Walking onto Kokoleka Lani Farms, a friendly group of chickens approached me. They serve as the official greeters at this lovely property at about 1,300 feet in Holualoa. My next aloha came from Greg Colden one of the farm’s owners. As usual, Greg was delighted to see me and anxious to show me all the new additions since my last visit several years ago.
His partner, Marty Corrigan joined us and we walked back through their large cacao forest. They have added more than 1,000 new trees and in the last two years have found an excellent chocolatier to make high quality chocolate from their cacao beans. Encouragement to keep producing great chocolate came from their receipt of the Best Cacao in the world award from the Institute of Bio-Diversity at the 2019 Cocoa of Excellence Program held in Paris.
“We have always loved the flavor of our chocolate but to get such a prestigious award was a real thrill,” he said. “It definitely keeps me smiling as I watch the cacao pods mature and change color on my daily dog walks through the farm.”
Though their Hawaiian farm name translates to “heavenly chocolate,” it’s not all about chocolate at Kokoleka Lani Farms. They definitely believe in bio-diversity as a farming principle. For example, their cacao is shaded by gliricidia plants. This plant, known as madre de cacao offers protection from the hot sun to the trees that are native to tropical rainforests. In addition to their cacao, they also have more than four hundred coffee trees as well as some mangos, coconuts, bananas, avocados, citrus trees and pineapple all intermingled throughout the farm.
Greg opined on bio-diversity as the best way to make a small farm work.
“I’ve found that by integrating different plant species we were able to reduce irrigation, fertilizer and pest control needs on the farm,” he said.
Over the years, Marty and Greg visited Hawaii during vacations from their work in the insurance business in the San Francisco Bay Area. They enjoyed the weather and dreamed of owning a farm on the Big Island. Neither had farming experience before buying the farm, though Greg reported on a wonderful childhood visit to a farm in Hannibal, Missouri. He was so awestruck by it that he went back home and planted a vegetable garden in his parent’s Los Angeles backyard. That was then.
Fast forward to 2004 when the pair decided to take the leap and buy a Hawaii Island farm. For nearly a year after their purchase, they were commuting back to the Bay Area for work between trips to start the heavy work of clearing their new farm.
When they bought the farm, it was planted with 20 coffee trees, 200 cacao trees, some gliricidia and a few fruit trees. Lots of weeds and invasive albezia trees were in stiff competition with the fruiting plants, however.
“Our first and perhaps biggest job was to get rid of all the weeds and invasive plants. That took some doing,” according to Marty.
Once they cleared the weeds and vines off the coffee and cacao, they began actually farming. Within three years, they received the “Cooperator of the Year” award from the Kona Soil and Water Conservation District. They had obviously become full-fledged farmers.
They now have plenty of fruit to eat and give away and have coffee and chocolate to sell. They didn’t stop there, however. All of their products are well displayed on their website: www.konanaturalsoap.com. Soap? Where does that fit in?
The soap starts with a story I have heard Greg tell several times. On a Hawaiian vacation in early 2000, Greg and friends spent a wonderful day snorkeling at Makalawena. All day in the sun without sunscreen, resulted in second-degree burns for Greg on his back and shoulders. Returning to their rented condo, he showered using the commercial soap that was available. As the blisters broke, the pain became intense.
Witnessing this, Marty decided having a soothing natural soap could be really helpful.
“That day, I decided to figure out how to make high quality soap,” he said.
He did and now they are running a soap factory as well as a gift shop while continuing to farm and offer farm tours. What a great way to retire.
Their soap is truly natural and very soothing. They use sustainably farmed ingredients like extra virgin olive oil, coconut and palm kernel oil and local kukui nut oil in their production. Sustainably produced and wild-crafted essential oils from around the world are added for scent and some cacao, papaya and citrus by products from the farm are also incorporated.
All of their nearly 30 soaps have Hawaiian names and list the ingredients on the web page and on their boxes. I have a few favorites. Kope Kokoleka is a 100% Kona coffee and Hawaiian cacao soap. Hoku contains lavender and vanilla scented balsam peru essential oils as well as some ground cacao winnowings to offer color and a mild exfoliant. ‘Io incorporates a blend of patchouli and clove essential oils. Poni’ala is made from French lavender essential oil. It is fragrant, calming and soothing and it is a great shampoo bar as well. To check out all the products that Greg and Marty offer, visit their website.
Like many local businesses, Kokoleka Lani Farms was challenged by the drop in visitors during the pandemic. Business at their store at Ali’i Marketplace as well reservations for their on-farm tours dropped significantly. Marty rose quickly to the occasion and improved their online presence to include stories about their farm and full descriptions of their products. Today they are even starting to offer small tours and visits by reservation on their site.
When asked about challenges, Greg added, “time” to the list.
“We barely have time to do all the watering pruning and propagation needed on the farm,” he said. “Add in soap manufacturing. How do you fit in eight hours of sleep?”
When I asked what he liked most about this time consuming job, he gave a one-word answer, “Guests.”
Though not officially in the hospitality business, Greg delights in welcoming visitors, malahini and kama’aina to Kokoleka Lani Farms. Guests come by appointment for tours and to visit the on-site gift shop.
Both Greg and Marty were very welcoming on my recent visit. I enjoyed seeing the additions to their farm and property and loved the opportunity to taste their roasted cacao beans and award winning chocolate. After sniffing many soaps, I even purchased a few with delightful aromas that I continue to enjoy.
Do check out their products online and definitely schedule a tour of the farm. You will not regret it.
Diana Duff is a plant adviser, educator and consultant living part time in Kailua-Kona.
Every 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. Come with a mask and be prepared to practice social distancing. Volunteers can 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.
Available online: “Brochure on Hawaii Leaf Rust” available at HawaiiCoffeeEd.com/CLRtrifold or contact Andrea Kawabata by e-mail at email@example.com, by text at (415) 694-1511 or phone at (808) 322-4892.
“Coffee Farmers Battle Coffee Leaf Rust Disease Across the Islands” on Hawaii Public Radio – The Conversation with HDOA’s Greg Takeshima. Audio link: https://www.hawaiipublicradio.org/post/conversation-move-get-students-classrooms
“Video on Little Fire Ants” with new information from the Hawaii Ant Lab and Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers at https://www.htfg.org/post/learn-about-little-fire-ants
Farmer Direct Markets (check websites for the latest hours and online markets)
Wednesday: “Ho’oulu Farmers Market” at Sheraton Kona Resort &Spa at Keauhou Bay
Saturday: “Keauhou Farmers Market,” 8 a.m. to noon at Keauhou Shopping Center (Online: www.keauhoufarmersmarket.com/onlinemarket)
“Kamuela Farmer’s Market,” 7:30 a.m. to noon at Pukalani Stables
“Waimea Town Market,” 7:30 a.m. to noon at the Parker School in central Waimea
“Waimea Homestead Farmers Market,” 7:30 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
“Hamakua Harvest,” 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Highway 19 and Mamane Street in Honoka’a
Plant Advice Lines
Anytime: firstname.lastname@example.org. Tuesdays and Thursdays: 9 a.m. to noon at UH-CES in Kainaliu by calling (808) 322-4893.