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Young farmers thinking ahead

  • JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
    Sean Anderson digs up some of the composted soil as Kai Hinson watches at Green Rows Farm in Waimanalo. They began their operation in 2012.
  • JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
    The couple poses with two of the farm's chickens. The birds are some of the hardest working farmers on their land, according to the couple. In addition to producing eggs, the chickens help fertilize the fields.
  • JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
    Anderson and Hinson inspect seedlings inside the farm's greenhouse. The business is on track to become profitable by next year, they said.
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Farmers Sean Anderson and Kai Hinson, owners of Green Rows Farm in Waimanalo, represent a new generation of farming in Hawaii.

They don’t come from a long line of farmers rooted in the plantation era, nor do they have degrees in agricultural sciences. But they do have a passion for a new way of regenerative farming they believe will make the world a better place.

Anderson, 26, and Hinson, 25, met as undergraduate global studies majors at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

"It doesn’t sound like it’s related to agriculture, but in so many ways it is," Hinson said. "We found all these issues we were studying kept coming back to food."

So they started to volunteer at farms while in college, Hinson at a farm in Petaluma, Calif., and Anderson at a farm in Ecuador.

When Anderson’s family offered the couple the opportunity to start one on 3 acres in Waimanalo in January 2012, they jumped at it with enthusiasm.

The property, nestled at the foot of the Koolaus, was formerly a horse ranch that had been vacant for several years.

"I really believe we can make a difference. In our lifetime we can really live regen-eratively and harmonious-ly with our planet."

Sean Anderson
Co-owner of Green Rows Farm in Waimanalo

Anderson and Hinson had to clear the area of trash and debris, fix up the barn house and prepare the soil. Slowly they’re transforming the former ranch into a farm, with a greenhouse, a chicken coop and a field of herbs and vegetables.

Green Rows Farm now produces specialty eggplants, rainbow chard, kale, lettuce, nasturtiums, herbs and sweet potatoes. It also grows papayas, avocados, bananas and lilikoi.

Not that it was easy.

A grassy acre formerly used as an arena seemed like the ideal place to grow herbs and vegetables, but it turned out to have once been a parking lot and the plot was full of backfill, not ideal for farming. To rebuild the soil, they used a sheet mulching and layering technique. The entire process took about a year.

They define Green Rows as a regenerative farm using permaculture and other long-term soil-building practices such as cover cropping and mulching without conventional pesticides and fertilizers.

The farm has evolved through trial and error, but they learn from every mistake they’ve made and take advice from mentors. The Internet also has been a tremendous source of information.

"When we didn’t know how to do something, we would just YouTube it, Google it or look in some books," Hinson said.

For instance, they figured out how to hatch chicks from eggs, build a mobile chicken coop from salvaged wood, and design and assemble an industrial-size, spinning composter.

The chickens help fertilize the fields and produce eggs. When an area needs fertilizing, Anderson and Hinson move the chicken coop over it.

Anderson and Hinson run the entire farm with the help of occasional resident volunteers, visiting friends and family and two dogs they adopted named Kava and Mahi. On Wednesday mornings the farm is open to the public for volunteer days.

The farming lifestyle is nonstop and labor-intensive.

Seven days a week they are up at the break of dawn to feed the chickens, check on the seedlings in the greenhouse and maintain other parts of the farm.

On Sundays they get up at 4 a.m. to harvest their crops and sell them fresh at a farmers market in Kailua. They collect donated vegetable and fruit scraps from Whole Foods Market several times a week to add to their compost heap, and spin it regularly to make new soil. There are always new projects on the table. There’s never an end to weeding.

When they need a break, they go surfing.

And for Anderson and Hinson, farming goes hand in hand with yoga. Both are working on becoming certified yoga instructors, which they say keeps them centered and fit as farmers.

Green Rows Farm also hosts yoga classes, along with permaculture workshops and farm-to-table dinner events for supplemental income.

Farming, Hinson said, is an occupation of many trades in one, including small-business entrepreneur, carpenter, mechanic; even veterinarian, when necessary, to care for sick or injured farm animals.

Luckily, being a young, inexperienced farmer in Hawaii is forgiving because it’s always growing season here, she said, which allows them to bounce back quickly from mistakes.

Most rewarding, the couple said, is cooking with food fresh from the farm or offering tours to schools and seeing how excited kids get when they see where a vegetable comes from.

The farm is on track to become profitable by next year, according to Anderson. Once production is up, they hope to supply local restaurants and offer a community-supported agriculture subscription.

"This is really progress for agriculture and should be at the core of agriculture practices in the state of Hawaii, if not worldwide," Anderson said. "I really believe we can make a difference. In our lifetime we can really live regeneratively and harmoniously with our planet."

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