I seldom meet two people as dedicated to keeping sustainable agriculture alive in Hawaii as Maureen and Tane Datta. They not only have a highly productive organic farm where they grow a wide diversity of crops, but they also have a business that distributes produce from local growers. They are Adaptations Farm and Adaptations, Inc., known as a regional food hub.
Maureen and Tane chose the name Adaptations to advance their desire to be resilient enough to change with the times while maintaining their mission: “to engage in ecologically sound community and land development based on organic farming, alternative energy and complimentary medicine.” They strive to develop the connection between Earth’s natural systems and people in a way that improves the resilience of both. That is a tall order, but the Dattas are definitely pursuing it.
Maureen’s dad grew up on an organic farm in Massachusetts but was not interested in farming as a career.
According to Maureen, “He ran fast and hard from that life as soon as he could and went to NYU to study for a more sedentary career.”
Maureen first experienced organic agriculture for herself when she moved to Marin County after attending college in Virginia. Some of the first official organic farms were starting up close to where she lived and she happily became a participant in the early movement toward organic, small family farms. While in California, she became the assistant to the president of Wildwood Natural Foods where she picked up lots of ag distribution skills that would serve her later.
Tane’s father started life on a farm in Assam, India, and became a research biochemist working for the U.S. government. Tane’s early life was spent on the mainland’s East Coast in Pennsylvania and Maryland.
Tane credits his early connection with plants to his dad.
“He was an avid gardener who shared his enjoyment of plants with me throughout my childhood,” Tane said.
When Tane chose to attend Guilford College in North Carolina, he decided to pursue multiple degrees in geology, environmental sciences and alternative energy. During his college years, he lived on an 80-acre farm and spent lots of time in the garden when he should have been studying. His education, coupled with his farm experiences, piqued his interest in researching and applying alternative and sustainable farming practices after graduation. He soon became a dedicated agricultural researcher, utilizing his research wherever he could.
“In my 20s, I became an activist, focusing on issues around nuclear energy. I joined the ‘back to the earth’ movement in the 70s and learned a lot about self-sufficiency as a path to freedom by studying the Rastas in Jamaica. Reading publications like Mother Earth News and The Whole Earth Catalog were also important formative experiences,” Tane said.
In 1979, Tane purchased the lease on a 7-acre farm in Honaunau. Finally, he was able to apply what he had learned about growing a diversity of plants and incorporating sustainable fertilization and pest control techniques on his own land, and actively fulfil his mission to connect people to nature through organically grown plants.
On his farm, Tane has always been an educator as well as a researcher. Many would-be farmers have been employed on his farm and he has relied heavily on steady workers like ‘Doc’ Barbero, who has managed the worm bins and soil composting there for nearly 15 years.
Today, he continues to explore new crops and is especially interested in using plants as medicine. He is growing both traditional medicinals like kava, and exploring the uses of lesser-known plants like mucuna beans and andrographis.
“I’ve always enjoyed sharing knowledge with others doing similar research,” Tane said. “People like Chef Stephen Rouelle from Under the Bodhi Tree restaurant have always been there to exchange great information.”
Tane continues to put his research into practice using beneficial bacteria as part of his fertilization practices and making pest control products from plants he grows. He also has a sustainable mulching system using leaves from his tree crops and a dynamic composting system that incorporates compostable byproducts from the farm. Daily record-keeping is his key to learning what works best. His ongoing research and diligence pay off in the quality of his organic crops that are in high demand on the market.
When Tane and Maureen met at Tane’s Adaptations Farm in early 1990, they realized that they had complimentary experience, skills and interests and could join forces to serve local agriculture. Tane had been running a small distribution company for a while and Maureen was delighted to get involved by working on the farm’s publication Fresh Connections. Later, she used those connections to further develop the marketing and distribution of agricultural products for Adaptations, Inc.
In the early days, Adaptations was handling produce from its farm as well as Cab Baber’s and Harvy Sacarob’s and delivering to six local accounts. The Dattas decided to incorporate the business as Adaptations, Inc. in August of 1993. They wanted to empower more local farmers to maintain their agricultural lifestyle with money earned from selling their produce.
Twenty-five years later, Adaptations, Inc. now supplies local produce from more than 100 growers to more than 80 accounts on five Hawaiian Islands and several medicinal herb customers on the mainland. Their markets include processors, retail stores, restaurants, schools and local families.
