Big Is­land Agri­cul­ture

This farm makes sure its cof­fee de­liv­ers on fla­vor.

Farm & Ranch Living - - CONTENTS - By Suzanne Shriner Honau­nau, Hawaii PHO­TOS BY NOHEA RUNNELLS

Cof­fee is al­ways on the menu at this farm on Hawaii.

Hawaii makes most peo­ple think of palm trees and va­ca­tions. But on the is­land of Hawaii (aka the Big Is­land), it’s hard not to see our agri­cul­tural heart. Kona cof­fee is the crown jewel of our state’s va­ri­ety of prod­ucts—from macadamia nuts and pa­payas to tra­di­tional food crops and cat­tle. Kona cof­fee is spe­cific to the lee­ward (more arid) side of the Big Is­land and is grown on the slope of an ac­tive vol­cano: Mauna Loa. Our mild weather and rich vol­canic soil give Kona cof­fee its dis­tinc­tive mel­low fla­vor with sweet high­lights its fans seek. Three gen­er­a­tions of my fam­ily farm here. My par­ents, Di­ane and Bill Shriner, own the orig­i­nal farm with 5 acres of cof­fee (there are about 800 heir­loom trees per acre) and 5 acres of macadamia trees. Our brand, Lions Gate Farms, is named for the stone lions perched at the top of their road. Bill Jr. lives and works at Lions Gate. My part­ner, Jacque

Wikum, and I have an­other 5 acres down the road. Jacque’s daugh­ter Maile and grand­daugh­ter Ma­healani have 3 acres nearby, and all the prod­ucts from each farm are sold un­der the Lions Gate name. Our op­er­a­tion has changed since I came into the busi­ness in 2003. My par­ents warned me I couldn’t make a liv­ing on cof­fee. Tra­di­tion­ally, cof­fee was sold as cher­ries (the red berries that con­tain the beans) to large pro­ces­sors, with no way for small farms to con­nect with buy­ers di­rectly. In 1997, on a whim, my par­ents used a ru­ral de­vel­op­ment grant to cre­ate a web­site. Back then no­body bought any­thing on­line. Dur­ing the past two decades, ev­ery­thing changed. That web­site al­lowed us to sell our hand­picked cof­fee around the globe. Good thing I didn’t lis­ten to my par­ents! MON­DAY Oc­to­ber is late for us to be mak­ing our first big har­vest round. In past years, half our crop would have been har­vested al­ready. But the spring rains came late and so did the flow­ers that pre­cede the beans. Our larger whole­sale cus­tomers call daily, need­ing un­roasted cof­fee in time to get it roasted and on the shelves for the hol­i­days. The stress level is high. So now, six weeks de­layed, we are wait­ing for our work­ers. But they also work on sev­eral other farms. Fi­nally, we got a late-evening text. Our har­vesters will start Tues­day. TUES­DAY I awoke to the sounds of a cof­fee har­vest: the tok, tok of cher­ries fall­ing into buck­ets, laugh­ter and singing among the crew in the field, and myna birds chid­ing from above. The crew started early to beat the heat. By noon it was in the high 80s with hu­mid­ity to match. Like all farm work, it is not for the faint of heart. At 5 p.m. the truck, over­flow­ing with burlap bags, pulled up to the mill. We weighed red, ripe cher­ries and dumped them into hop­pers. We were thrilled to see big beans, which means the trees got enough wa­ter and fer­til­izer at all the right times. We started up the mill and be­gan pulp­ing the cher­ries im­me­di­ately. Cof­fee is at its best right off the tree. If we de­lay, the beans will fer­ment in their skins and im­part a sour or bit­ter taste to the cup. So while our har­vest crew went to their muchde­served din­ner, we got to work. The pulper sep­a­rates the seeds (which are the cof­fee beans) from their skins. The skins go into a com­post pile, then even­tu­ally back to the farm as fer­til­izer. The beans go into a de­mu­cilager, which spins and re­moves the last of the fruit. From there they go into a wash tank to soak overnight. We fin­ished up close to 9 p.m. WED­NES­DAY We drank our morn­ing joe (Kona, of course) on the go. The sun hadn’t yet cleared the moun­tain, but bet­ter to start early. The beans must be rinsed and spread on the dry­ing deck, or hoshi­dana, which is a rolling roof. We pushed open the hoshi­dana roof and pumped beans onto the wooden deck. We raked them into rows and then raked again sev­eral times an hour to evap­o­rate the wa­ter quickly. Wa­ter is cof­fee’s en­emy at this stage be­cause caf­feine and fla­vor are both highly wa­ter­sol­u­ble. We shoot for an 11 per­cent mois­ture level, which takes about five days if the sun co­op­er­ates. By noon the tem­per­a­ture on the deck was 120 de­grees, and the cof­fee was dry enough to cut back rak­ing to once an hour. We were thank­ful, be­cause it’s a sauna up there. At around 5 p.m. we rolled the hoshi­dana closed for the night. The har­vest trucks pulled up to the mill with more cher­ries. We fired up the pulper and ate din­ner on the fly.

