the three-year project, 11 of the 12 species had born fruit. The 12th fruit species (cherimoya) produced two fruit as of June 2006.

The considerable maintenance activities of the demonstration site was made possible by donated time by many individuals and organizations. There were 43 organized workdays over three years.

The following sustainable approaches to fruit tree cultivation were demonstrated:

Pest control:
- Fruit fly traps
- Certified organic sprays
- Neem oil
- Protective fruit wrappings
- Bird deterrents from Japan (Mylar tape, reflective pinwheels)
- Other bird reflectants (Christmas tinsel, garland, pie plates, CD-ROMs)

Weed control:
- Weed mats
- Mulch
- Manual weeding
- Weed burning

Soil fertility:
- Certified organic fertilizers donated by an agricultural supply company
- Various certified organic soil amendments

Numerous workshops and other educational events were conducted on production technologies and markets for the project fruits, as discussed in Section 7.

d. A program was established with the University of Hawaii, West Hawaii Culinary Arts program to involve faculty and student chefs in developing recipes using the 12 fruits and testing them with consumers.

The project manager purchased or received donated fruit from local farmers for donation to the University of Hawaii West Hawaii Culinary Arts program prior to fruit being available from the demonstration site. Fruit from the University of Hawaii Kona Research Station was also collected and donated. At the school, student chefs took the fruits, which were either fresh or processed, and developed recipes. The project manager met with the students weekly to discuss how the fruits are used in different parts of the world and to suggest menu options. The resulting menu items were served to the public at Thursday and Friday lunches and Wednesday breakfasts. Information on the fruits is displayed during the meals.

The creativity that went into the recipes is remarkable. Below are some examples:

Cherimoya flan
Kona Rangpur lime cheesecake
Mysore raspberry & loquat fruit terrine
Surinam cherry ice in Kona Rangpur limejuice
Spiced fruit soup
Kona Rangpur lime dipping sauce for mango spring rolls.
Loquat sorbet
Fig sauce

The culinary school in Kona has made the use of locally grown fruits a mandatory curriculum element for students in each semester. Students must develop recipes using local fruits during their program. Other culinary programs in Hawaii are now becoming more active in emphasize locally grown fruits in their curriculum. Recent graduates of the Kona culinary program, who were part of the first phase of the 12 Trees project, are now working in the food service industry and taking the knowledge of locally grown tropical fruits with them, to the benefit of Hawaii producers and consumers.

The project has helped created two prizes to encourage culinary students to creatively use locally grown tropical fruits. The Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers now offers statewide a $500 scholarship to the college culinary arts student with the best recipe using local tropical fruits. The West Hawaii chapter of the Hawaii Fruit Growers Association gives a $100 prize to the best use of locally grown fruit in a recipe by a high school student.

e. Test marketing of the project fruits was conducted and a market for the brown Turkey fig was developed with high-end restaurants.

In addition to providing fruit to the Kona culinary arts program, the project provided samples of fruits to island chefs. 12 Trees project fruits were displayed at roughly 25 major food and agricultural festivals and at a weekly farmers market. The project fruits were test marketed at a local grocery store at different prices to help determine a market price.

The project manager worked with a local distribution company of organic produce, Adaptations, to develop markets around the state with high end restaurant chefs for the fruits harvested from the project. Experience was gained on the need to educate chefs on the availability as well as potential uses for the new fruits. Only the brown turkey figs came into sufficient production during the project to market them to chefs on a regular basis. There was $3,263 in sales of figs from the project over a two-year period. Demand has increased and now exceeds supply, including figs from the estimated 20 farmers who have started fig production as a result of the project. New customers for figs need to get on the list, and there is a three-month waiting list for repeat customers of Adaptations.

Sales of the other project fruits were more limited. What was learned is that resort hotel chefs are very concerned about product quality. They are willing to pay more for quality; hence farmers need to improve packaging, consistent sizing, and availability. Chefs have learned from the project that there are many ways to use the fruit, ranging from buffets line items to haute cuisine. Prior to the project, local tropical fruits were primarily served as fresh fruit only. But many tropical fruits are too sour to use fresh.

f. The demonstration site was landscaped and developed into an attractive prototype agritourism destination.

While the concept of the demonstration site was to become a model agritourism destination, no funds were requested for landscaping, signage and displays, measures necessary to develop a truly attractive visitor and educational center. Dick Kuehner, a retired designer of visitor attractions for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, voluntarily prepared a design for the demonstration site/visitor attraction/educational center. Through the Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers Association, he obtained a $25,000 grant from the Hawaii Tourism Authority to fund signage and displays. A grant of $14,000 for even more signage from the County of Hawaii was awarded in March 2007. A fruit tree plant sale was organized to raise money for landscaping the site; it netted about $4,000 while encouraging people to plant exotic tropical fruits. A $2,000 donation was received to fund a display on rare varieties of bananas.

