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Vol. 17, no. 2
April / May 2014

 

The Constant Garden (Page 3)

Clark expected that interest in the traditional Japanese treat would fade when the older generation began passing away. Instead local demand for persimmons has picked up. “We can name our price,” he says. But along with the cost of the fruit, the cost of business continues to rise, too. He recently researched what it would take to replace the antique sorting machine— a lovely turquoise relic that sends fruits tumbling gently down into a round flat. “They don’t make them like this anymore,” he says, shaking his head. “The new machines are computerized with infrared to sort out bruises … and they cost half a million dollars.”

Over the years, the Hashimotos have strived not only to improve their own farm but to support the survival of other Upcountry farms. In the last decades many of Maui’s family farms have disappeared beneath bulldozers and development, abandoned when the next generation decided it wasn’t up for the challenge of working the land. But the Hashimotos have found a system that works with their contemporary lives. Because persimmons remain dormant until spring, they’re a relatively easy crop to manage. When fall harvest rolls around, the extended family assembles to pick, sort and pack fruit on weekends. A volunteer cooks lunch for everybody. When the harvest ends in December, Clark begins the year-round work of repairing the aging wood braces and pruning all five hundred trees. Scaling the ladder and choosing which slender branches to snip and which to save is a tedious task that he hopes to pass on to his own sons soon. “Farming persimmons is not something you can make a living off of,” he says, “but it’s good for keeping family tradition and making extra money for vacations.”

Each year, persimmon fans make pilgrimages up Pulehuiki’s steep, winding road to purchase their favorite fruit: More than fifty percent of the farm’s sales happen onsite. Along the way, sharp-eyed drivers might catch sight of ring-necked pheasants stalking the mist-laden orchard for fallen fruit. Many customers are old friends who stay to chat while Hanako, Jackie or one of the keiki (children) sorts fruit into wooden crates. Top-quality persimmons are carefully placed into cardboard boxes: eight pounds for $20.

“Twenty-five years ago persimmons were not as popular,” says Clark. “Now we can’t grow enough.” He’s right. Demand outpaces supply, and nearly all of the persimmons grown in Hawai‘i come from his farm or one of his neighbors on Pulehuiki Road. Hanako also reflects on the past. “Those green plums were delicious,” she says. “But the trees didn’t survive like the persimmons.”


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