They say that everyone has a story, that each life is a story filled with chapters and turning points, dark moonless nights of the soul and bright shiny epiphanies, all mapped out to look like chaos until the moment when the focus of our internal lens brings it all into sharp focus. Well at least most of it.
Taking a leap. Wandering into the unknown. Staying curious. Working. Learning. Showing up and sitting in. Taking the reins. Taking care.
These were the thoughts that surfaced as I edited the video pieces (two quickly grew into four), mesmerized by Lesley Hill’s remarkable journey into farming. One that starts as a 19 year-old student/tennis player in Florida, in trouble with the college dean for standing up for equal rights, lands on the tarmac of Honolulu International Airport for a year long exchange. It turned out to not only be a defining moment for Lesley, but for the agricultural community in Hawaii.
Can you imagine Lesley at her first Young Farmers of America local chapter meeting only to find herself the youngest, the only female and the only person with a five month-old baby wrapped to her body? Can you also imagine there with Lesley a year later (with a year and a half toddler in tow), attending her first meeting as elected president of the same chapter? Pretty cool.
Countless adventures later, Lesley is now owner of 110 acres diverse in tropical fruit, spice and flowers on the lush Hamakua Coast of Hawaii Island. A shared passion for travel and tropical plants brought Lesley together with Michael Crowell, her partner in life and business. They own and operate Wailea Agricultural Group – born after finding a suitable plot and years of growing business and expertise on acreage nearer to Hilo. (Like many other farms in Hawaii, the decline of the sugar and pineapple industries that freed up large tracts of plantation land for smaller farms to take hold.)
It’s hard to imagine the kind of planning, resources and work it takes to transform and renew old monocropped land, so we’re fortunate that Lesley and Mike were able to take time out of their busy schedules to give us a tour of their farm, share their experience, and allow us to share what they have done. They’ve studied the needs of the land and the plants that are growing there – taking great risk and dedicating themselves to taking great care to shape the landscape to help manage water, wind and erosion control. The result of Lesley and Mike’s knowledge and deep feelings of stewardship for the land is exhilarating. And so delicious.
Lesley can’t keep up with how many varieties of fruit and spices are living on their farm. Here’s only a handful: peach palm, avocado, lychee, mango, rambutan, chico fruit, mangosteen, starfruit, passion fruit, soursop, langsat, durian, jackfruit, breadfruit, açaí, Meyer lemon, citron, limes, cinnamon, all-spice, nutmeg, bay, clove. They are constantly playing with the possibilities.
To top it off Wailea Agricultural Group is the country’s strongest producer of the very renewable and nutrient-rich delicacy called Heart of Palm. Each year, they harvest over 15 tons by hand for delivery and shipment to restaurants and hotels – local, national and international. What is Heart of Palm? Very delicate in both texture and flavor, it is the tender point of the growing tip of peach palm. This palm is originally from Central and South America, and is considered a very renewable crop because new shoots are constantly replacing the ones that are harvested, doing no harm to the mother plant. Now that’s taking care!
On growing for the community and buying local