Much of the landscaping was accomplished by volunteer labor and the building of the kiosks was done by the KPFC co-op directors. The co-op re-graded the front entrance and asphalted the parking lot in front of the site. A custom made donation box was installed after the formal end of the project.

Kuehner’s design integrated the 12 Trees project site with the co-op’s present operations. An attractive walkway was constructed to link the demonstration site and the coop visitor retail store and an educational coffee kiosk was located halfway along the path. The co-op site, which includes the oldest functioning coffee mill in Hawaii and a macadamia nut processing facility, has the potential for further development into one of the largest agritourism destinations in Hawaii, and to be an anchor for agritourism in South Kona.

The project manager visited Japan in 2004 and 2005, although his travel was not funded by the 12 Trees project. He observed and interviewed people working in Japanese fruit parks, for which the 12 Trees demonstration site is a small prototype. His studies in Japan have generated:

- Information on fruit parks and how they combine tourism, education, and research using private-pubic partnerships.
- Knowledge of quality of figs and loquat production, new varieties developed, and cultural practices used in these crops in Japan.

The Dean of CTAHR was given a presentation on Japanese Fruit Parks and a proposal for transforming the Kona Research Station into a fruit park. The Dean suggested that a business plan be developed to determine if such a project could become self-sustaining.

In a research paper put out by the Rocky Mountain Institute, the fruit park concept, based on the 12 trees project, was considered as one of the top ten best ideas for sustainable agriculture in Hawaii.

Research conclusions:

The project has accomplished more than proposed due to the passion and dedication of the project manager and the large amount of donated time, materials, trees, and fruits. Volunteers have helped with weeding, mulching, and care of plants, and the project has received donations time for design services and irrigation installation.

Donations have allowed the project to accomplish much more than could be accomplished with the budget. A tree sale raised $4,000. Fifty people have donated labor, technical advice, services, and materials for cultural practices, fruit and fruit trees to the project. An informal advisory panel of 19 people guided the project. Organizations that have been involved include NRCS, ARS, and the County of Hawaii, Big Island Visitors Bureau.

Media coverage to publicize the project with farmers, chefs, the visitor industry:

Press releases have generated TV, radio, newspaper, and magazine coverage. Inquiries from around the world about the project are averaging about 25 a month.

Tours given to media:
3 local TV shows
2 national TV shows
Sunset Magazine
Air Canada
Honolulu Magazine

3 segments on National TV
1 BRAVO, Top Chefs highlighted use of fruit from the 12 projects, (winning dessert from the winning menu was made from Surinam Cherry from the 12 Trees project site)
2 Food Network, Barbeque with Bobby Flay 15 minutes filmed at site
3 Home Garden Television, Garden Giants 15 minute program

3 segments on Hawaii TV stations (KITV Honolulu; KHON; KHL)

Monthly Big Island TV station showing of a 12-minute video of the 12 Trees Project with an interview of project manager

Newspaper articles
3 feature articles on the project in Hawaii newspapers
2 feature articles on the project in Hawaii Japanese language newspapers
project mentioned in over 25 other agricultural stories in Hawaii newspapers
project manager quoted in over 50 articles

Magazine articles:

6-page cover story in Adike Pathrike 2007 #10 (agricultural publication published in Kerala India), which produced numerous email inquiries about the fruits

Article in Green Spirits Vol. 3 No.1, 2007 (Japanese publication of the Academic Society of Japan)

Articles featuring project in Sunset Magazine, Aloha Airlines in-flight magazine, Air Canada in-flight magazine, Northwest Airlines Japanese in-flight magazine, Honolulu magazine, Hawaii magazine, California Rare Fruit Growers Magazine

Radio Shows
2 Radio shows interviews with project manager and mentions of the project on various Hawaii radio stations

As a result of this publicity and the numerous trainings offered to farmers, 45 more farmers are growing one of more of the project 12 fruits. Some of the 45 and others who already had the trees are now selling some of the other project fruits, which prior to the project were not harvested for commercial sale. The farmers are diversifying, as promoted by the project, with the average number of trees planted by these farmers being about seven. Twenty farmers are currently selling figs, which were not produced in the area prior to the project. The project manager made over 100 invited visits to individual farms to identify fruit trees and to provide advice on diversification strategy.

