Contribution To The "American
Kona Coffee Living History Farm
by Kona Coffee
Living History Farm
A woman hand picks Kona
The "American Dream" was founded on the principals
and idealism of equality, determination and freedom.
Often the "American Dream" is associated with
European immigrants leaving economic privation and political
and religious oppression in their homelands to build
a new and better life in America. The thirty-eight million
people, who emigrated to the U.S. between 1820 and 1940,
endured hardship and uncertainty for the opportunity
to build a new life. America's economic opportunity,
religious freedom, and system of justice were powerful
inducements to immigrants seeking a new and better life
for their families. What is sometimes forgotten is the
large number of Asian immigrants that also contributed
to making the "American Dream" a reality.
When Captain James Cook landed at Kealakekua Bay, he
and his crew found a fertile agricultural region with
an abundance of breadfruit, sugar cane, sweet potato,
taro, and banana growing at elevations of approximately
1000 and 2000 feet. When the outside world learned about
this exceptionally fertile region known as the Kona
district, entrepreneurs began introducing new crops
such as tobacco, pineapple, sisal, cotton, commercial
sugar cane, and coffee. Of these experimental crops,
coffee is the only commercial crop that prevailed through
the many booms and busts in its long history, and is
now recognized as one of the world's premier gourmet
Coffee growing on Mauna
Coffee first came to Kona as an ornamental in 1828,
when a missionary introduced plant cuttings to the fertile
growing region above Kealakekua Bay. The commercial
success of coffee supported the establishment of large
plantations by European and American planters in the
Kona district, beginning in the 1840s. The first Kona
coffee pioneers were American and European planters,
and Hawaiian landowners.
A diverse population of Caucasian, Hawaiian, Chinese,
Portuguese, Japanese and Filipino laborers were involved
in the production, processing and export of coffee between
1840 and 1945. By the 1890s, large coffee plantations
were no longer economically feasible because of rising
labor costs, crop surpluses and world market conditions.
In response to the uncertain economic conditions, plantation
owners began to divide large acreage into five-to ten-
acre farms. Initially, Portuguese immigrants (1880s-1890s)
worked the small coffee farms. It was during this same
time-period that Japanese immigrants, who had either
completed their contracts or were escaping from the
harsh living conditions on the sugar plantations in
Hamakua and Kohala districts, began to find their way
to the Kona district.
By the late 1890s, many of the Portuguese immigrants
had diversified from coffee to starting dairies and
ranches. Japanese immigrants filled the void left by
the Portuguese. Many of the early Japanese plantation
laborers were raised on farms in Japan, and the opportunity
to work as independent farmers was attractive. At first,
landowners and tenant farmers maintained a sharecropping
relationship, with portions of the coffee crop owed
to the landowner at the end of the year. Gradually,
leasehold agreements were negotiated, creating independently
operated farms and the paying of lease rents and taxes
replaced giving a portion of the crop to landowners.
The remote Kona district became a haven for Japanese
immigrants disenchanted with life on the large sugar
plantations. Kona offered the opportunity, with little
capital required, to achieve financial and personal
independence unattainable in Japan or on large plantations.
A view of the preserved
D. Uchida farm.
By 1910, nearly all the coffee land in Kona was being
farmed by Issei (first generation Japanese immigrants)
under tenant lease arrangements. As these immigrant
pioneers established their place in Kona, they adapted
traditional Japanese architectural and building techniques,
agricultural methods, religious practices, and cultural
ways of life to their new environment. Japanese farmers
are credited for improving milling and processing technology
and agricultural practices for Kona coffee. Within thirty
years of their immigration, Japanese pioneers and their
Hawaii-born children were the predominant population
in the Kona district.
The success of the Japanese coffee farmers encouraged
other ethnic groups to become coffee farmers, creating
a mosaic of cultures that shaped the Kona coffee industry,
and helped create the multi-cultural "Kona coffee
lifestyle," which still thrives today. Second generation
(Nisei) Japanese-Americans born on coffee farms continue
to farm lands cleared and planted by their parents,
as do third & fourth generation (Sansei & Yonsei)
Japanese-Americans, Filipinos, Hawaiians, and Portuguese.
