Adaptation of a Natural Farming System to Vegetable Farm Production in Hawaii.

2002 Annual Report for SW99-022

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1999: $85,134.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2003
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $182,505.00
Region: Western
State: Hawaii
Principal Investigator:

Adaptation of a Natural Farming System to Vegetable Farm Production in Hawaii.


This report covers activities and results of the project for the year 2002. Demonstration farms were installed in two locations, Kahuku Farmers land in Haleiwa and Waialua High School, Waialua, both on the island of Oahu. The Kahuku Farmers had planted ginger in 2001, but had problems with soil-borne disease. They nonetheless harvested enough ginger root to use as replant seed. Financial difficulties with their farming business and the necessity of using all their machinery and manpower on their business operations forced them to abandon the Natural Farming plots. They turned over the SARE project investigation to Dr. Susan Schenck. The Waialua High School Project continued to be successfully carried out and information about it reached a wider public awareness than in 2001. It was featured in the statewide Educational Fair, several students used information from it to enter projects in the Hawaii State Science Fair, and a well attended Field Day for Hawaiian farmers and gardeners was held which was covered in local newspapers. A larger number of different plant crops were harvested than in 2001 and the total production of the farm increased greatly as initial problems were solved and methods were improved.

Objectives/Performance Targets


1. Establish a natural farming method suitable for Hawaiian growers.
2. Determine its efficacy for plant nutrition and pest and disease management.
3. Determine cost effectiveness and profit potential.
4. Determine sustainability of the natural farming system.
5. Educate Hawaiian growers in natural farming methods.


Objective 1. A natural farming system was established in 2000 – 2001 on two sites on the island of Oahu. These farming plots were in typical Hawaiian farmland environments and were designed to attempt to grow vegetable crops common, and often unique, to Hawaii.

Objective 2. After three years, many problems were encountered and most were solved. Bird predation, lettuce leafspot disease, soil fertility problems associated with sweetcorn have been eliminated or reduced without resorting to pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Soil fertility was addressed by taking soil nutrient analyses and adding compost. Other problems were mites on peppers and eggplants, whiteflies, insect holes in bean leaves, and aphids on peppers. A soilborne disease on ginger root along with root-knot nematodes, made that crop unprofitable, although alternate cropping with resistant plant species might be successful in this case.

The following is a list of the crop plants produced during 2002: carrots, Chinese cabbage, daikon (Chinese radish), soybeans, bush beans, cucumber, sweetcorn, pole beans, swiss chard, mizuna (salad green), beets, green onions, chives, radish, Jai Choi (spoon cabbage), mustard cabbage, celery, lettuce (Red Butter, Manoa, Anuenue, Lolla Rosa), araimo (Japanese taro), basil, Italian parsley, cabbage, shingiku (mugwort for soup), spinach, go bo (burdock edible root).

Objective 3. Cost effectiveness has yet to be determined. The Kahuku Farmers are experienced businessmen and already had a successful marketing system in place. However, marketing and cost effectiveness for small growers has yet to be addressed in this project. This aspect of farming is especially critical for Hawaiian growers who produce on a small scale, by specialized methods. If current funding for this project is extended through 2003, marketing the produce to local stores and determining the cost effectiveness will be an important direction for the student project to take. Some of their produce was sold to a family-owned Chinese restaurant and was met with enthusiasm by both the sellers and buyers. We would like to help the students locate other markets and learn about costs and pricing. At the same time this will be an opportunity for furthering public awarenes of the natural farming method.

Objective 4. Vegetable production on a rotation with cover crops has continued for over two years. Overall production measured in pounds of produce in the Waialua High School farm has increased over this period as problems have been worked out and knowledge and experience with natural farming has increased among the students and staff members supervising the project. This three year period is relatively short in terms of long-term profitable farming. More information needs to be determined about soil fertility, organic content and soil microbial populations. This will give an insight as to the continuing environmental conditions under this farming method and allow for a better long-term sustainability prediction.

Objective 5. The educational aspect of this project has been especially successful. High School student involvement in the project has been enthusiastic from the start. In addition to the students working on the original farm project, there have been a number of class projects associated with it. One was a study of ancient Hawaiian crops and sustainable growing methods that are similar to the natural farming method. Three Hawaii State Science Fair projects were undertaken by students that covered various aspects of the natural farming project. Many of the students come from farming families and in Hawaii many are recent immigrants that speak very little English. The students have reported that they were able to educate their parents in methods of farming with reduced applications of pesticides. The High School project supervisor, Mr. Noel Kawachi, says that the harvest of greens and salad vegetables which the students prepared for lunches or took home with them have had an impact on family diet. Many Hawaiian families did not include salads or a variety of vegetables in their diet and the project is helping to change dietary habits of these families.

Public awareness is also increasing. The Science Fair projects reached a statewide audience. The natural farming project was included in a statewide Education Fair on May 2 – 3, 2002. Over 1000 people toured the project during those two days.

A field day held on April 25, 2002 for gardeners and farmers. Over 200 people attended the field day which was advertised through mail-outs by the Hawaii Extension Service. Lectures were given by Mr. Noel Kawachi and Dr. Susan Schenck. The Field Day hand-out and photos are included in the hard copy of this report. Articles about the field day and the farming method appeared in two local newspapers.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Agriculture in Hawaii is in a transitional period as major export monocropping systems of sugarcane and pineapple are being downsized. small farmers are in need of new ideas and directions in order to compete profitably in the local market. There is a growing local market for “natural foods” and several stores and sections of supermarkets are devoted to these products. The challenge now, in addition to adapting the natural farming system to Hawaiian crops and growing conditions, is to demonstrate its potential profitability and to inform Hawaiian farmers of its practicality and usefulness. This can best be accomplished through the cooperation and involvement of local farmers and through education of young people.

The natural farming project has given the participating farmers and students information and practice in the methods for productive agriculture without the use of pesticides or chemical fertilizers. These techniques will assist them in future farming ventures. Unexpectedly, it has also helped to change Hawaiian family diets toward more healthy salads and vegetables. In addition to those participating in the project, a wider public has received this information through the field day, education program and news articles. The general impact of increased awareness of the various techniques available for natural farming will reduce the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers in farming. Historically, Hawaiian soils and environment have suffered greatly from overgrazing, erosion and loss of soil nutrients and organic matter. Increased use of natural farming methods and knowledge of the benefits of cover crop and crop plant rotations will help to maintain sustainable agricultural lands for the future.


Susan Schenck
Plant Pathologist
Hawaii Agriculture Research Center
99-193 Aiea Heights Dr.
Aiea, HI 96701
Office Phone: 8084865386