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Cultivating heritage

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    Visitors enjoy a wagon ride around Kealia Farm, which sits on 100 acres on the east side of the Garden Island.

  • Farm manager Adam Asquith enlightens a tour group about taro cultivation.
    Hannah Asquith holds a baby goat. She’s in charge of Kealia Farm’s milking goats.

"Taro farmers are my heroes. They maintain the cultural landscape, provide us with healthy food and live the values that make Hawaii unique. I wanted to be like them!”

Adam Asquith, a retired research biologist with the University of Hawaii, talks passionately about the catalyst for his foray into taro farming 15 years ago. In 2008 he and two partners started Kealia Farm on 100 acres of leased land along the Kealia River on the east side of Kauai.

Today they grow a dozen taro varieties on 25 acres, tend small herds of cattle for beef on another 50 acres and raise goats for milk and meat along the banks of the taro patches (Asquith’s 12-year-old daughter, Hannah, is in charge of the dairy goats). Ten other farmers produce pumpkins, corn, zucchini, kale, beets, broccoli, lettuce, tomatoes and more on 20 acres.

That said, Kealia Farm is primarily a wholesale taro venture whose customers include millers and processors statewide. Asquith, who grew up on a farm in central Illinois, handles day-to-day operations, including leading two tours of the farm. The tractor-pulled wagon ride includes a brief history of farming in Kealia, an explanation about how taro is grown, a stop at the waterfall that provides the farm’s irrigation water, and a snack of poi spice cake, fresh fruit juice and coconut candy.

Geared to adults, the walking tour delves deeper into the past, sharing more insights about the Hawaiian families that initially farmed taro in Kealia, the area’s first large ranching and dairy operation, the rise and demise of sugar plantations, and what crops took their place. The activity concludes with a meal of pumpkin bisque, cream of luau (young taro leaves) soup, poi, muffins, salad, vegetable quiche and taro pie prepared by Asquith’s wife, Bonnie.

Kealia Farm

» Address: 2345 Kealia Road, Kealia, Kauai
» Phone: 635-4100
» Email:
» Website:


Reservations are required (cancellations must be made at least 36 hours prior to the tour). Wear a hat, sunscreen, closed-toe shoes and cool, comfortable clothing. Bring water.
Kealia Farm Wagon Tour
Hop on the tractor-drawn "Big Red" wagon for a one-hour ride around the farm. The tour is offered at 8 and 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Mondays and Fridays, and at 8 and 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Wednesdays. Cost is $45 for adults and $20 for children age 14 and younger, including a snack.


The 1-mile route for this two-hour tour is primarily level, but participants must be mobile, as it goes through a working farm and there are no paved paths. It is available at 9 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and at noon and 3 p.m. Wednesdays. Cost is $65 per person, including lunch.


Kealia Farm’s farmers sell fresh produce on Mondays and Fridays from 3 to 7 p.m. Also for sale are juices, honey, jams, laulau, poi, taro pie, taro chips and coconut candy.

“We’re re-establishing a tradition in Kealia, as described in the Pele sagas,” Asquith said. “As the legend goes, Pele sent her sister, Hiiaka, to Kauai to retrieve her lover, Lohiau, from Haena. After landing their canoe at Wailua, Hiiaka and her companion, Wahineomao, began walking to Haena. Their first rest stop was Kealia, where taro farmers fed them luau stew. So we like to think that we’re continuing the honor of not just farming, but welcoming visitors to our home and feeding them.”

Tourgoers will likely see farmwork in progress, and Asquith’s narrative is full of fascinating tidbits. For example, the Hawaiian word for food is “ai,” and the word for land is “aina,” meaning “that which produces food.”

“So the traditional way of looking at land was from the perspective of food production,” Asquith said. “That’s also the perspective we have as farmers: The value of land lies not in its resale value or tax assessment calculations, but in its ability to produce food.”

Kealia Farm is in the ahupuaa (land division) of Kealia, which means “salt encrustation.” According to Asquith, in olden times the Hawaiians made salt there by evaporating seawater in ponds or stone basins.

“Among other things, salt was valued as a flavoring and food preservative,” he said. “From its name, we know Kealia was a place that was rich in resources important to food production and preservation.”

Sugar was also key in Hawaiian history. In the 1800s one of the primary crops of the Southern states was sugar cane. After the Civil War, Asquith points out, those in the victorious North wanted sugar but did not want the South to profit from it again.

Emissaries were sent to Hawaii to look at cane cultivation, which had started in Koloa, in South Kauai, in 1835. One of the envoys was a former Union officer, Col. Zephaniah Spalding, who became acquainted with the whaling captain-turned-sugar planter, James Makee. He wound up marrying Makee’s eldest daughter and befriending Makee’s drinking buddy, King Kalakaua.

Makee and the king started Makee Sugar Co. in 1877 on 11,000 acres of land near Kapaa. When Makee died two years later, Spalding became the majority stakeholder in the venture.

As the Makee Sugar Co. was getting off the ground, Spalding purchased land in Kealia and built another sugar mill. In 1885 he closed the Kapaa factory and combined operations at Kealia.

Rising five stories — taller than any building on Kauai today — that was the first mill in Hawaii to fully operate on electricity, enabling 400 tons of cane to be processed every 24 hours. Even its fields were lighted so harvesting could be done through the night, if needed.

As it was through the decades, industriousness is a hallmark of life in Kealia. Workers harvest more than 2 tons of taro by hand at Kealia Farm each week. Asquith is up at 5 a.m. every day and is busy until “the work releases me,” which sometimes means midnight.

“The tours show how our wet, sandy land shapes farming and how farming shapes our community,” Asquith said. “They are authentic experiences that give visitors a clear idea of what we do as farmers.

“One day a guest saw my 13-year-old son, Hoouka, ride by on a horse, just back from roping cattle. He later saw him tilling a taro patch with a tractor. He couldn’t believe a kid that age was doing those things by himself, without supervision, but for us it’s just another day on the farm.”

Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based freelance writer whose travel features for the Star-Advertiser have won several Society of American Travel Writers awards.

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