Sustaining Hawaii Island: Sally Rice helps land, ranches and agriculture flourish

  • Sally Rice moves Bill Bergin’s Jeep at Waiki’i Ranch field in fall 2015. (COURTESY PHOTO/SALLY RICE)

  • Sally Rice works at her Agro Resources, Inc. office in Waimea when she’s not on site at various projects. (LANDRY FULLER/SPECIAL TO WEST HAWAII TODAY)

WAIMEA — Through her love of the land, agriculture and cattle ranching, Sally Rice has made significant contributions to the sustainability of Hawaii Island for decades.

Her most recent efforts include agricultural projects throughout West Hawaii.

ADVERTISING


Born and raised on a farm in Western Pennsylvania, Rice’s roots helped her on the journey to the science of agriculture at Cornell University. And she might still be on the East Coast if she hadn’t met Freddy Rice, who was also studying at Cornell.

After marrying him and moving to Hawaii, Rice started her ranching and agriculture career at Kaonoulu Ranch on Maui, but after two years the couple moved to Hawaii Island to take over the management of a foundering Kahuku Ranch in Naalehu.

“We had to straighten out the work force and get everybody working together. Then we worked with the soil scientists and the resource conservation service to develop a plan for improving the pastures,” Rice said.

She also helped improve the lives of the ranch wives and children.

“I tried to help encourage the wives who were very open to improving the education for the children. When I walked into Kahuku Ranch the women were second-class citizens and did what they were told. Slowly over time, we got it across to everybody that the women had as much to offer as the men,” Rice said.

During the 13 years Rice was at Kahuku Ranch, she provided field experiences for her own four children as well as Naalehu School students.

“We had nene and I worked with Fish and Wildlife Service on promoting them, so the children learned about the wildlife. I had ducks, chickens, peacocks, pigs and a Holstein cow. The school would bring up the students and I would tour them through the barnyard and tell them about all the different animals, what they did in the barnyard and what they provided for us in the house for food,” Rice explained.

After 13 years at Kahuku Ranch, the Rices moved to Pu’u Wa’awa’a Ranch where Sally worked as the office manager and continued to work with nene.

“I worked with Mr. Shipman and the state doing nene banding,” Rice said.

After Pu’u Wa’awa’a, she and Freddy established the FR Quarter Horse Ranch in Kailua-Kona where they developed an intensive grazing cattle operation with 2,000 head of cattle.

Rice’s career has been one of learning in the service of her island community. She spent the following years in a series of positions managing farm and ranch operations where Rice employed her academic background and experiences to create healthy, productive landscapes.

“It’s what I love to do. I love to see things grow. My reward is when they harvest whatever it is they’re growing,” she said.

While working for Farms of Kapua, Rice conducted climate zone research that explored the potential for subtropical crops such as persimmon, kiwi, pepino, low chill apples, peaches and artichokes to be grown from 2,000 to 4,500 feet. At that time, she also conducted research into the feasibility of makai crops to be grown using brackish water.

Rice has used her broad range of knowledge to work on a variety of projects including forest restoration, agricultural livestock, crop irrigation systems and the development of coffee, macadamia nut and tropical fruit orchards.

While she employs a variety of techniques, she likes to make use of natural farming techniques as much as possible.

“We have a fertilizer program and we like to use macadamia husk because that puts organic matter back into the soil. And when we prune our coffee, we grind up the prunings and that goes back into the soil right there where the coffee trees are,” Rice explained.

Currently she is the co-owner of Agro Resources Inc. in Waimea, which manages various island agricultural projects.

“We grow tropical fruit and we also do natural resource restoration with native Hawaiian plants. We’re doing that for Hawaiian Homes in Kona,” Rice said.

“We clear the haole koa and work with Jill Wagner of the Future Forest Nursery. She supplies the native trees and we work with Jill on her planting scheme and plant those trees and bushes. A lot of them are endangered,” she added.

Past president of Ka Ahahui O Ka Nahelehele, a native dryland forest restoration nonprofit, and the Hawaii Forest Institute Association, Rice has put her love of the land into action through conservation and restoration efforts.

ADVERTISING


One of her current projects involves Waimea Middle School students on the early stages of Ouli Park off Kawaihae Road in Kamuela. Recently, the project was awarded two new grants.

“Our mission is to restore the native dryland forest and to incorporate our Hawaiian culture into our restoration and education,” Rice concluded.