Starting in the 1970s, people of mixed ethnicity moved
from the U.S. mainland and became part of the Kona coffee
story by purchasing land and establishing coffee farms.
After decades of hard work and struggle by past and
recent pioneers, Kona coffee is renown worldwide as
a premier coffee known for consistent body and rich
full flavor. Hawaii is the only state in the U.S. where
coffee is grown.
A number of years ago, the Kona Historical Society,
recognizing the importance of the Kona coffee farming
story, initiated efforts to preserve this aspect of
the multi-cultural heritage of Kona.
A donkey transports Kona
The Kona Coffee Living History Farm keeps alive a rapidly
disappearing way of life that is unique in American
culture, yet typical in the district of Kona on the
island of Hawaii. The Kona Coffee Living History Farm
is the only living history farm in the state of Hawaii.
The Kona Coffee Living History Farm captures the day-to-day
experience of immigrants confronted with adversity,
personal and cultural isolation and loneliness, and
how they surmounted these difficult challenges to build
families and associations that provided purposeful work,
a sense of belonging, and a sense of place. The Kona
Coffee Living History Farm preserves the story of what
local folks refer to as "growing up in the coffee
Families working early Kona coffee farms strived to
be self-sufficient, growing much of their own food and
producing many goods with their own labor. The women
supplemented family incomes through cottage industries
such as sewing clothing, weaving lauhala, and preparing
and processing food to sell. Kona coffee farm families
placed a high value on frugality, hard work, and education.
The Kona Living History Farm focuses on the stories,
the lifestyle, and the roles of the Issei (first generation,
immigrants) who laid the foundation for their children,
Nissei (second generation, first generation born in
Hawaii) and grandchildren, Sansei (third generation,
second generation born in Hawaii), who even today are
a major factor in the Kona coffee industry.
Tour groups are small, usually with no more than twelve
visitors per guide. The tours provide each person with
a unique personalized experience of a family coffee
farm during the years 1925 to 1945. Kona Coffee Living
History Farm tour guides and interpreters welcome and
interact with visitors as ohana (family). The "family
visits" provide many opportunities for individual
interaction and questions, allowing the visitor to savor
the experience and delve into aspects of personal interest.
The Kona Coffee Living History Farm tours are about
2 to 2½ hours and will be provided by reservations
only. The tours start with an orientation at the Greenwell
Store Museum (Kona Historical Society Headquarters).
The Kona Coffee Living History Farm is located approximately
three miles south of the Greenwell Store Museum in Kealakekua,
South Kona on the island of Hawaii in the heart of the
Kona Coffee Belt.
to the Kona Coffee Living History Farm, which was homesteaded
in 1900, are welcomed and greeted by uniformed guides
and costumed interpreters. The animals to be seen on
the Farm include a mild-mannered donkey named Hina,
free-ranging chickens and friendly cats.
Visitors will be guided through the producing coffee
orchard, which include diversified plantings of macadamia
nut, avocado, papaya and citrus trees. After the walk
through the orchard, visitors will tour the original
six-room, single-story farm house, coffee processing
mill (kuriba), drying roof (hoshidana), and see the
out buildings - water catchment tanks, a Japanese style
bathhouse, outhouse, and chicken coop.
Farm visitors are provided historically accurate interpretations,
personalized attention, and treated to hands-on demonstrations
by guides and costumed interpreters who engage visitors
in meaningful activities and "talk-story"
conversations. Visitors will tour the kitchen, which
has changed remarkably little since it was first constructed.
Visitors will see the stone fireplace where rice and
vegetables were prepared, learn about the above ground
plumbing, and how smoke from daily cooking on the wood-burning
stove stained the interior walls black. Visitors will
see many of the original handmade and modified tools,
well-preserved household items and furniture, and the
family vegetable garden and ornamentals.
"Family visits" to the Kona Coffee Living
History Farm are much more than tours, they are unforgettable,
entertaining and highly educational visits back to a
bygone era in Hawaii - to historic Kona, and a unique
American way of life.
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appeared originally in Coffee Times print magazine and
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