The immediate beneficiaries of the 12 Trees project are Kona area farmers on the Big Island of Hawaii, the chefs and restaurant customers (tourists and locals), and the local agricultural economy. The project is showing farmers how to create an organic polyculture system for exotic tropical fruits and is creating the markets for the fruit. The project is also demonstrating how to develop a fruit farm into a tourist attraction, which can supplement income earned through sales of the fruit. This will help stimulate greater supply of the fruit. The project is demonstrating how the fruit can be used to create exciting menu items for restaurants and for home consumers. This will help build demand for the fruit. The project has begun developing the market linkages between growers and markets.

Prices have been established for some fruits previously not marketed in the area, and prices have increased for some of the 12 fruits that were sold only occasionally prior to the project.

The demonstration effects will not be confined to the Kona area. The tropical fruit industry throughout Hawaii stands to gain from the project. Tropical fruit growers in the Western Pacific island territories will also be able to use the same information to develop similar markets. We see this project as a prototype, demonstrating how a university, Extension program, or community-based organization can help create markets for the many different species and cultivars of fruits and vegetables grown around the world,

In the future, due to the project, we expect to see increased numbers of existing or new farms growing and marketing exotic tropical fruits. We expect the demand for exotic fruit products to increase as a larger and steadier supply develops. The initial increase in demand will be largely due to chefs in high end restaurants. We see the demand spreading to retail food outlets as consumers become more knowledgeable. We believe that diversification will also happen within species of fruits, as farmers and consumers become more aware and appreciative of different varieties.

Participation Summary

Research Outcomes

No research outcomes

Education and Outreach

Participation Summary:

Education and outreach methods and analyses:

Love, Ken and Kent Fleming. Twelve Fruits with Potential Value-Added and Culinary Uses. College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, University of Hawaii. 2007. (This is a guidebook for producers, chefs and consumers that is a comprehensive information of each of the 12 fruits, including information on production methods, costs and revenue, uses, recipes and includes color photographs of the fruits and menu items developed in the project.)

Workshops and field days at demonstration site
2 State fruit grower conference field days
2 KPFC Co-op informal member events at the demonstration site
Hawaii Organic Farmers Association annual conference field day
4 Fruit Fly trap making workshops
6 Pruning workshops
5 Fruit tree propagation workshop
2 Groundcover workshops
1 Composting workshop
2 Grafting workshop
1 Planting workshop
1 major fruit tree sale
50 weekly farmers markets with fruit education displays (Year 1)

Agricultural Professionals and Students educational tours:
Avocado grower tour and survey
3 - Kona Outdoor Circle
3 - Master Gardener Program
2 - Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation tours
American Association of University Women
Kona Young Farmers
NRCS national administrator visit
University of Tokyo Horticulture Department
Tokyo Agriculture College Students
Okinawa Agriculture Experiment Station staff
Taiwan Agriculture Experiment Station staff
5 U.S. mainland university groups
2 Canadian university groups
10 Hawaii university and high school groups

Culinary groups and individual chefs
14 - Hawaii Community College Culinary Schools
2 - American Culinary Federation, Hawaii Chapter
Slow Food Group, Hawaii Island chapter
30 - individual local and off-island chefs

Tourism groups:
2 - Big Island Visitor Bureau officials
2 - County of Hawaii officials
Organization of tour guides specializing in Japanese visitors
30+ tourist groups

The demonstration site continues to be a focus point for growers, chefs and visitor industry. The project manager also made numerous formal presentations and less formal talks at conferences and meetings:

Presentations and talks given off-site
Invited presentation at the SARE National Conference in Wisconsin (2006), “Collaborating with the culinary industry to develop markets for niche agricultural products.”
TSTAR conference in Miami (2006)
Hawaii-Japan Planning Society (2004)
3 state agricultural conferences
3 State Fruit Growers Conferences
4 WSARE-funded New Farmer workshops around the state
3 talks to agricultural educators and graduate students in Japan
3 talks to agricultural grower groups in Japan
20 talks to Hawaii culinary school groups
10 talks to local and international chef groups
36 project updates given at month meetings of the Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers, West Hawaii Chapter

Education and Outreach Outcomes

Recommendations for education and outreach:

Areas needing additional study

The following areas are suggested for future research, demonstration, or training.

- Additional fruit trees demonstrations and tree sales
- Additional publications and information disseminated on other fruits and species, and additional workshops for professionals and farmers
- Education of farmers and consumers on product differentiation by variety, such as with bananas and avocados
- Collaboration with research extension organizations in other tropical growing areas, such as the Caribbean islands
- Facilitate exchanges of ideas between farmers and chefs in other tropical growing areas, such as the Caribbean islands
- Greater education for farmers on improved packaging and post harvest handling to increase quality

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.