Ever dreamed of starting a farm in a place like Hawaii? From 2013-2019, Squash and Awe was an ever changing plot of heirloom squash proudly grown under the Hawaiian sun. I trialed dozens of global varieties after building no-till beds in the dry Lalamilo farm lots at 2600ft elevation on the Big Island, beginning on April 1, 2013. Before starting the farm, I took an important year to garden, research, and understand more about island pests through entomology research online. Some of the most important research materials were found in documents predating 1930.
I began this study of squash after I learned that Hawaii had a statewide crop failure in 2007. I was determined to go through history for a solution, and I refused to give up until I found one. Though Hawaii was a special place for my family, I am the last in a long line of Wisconsin farmers (generation 6.) My ancestors found plenty of solutions in their time. I believed that we have gotten away from the “farmer as problem solver” and shifted our thinking to scientist as problem solver. I wanted to see what could one woman do for Hawaii’s food system. Could a farming rookie find workable solutions, and redevelop lost commercial markets in a state that imports 97% of it’s squash, and 90% of all other food?
I decided to grow culinary heirloom squash that originated in many different countries around the world. I have worked hard to educate, market, and distributed to the elite chefs of Hawaii island, markets, farm stands, and to the loyal “squashinistas.”
Below is the tiny, but mighty Squash and Awe car parked while delivering hundreds of pounds of pumpkin product to one of our fine Hawaii resorts. Since Winter squash needs no refrigeration…who says you need a refrigerated truck? A 79 MG Midget could cruise the coast with up to 300 lbs of squash tucked stylishly inside. Not to mention, even at Hawaii’s inflated gas prices, $20 fills the tank of the delivery car for the week. Try that with a truck.
Though it was fun to grow “global squash” after 6 years of farming and a year of plant research (2012-2013) The most important thing I discovered is what peaked my interest in the first place. I had rediscovered a bit of history in the form of a landrace pumpkin variety (C. Moschata) that had returned to a wild type. What I didn’t know then, I know now. I learned that the most important thing I could do for Hawaii’s food sovereignty was to understand the foundation of plant breeding, and with years of work, stabilize this wild type pumpkin into a dependable, flavorful squash that was adapted to Hawaii’s micro climates, the 17 years of drought, and the many diseases, fruit flies and pickle worm that were all imported to the state. By understanding this already adapted squash, I could best assist by accelerating the re-establishment of local squash production that will live on long beyond my farming time.
My gift back to the people of Hawaii, was the same gift that they gave me, I simply improved upon it in a natural way, by hand selecting the very best, month after month, year after year. Then those efforts were showcased by volunteering to develop in-person squash education workshops, along with the distribution of thousands of free seeds to hundreds of eager growers. The squash education is here in this website, but it also took place through a free online “squash school” where citizen scientists from all around the state of Hawaii received seeds and training through a social media platform. I was able to get a better understanding of where “my” squash thrived in terms of altitude and weather patterns. As a classroom teacher, I was also able to enjoy watching the learning process take place as “my” squash became “their” squash.
Other heirloom (non hybrid and non-GMO) seed stock were purchased from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and from the Seed Savers Exchange. I also buy some other heirloom seeds from several other seed companies including Native Seeds, Botanical Interests, and Trade Winds Fruit. A couple years ago, I had a lovely surprise: the Gettle’s of Baker Creek Seeds visited the farm. Soon after, they asked me to tell the story of my farming at the National Heirloom Expo, and then again at their Spring Planting Festivals. It felt like I talked for years, and I connected with my peers.
In December 2013 I became a “Heirloom Seed Farmer” of some of the rarest squash in the world. Squash from Uganda, Armenia, Panama, Madagascar, India, Georgia (Europe), and more are grown for seed purity as an effort to keep endangered food crops alive, and lead us to a sustainable future with seed diversity. Below are three rare squash that were grown for seed in 2014.
Hawaii’s seasons are more discrete than those in other climates, so in the blog, I may be planting and harvesting on the same day. Don’t let that confuse you. Although some things are specific to Hawaii, a 2600ft elevation isn’t the same as growing at tropical sea level. Winter night time field temperature has been registered 46 degrees F, which slows down everything! For those of you who are cleaning your tools and putting them away for the season, don’t despair. Growing in Hawaii includes every pest and disease imaginable, and often present in all four seasons. Squash and Awe never, ever sprays, and all organic methods are used.
I am happy to report that it is a zero-waste farm, the first of it’s kind here in Hawaii. From the ground up Squash and Awe continues to reclaim 95% of the materials used on the farm. That also included the repair of both delivery cars that were at risk of being scrapped. I have learned to compost, build soil, raise worms, fix cars, make fish emulsion, and even battle some of the world’s most destructive tropical agriculture pests, all while using sustainable methods. Using the local library, a few purchased books, and some internet research, along with simply working hard, I was able to learn these things. So if you feel like farming is beyond you, think again. We can do whatever we set out to. The important thing is to try out your dreams.
Looking out for our neighbor farms and consumers is the top concern. That is one great way to define Aloha by being an excellent neighbor. You may see me giving talks, cooking classes, and even doing school visits in my posts, that is all part of a days work for me. So with that, please enjoy as the site grows along with my research. I am so happy that you looked into what I am learning. May you be inspired!