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Kona coffee farm celebrates 100 years

By CAROLYN LUCAS-ZENK

Stephens Media Hawaii

This historic coffee farm homestead in South Kona has been standing for 100 years.

It tells the story of Kona coffee’s pioneers, giving insight into the lifestyle and experiences typical for many farming families during the early 1900s. It also preserves a way of life that’s rapidly disappearing, according to the Kona Historical Society.

On Saturday, there will be a centennial celebration for D. Uchida Farm, now known as the Kona Coffee Living History Farm, and everything it has meant for the community for decades. This special event, hosted by the Kona Historical Society, will take place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the farm, located at mile marker 110 on Mamalahoa Highway. It features celebrity chef Sam Choy demonstrating chicken hekka, a farmers’ market with seedling starts and pickled goods, food, games, weaving workshops, calligraphy lessons, a scavenger hunt, farm tours and talk story sessions. Parking will be off site at Kealakekua Ranch Center, where shuttle services will be offered.

The Kona Historical Society is a community-based, nonprofit that collects, preserves and shares the history of the Kona districts. It offers a wealth of information through its extensive archives and publications. It also provides living history programs at two award-winning historic sites — the Kona Coffee Living History Farm and the H.N. Greenwell Store Museum.

At the 7-acre farm, costumed interpreters capture visitors’ imaginations or conjure up memories. They bring to life the workings of the farm from 1920 to 1945, a time period shortly after its 1913 establishment.

Visitors get to stroll through the coffee and macadamia nut orchards, the vegetable garden, and the original six-room, single-story farm house. They can also check out the kuriba (coffee processing mill), hoshidana (drying roofs) and outbuildings, such as the furo (Japanese-style bathhouse), a redwood water catchment tank, chicken coop, and two-seater outhouse complete with the Sears catalog toilet paper. Also on site is Charlie, a donkey that’s used to explain these animals’ responsibilities prior to the end of World War II, said Kuulani Auld, program director for the Kona Historical Society.

Visitors learn about Daisaku Uchida, who left his home in the Kumamoto Prefecture, southern Japan, at age 19 aboard the Nippon Maru and arrived in Honolulu in 1906. He was among the thousands of immigrants imported to Hawaii by sugar plantation owners to meet their labor needs. Upon his arrival, Uchida signed a three-year contract with the Lihue Sugar Plantation on Kauai, where he remained for three years. Then in 1913, Uchida leased land in Kona from E.C. Greenwell and later the Arthur Greenwell family. Most of the Japanese who came to Kona during the 1890s and 1900s arrived as laborers to pick coffee for large plantations, but also this is when the issei (first generation) began leasing 5- to 10-acre farms, many of which were abandoned by more affluent farmers, according to the Kona Historical Society.

“Having the opportunity to run a small family farm, with coffee being their cash crop, allowed the Uchidas to be economically independent and self-sufficient,” Auld said. The change from large coffee plantations to small family farms not only revolutionized the coffee industry, but kept it alive, particularly as the descendants of many issei continued farming, she added.

Uchida also sent for his wife, Shima Maruo, and together built a life — “one that was indicative of family cohesiveness, perseverance, hard work, discipline, and a strong work ethic, as well as was typical of coffee pioneers and many in the Kona districts,” Auld said. They lived in an almost cash-free economy, relying on the credit system for key purchases, raising their own vegetables, trading or sharing surplus food with others, as well as using and reusing everything. Everyone in the family contributed, including the children who helped around the house, picked coffee and worked around the house.

Three generations of the Uchida family worked this land before leaving the homestead in 1994. The 7-acre site later opened to the public as the Kona Coffee Living History Farm in 1999 and the Kona Historical Society eventually purchased the land from the Greenwell family. The nonprofit and its steering committee worked closely with other museums and community groups during the planning and execution of this permanent, living history exhibition. With help from the family, it created an incredible collection of original handmade and modified farm tools, as well as other household items and furniture. This includes innovative technology that helped improve the methods of production and processing coffee, Auld said.

The farm has won numerous awards for its authentic preservation. It is also on the national and state registers of historic places. Last year, there were roughly 8,000 visitors to the farm, which is tended to by 10 employees. Volunteers are always welcome. There is a need for a gardener, as well as donations of ohia logs for the home’s rails, Auld said.

While the farm tends to get lots of visits from school groups and tourists, there are many Big Island residents who still don’t know about it or have never had the opportunity to visit. The Kona Historical Society recognizes that the farm’s operating hours of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday and Friday aren’t conducive for all. There are also admission prices, which go toward educational programs and preservation efforts at the farm, Auld said.

The nonprofit hopes this free centennial celebration helps change this, stressing this special place is preserved for the community, Auld said.

For more information, call 323-3222 or visit konahistorical.org.

Email Carolyn Lucas-Zenk at clucas-zenk@westhawaiitoday.com.

 

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