Hawaii often gets left out of many agricultural events. People often ask me why. It is simple: fruit flies. They have made our exporting of produce difficult for the last 100 years. With that being said, they have also made it the most challenging place to grow many otherwise common vegetables. Marketing has showcased pineapple and sugar, two plantation crops that are uneffected by these pests. But we are not so proud to note that every year, new agricultural pests erode what small food production we have in the Hawaiian islands. When asked why I didn’t bring squash to the expo, other growers just shake their heads. Those who have been around a while usually say, “oh fruit fly? Lucky you are growing anything at all.” They are right.
It is for that exact reason that I began researching, and later breeding squash for Hawaii, and other areas with tropical fruit flies, and the newer introduction, Pickle Worm. When California gets an invasion of fruit flies, they sound the alarms. When Hawaii gets a new pest, it barely makes the news. Another one, is not what any of us need. But they continue to come in every year. That is one of the many downsides of importing over 90% of your food. It leaves the door open for pests from around the world to enter the islands. Don’t believe me, try talking to someone from Australia. We have many of the same issues. I had more than one person ask for my squash at the National Heirloom Expo last year, I had to direct them to the images on my booth, often the response was, “couldn’t you smuggle one in?” I know they meant well, wanting me to represent my breeding and farming efforts with the real thing, but the very last thing I want to do is destroy California agriculture so that I can have something to show. I explained the magnitude of what one selfish act could do.
But after having so many inquiries, I just thought my way through the situation. Though I could not bring squash into California, or anywhere else in the US, I could get seed through. I wanted to collect more research data, as I entered year 4 of my farm’s independent research for squash in Hawaii. It was brought to my attention, that maybe I should include it in the Baker Creek squash trials. I will be telling that story at a later time, but for now, I just wanted to share the very good news that the Hawaiian Black Kabocha not only survived, but it produced in a very different environment, and surrounded by all new pests, and squash virus. Why does this matter? It matters in many more reasons other than having a squash in the line up at the expo. It is another potential solution for islands and areas suffering from both fruit fly and drought. It can be a solution for the food production efforts of other places. The labors of one can help many. After the expo I received an angered email that noted how self-centered my actions were. Now, it was time for me to shake my head, knowing in my heart, he couldn’t be further from the truth. So Hawaii, this was for you. Mahalo nui loa for the dozens of top ranked chefs who taught me the nuances of flavor, so that I could be a better informed squash breeder. Because it is simple, if I am going to be breeding for pest resistance, I may as well breed for excellence in flavor and texture as well. Hit that ball out of the park for all of us.
So here she is sitting pretty in the line up. Only a Hawaii grower knows how much that means to get her there.