Published on Thursday, April 13, 2017
Kalo is the Hawaiian word for taro, a starchy vegetable root that has been grown on the islands for centuries. Brandon Wong is the fourth generation in his family to grow this traditional crop.
Different parts of the taro plant are used to make important cultural dishes including poi, lau lau, and taro chips. The root and leaves must be thoroughly steamed or cooked to eliminate calcium oxalate. Eating raw taro can cause pain and itching in the mouth and throat.
The taro root anchors the plant in small flooded patches. Each tall stem supports a single large leaf. When the root is harvested, the stems can be collected and replanted. This practice is called, ‘saving the huli.’
Growing up, Brandon learned to replant taro stems in neat rows on his grandparent’s farm. “They’ve been doing this 72 years.” He smiles. He’s proud to be building upon the knowledge his family has been passing down by going to college. “I already got the physical part down. I want to get a plant biology degree. I go to school because nobody in my family has that degree. I want to get that.” Brandon explains. “The past three years, I’ve learned a lot, from soil to pest control.”
Brandon has been applying what he’s learned on his grandparent’s farm and another farm of his own on the other side of the island. “I'm thinking further beyond than my grandparents. I want to do everything from raw taro, poi, chips, and tours. I do a little bit of that here and there but not fully yet because it's just me right now.” He says.
“I think I am one of the youngest farmers on the island of Kauai that does this full time. My oldest daughter is going to be 10 this year and she does this in her free time when she wants to. My middle one, not yet, but soon though. She just goes in the mud and plays. She just loves it.” Brandon laughs.
Although it’s backbreaking work, Brandon enjoys being outdoors and working hard. “In my eyes, this is peaceful. I don't have to worry about anybody. I get to see wildlife every day.”
Like most farmers, working in the field isn’t Brandon’s only responsibility. On top of dividing his time between farms on either side of Kauai island, he’s a student, coach and father. He also enjoys an active lifestyle as an avid CrossFitter and cage fighter.
"I was raised doing this as a kid. After high school, I wanted to do something else, construction, government wildlife work. And I did it. It didn't suit me. I went back into farming. It suits me. The reason I love to do it is because it's hard work. I love working hard. I think that's the motivation, being active. It's satisfying to be tired at the end of the day. I pull 25 bags of this a week and they're almost 80 pounds each. I think if you can do this, you can pretty much do anything. Construction was easy. Wildlife work was easy. I like the challenge of this."
That’s why Brandon Wong farms.
Author: Natalina Sents
Categories: Why I Farm, Why I Farm Roadtrip
Tags: Beck's Blog, Why I Farm, Beck's Hybrids, Natalina Sents, Why I Farm Roadtrip, Brandon Wong, taro, Hawaii, Kauai, kalo