Maureen’s right-hand assistant is Alice Sherer, who has been working with her for more than 20 years.
“Alice first came to Adaptations in 1997 as a farmer selling her produce. Soon after we met, I invited her to join the business and she has been an invaluable participant in its growth and progress,” Maureen remembered.
Adaptations now owns two refrigerated vans for deliveries and it gets help in its operation from several part and full time employees. Beyond the retail accounts, resorts and restaurants it serves, Adaptations, Inc. has also grown a personal produce delivery service modeled after Community Supported Agriculture which they started in 1996. Today their “Fresh Feast” provides boxes of fresh produce to more than 100 local families weekly through their online “market” that allows for selections and substitutions. Their computerized system makes their CSA unique in the area. Check it out at www.adaptationsaloha.com.
Tane and Marueen have raised two daughters as well as lots of vegetables, herbs, edible flowers, micro greens, avocadoes, citrus and exotic fruit and medicinal plants. They live a sustainable lifestyle in a solar-powered home with an auxiliary water catchment system that has often helped supply water to neighbors during droughts.
They have also been very involved in the wider community for many years. Maureen is currently the president of the Kona Chapter of the Hawaii Farmers Union United and active in the Hawaii Democratic Party. She is president of her precinct and Tane is the chair of District 5. Tane and Maureen are both delegates to the 2018 Democratic Party Convention. Both have often served on local boards aiding organizations like the Hawaii Regional Cuisine Chefs and the Koa Community Clinic. Tane continues to do agricultural research that he shares with other farmers and growers. Both are actively involved in training future farmers by hiring young and aspiring farmers to work with them.
When asked what advice they might offer to new farmers, Tane and Maureen agreed: “Adaptability to change is probably the most important quality to develop. The changes in regulations, climate, government and social trends require an ongoing willingness to adapt.”
Tane also advised that farmers need to become personally involved in advancing positive changes in agriculture. He feels that changing the way insurance affects farmer’s bottom line is a very important issue. His largest expense, and one of his biggest headaches, is the myriad of insurance policies that farmers need to carry today. He advises us all to work for a single-payer program that incorporates TDI, workman’s comp, product and personal liability as well as health, home and farm insurance into a single affordable package. He figures that would save farmers at least 30 percent on these expensive bills.
With fine examples like Maureen and Tane in our community, we might all be inspired to find ways to offer help to advance sustainable ecological and social networks here and beyond.
Diana Duff is a plant adviser, educator and consultant living in a dryland forest north of Kailua-Kona.
Monday: “Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers Monthly Meeting” from 7-9 p.m. at West Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers office 81-6393 Mamalahoa Highway in Kealakekua. White wooden building on makai side across from the Department of Transportation yard. Park in front or on the north side. Max Maemori and Reggie Hasegawa will talk about HB-101 a plant vitalizer and growth enhancer from Japan. Samples will be available. For more information contact Brian Lievens President West Hawaii Chapter at 895-8753 or email@example.com.
Saturday: “Work Day at Amy Greenwell Garden” from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Meet at the Garden Visitor Center across from the Manago Hotel in Captain Cook. Volunteers will be able to help with garden maintenance and are invited to bring a brown bag lunch. Water and snacks provided. Call Peter at 323-3318 for more information.
Farmer Direct Markets
Wednesday: “Sunset Farmers Market” 2 -6 p.m. in the HPM parking lot at 74-5511 Luhia Street in Kailua-Kona (across from Target)
“Ho’oulu Farmers Market” 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Sheraton Kona Resort &Spa at Keauhou Bay
Saturday: “Keauhou Farmers Market” 8 a.m. to noon at Keauhou Shopping Center
“Kamuela Farmer’s Market” from 7 a.m. to noon at Pukalani Stables
“Waimea Town Market” from 7:30 a.m. to noon in front of Parker School
“Waimea Homestead Market” from 7 a.m. to noon at the Waimea Middle and Elementary School Playground
Sunday: “Pure Kona Green Market” 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Amy Greenwell Garden in Captain Cook
Plant Advice Lines
Tuesdays &Thursdays: 9 a.m. to noon at UH-CES in Kainaliu – 322-4892
Mon., Tues. &Fri: 9 a.m. to noon at UH CES at Komohana in Hilo 981-5199 or firstname.lastname@example.org