Published on Friday, April 7, 2017
Hawaii is the only place in all 50 states where coffee is grown. As the general manager of Kauai Coffee Company, Fred Cowell is among a small group of American coffee growers. He's a proud third generation farmer. Although his family has a rich history of leadership in agriculture, much of his career has been spent off the farm. When he got out of college, Fred served in the Air Force for 20 years. Later, he did infrared research for an engineering firm. “Now, I know what I want to be when I grow up.” He smiles.
Kauai Coffee Company is the largest coffee farm on ‘The Garden Island.’ In recent years they’ve shifted from green bean, commodity coffee production and strive to have a more direct relationship with their customers. Hawaii tourists and locals alike enjoy walking tours, coffee samples, and souvenirs at the Visitors Center. Members of the Estate Coffee Club can sip unique roasts and blends from the comfort of their own home through a monthly or bi-monthly subscription. “We want to be your personal coffee grower.” Fred says.
Farm visitors can get a firsthand look at coffee growing throughout the season. “Coffee is a perennial evergreen. It blooms in the spring and the trees will be covered in white. It will look like it snowed.” Fred explains. “About seven months after that bloom sets, we'll have fruit ready to pick on the tree. Not all the blooms set at once so I'll get a ripeness season basically between September and December. The fruit itself we call a cherry because it's bright red when it's ripe. Some of the varieties are yellow. The fruit is squeezed off the outside of the seed. The seed is washed and dried, then it's husked. Then we have green coffee that is ready to roast.”
Each step of coffee growing and processing must be done at the correct time to ensure high quality. Finding ways to improve despite the challenges of weather and strict timelines excites Fred. They say the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. His father is a well-known problem solver in the industry. “He was an innovator. He bucked the status quo.” Fred recalls.
“There's lots of times when I'm doing business that someone will come up and remember my dad. 'Are you Skip's son?' ‘Yep.’ In fact, when I go to coffee conventions within the state, I put that underneath my nametag. 'Yes, I'm Skip's son.' Many times I recognize that I'm talking with people that did business with my father or people that remember some of the things that happened along the way. My dad did so much to shape the modern coffee industry here in the state. He actually brought the first mechanical harvesters over to Kona. It didn't work in Kona because the soil was too steep, but he brought them over here to help this farm get started way back when.”
"Coffee is a fascinating business. It's very cross-cutting. It's everywhere. To be in the coffee business means that you've got friends and customers everywhere. I do it to honor my parents and my grandparents. It's keeping a legacy of agriculture in Hawaii alive."
That’s why Fred Cowell farms.
Author: Natalina Sents
Categories: Why I Farm, Why I Farm Roadtrip
Tags: Beck's Blog, Why I Farm, Beck's Hybrids, Coffee, Natalina Sents, Why I Farm Roadtrip, Hawaii, Kauai Coffee Company, Fred Cowell, Kauai coffee beans