Goat milk, family and a friend: Life on a farm in Papaaloa
“I’m late today because of my animals,” Christian Ingalls said on the last day of the Kohala Center’s Beginning Farmer-Rancher Training Course, slipping into a seat in the second row. “My big pig was out romping with wild females.”
It was late May and, just as at the first class some seven months before, everyone was going around the room introducing themselves, this time to the final guest speaker, Michael DuPont.
After weeks of learning about soil science, crop management, seed selection and pest control, the group had arrived at what many in the class considered to be the crowning jewel of a farm: animals, specifically smaller-scale livestock such as poultry and pigs.
DuPont, an extension agent for the University of Hawaii at Manoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, has by his own estimate bred most of the cows on the Big Island. He was the catalyst in bringing Korean natural farming methods here.
With the impending opening of the first mobile slaughterhouse unit in the state, hogs were set to take off on the Big Island, DuPont said.
“The market is wide open.”
“My ultimate goal is to have everybody grow their own food,” he said, returning the Hawaii self-sufficiency idea from the very first class. “We are an island, and everything comes from the mainland … if the boats stop coming to the state, we have no food.”
Hawaii Island seemed to have a good sense of that, DuPont continued: “I go to Honolulu, and they seem to have lost the concept.”
At the end of class, coordinator Derrick Kiyabu handed certificates of completion and thanked the group for a successful seven months.
He offered one more piece of advice to the beginning farmers: Stay connected.
“People are willing to open their doors to you — ask questions, be engaged,” he said. “That’s exactly the kind of (person) they want to talk to.”
“I feel like this class, right off the bat, clicked,” Kiyabu said.
• • •
“At first, when I started going to the farming class, I just wanted to learn a little bit more,” Ingalls said a month later, driving up a bumpy, narrow road to a farmhouse set midway up a rolling Papaaloa hill on 12 acres of land. “But then I realized, well, I have all this stuff. I have a tractor. I have all this land. Why am I not doing something?”
The house on the hill was built by her father-in-law, shortly after Ingall’s husband was killed in a car crash in 2003. Her son is now 15.
“It’s intense and it’s crazy,” she said. “But at the same time, I’m that much more driven to live every day.”
Ingalls pointed to a patch of unplowed land mauka of a homemade duckpond stocked with tilapia and catfish.
“This is where it’s all going to go,” she said. “It” was the site where Ingalls was starting her own community-supported agriculture program. She used to be part of one years ago, in Waimea, but decided she didn’t like having someone else pick out what ended up in her box of vegetables.
“I don’t want to just hand a box to somebody,” she said. “I want them to shop.”
By June, using only word of mouth (Ingalls is a first-grade teacher at Parker School), she already had filled the 25 CSA slots.
She said the interest in local food had skyrocketed since she’d first moved to Hawaii.
“I’ve noticed it, huge, just in the last two years,” she said. “Night and day.”
The farming class drove home the importance of networks for her.
“Every time I went to the farm class I felt like I was learning more and more, and I felt like I was sharing a lot with the people who were there,” Ingalls said. “A lot of them had never really done anything or grown anything.”
“When you’re around it and you see somebody else, you’re like ‘Well, if they can do it, I can do it,’” she said.
Ingalls was heading to Alaska for a long weekend of fishing with her family, which would leave the farm — its pigs, goats, chickens and ducks — and the CSA site unattended.
Amy Seeley, a Beginning Farmer classmate from Waimea, dropped by to learn the farm-sitting ropes. Ingalls is a Scoutmaster for Seeley’s sons’ Boy Scout troop, but the two women hadn’t really known each other until they enrolled in farmer training and became friends.
“It’s good because we support each other, and she gets to see the crazy farm life,” Ingalls said. Seeley was mainly raising chickens, some of which came from Ingalls’ flock, and getting set up to grow plants in a commercial greenhouse. Relatively new to the Big Island, she’d decided to take a farming class to make connections.
The pair went to the goat shed. Ingalls doesn’t buy dairy anymore. She just milks Navira, an amiable Saanen goat. Her chickens produce more than a dozen eggs each day. Ingalls sells the baby piglets she raises.
“It just kind of turned into something,” she said of the farm.
“I’m going to need to watch some videos,” Seeley said.
“No!” Ingalls said. “You don’t need to do that. Navira’s trained.”
But goats are goats. As Seeley bent to try milking, Navira, after standing patiently, moved her back leg and the half-full Mason jar of milk tipped, prompting farm dog, Louie, to rush in and lap up the spillage.
“I learned the hard way,” Ingalls told Seeley. “You learn by trial and error.”
Before long the Mason jar was full.
“And that,” Ingalls said, “Is the life of a farmer.”
Email Ivy Ashe at email@example.com.
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