THURS­DAY Slight prob­lem this morn­ing: There was no room to spread out the wet cof­fee. Our hoshi­dana was nearly full, with all 1,600 square feet of deck space cov­ered an­kle-deep in beans. The sun has not co­op­er­ated, so we shifted to Plan B: the cof­fee dryer. Hawaii has the high­est elec­tric­ity costs in the na­tion, so we limit how much cof­fee we run through that ma­chine. But at peak times we have no choice. We dropped in the dri­est cof­fee so we could flip it out quickly. The har­vest crew fin­ished af­ter sun­set. We pulped till al­most 10. FRI­DAY To­day we bagged dry cof­fee in 70-pound burlap bags lined with mois­ture­proof bar­ri­ers. The bags get stacked on pal­lets, where they will rest for 30 days to sta­bi­lize the beans. This is the parch­ment stage, and it doesn’t yet look like the cof­fee you see in a shop. The beans still wear their en­do­carp lay­ers, which are sim­i­lar to peanut shells when dried. Once the rest pe­riod is up, they’ll be hulled and pol­ished. What is left is green cof­fee, ready to roast. SATUR­DAY Sun­set brought us more cof­fee. We are into the groove, and pulp­ing goes smoothly. Every day the stacks of parch­ment grow higher and our smiles get a lit­tle big­ger. SUN­DAY Rain. Rain. Rain. Six inches came down in a trop­i­cal del­uge. The storm blew through, leav­ing hot, sunny weather. As we walked the field, our hearts sank. Trees are dam­aged, and it ap­pears we will lose about 20 per­cent of our crop. What a blow. We called in some fa­vors and bor­rowed a crew to har­vest the rest of the cof­fee that’s ripe now. A good por­tion is gone, though. We de­cided to buy a big­ger dryer. It’s a sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment, but we’ll be more flex­i­ble and able to han­dle a larger crew. By har­vest­ing more in one day, we may avoid is­sues like we had with the storm. Weather events will never go away, and may get worse, so we need to be more ef­fi­cient. In the com­ing weeks we will fin­ish more har­vest­ing rounds and ship green and roasted cof­fee. We roast beans in small batches, and of­ten they’re still warm when they hit the post of­fice. We’re lucky to know most of our cus­tomers by name. We feel blessed to live and work in close prox­im­ity to fam­ily. As we say here, “It’s a beau­ti­ful day in Hawaii nei (beloved Hawaii).”

It can reach 120 trop­i­cal de­grees on the hoshi­dana, a tra­di­tional rooftop deck on which Suzanne Shriner rakes cof­fee beans to dry in the sun.

Ripe, red cof­fee cher­ries on the trees sig­nal a new har­vest in Hawaii’s Kona re­gion. Af­ter pick­ing the beans by hand, har­vesters un­load them in burlap bags at the fam­ily’s mill, where they are in­spected by Suzanne Shriner.

Once the beans are clean of their pulpy skins, they get an overnight soak in a wash tank. In the end, the farm will have dry beans, ready to roast and ship.

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