story by Catharine Lo
On a crisp February morning, Mary Lou Moss drove up to Smithfarms in the hills above Kealakekua Bay dressed in her bathrobe. “I can’t believe I’m doing this,” she said to photographer Susan Dabritz, who rode shotgun. When they arrived, Smithfarms’ Cecilia Smith greeted them with nervous laughter. They drank a few glasses of champagne—never mind that it was 8 o’clock in the morning—as Dabritz readied her equipment.
“OK, it’s time to strip,” Dabritz announced. And so they did. Moss positioned herself behind some branches of ripe, red coffee beans, sporting nothing but a wire mesh basket. Smith donned a couple of lei, turned on the roaster and began roasting beans in the nude.
A bizarre new organic farming practice? Actually, no. Moss and Smith were on a shoot for “The Naked Truth About 100% Kona Coffee,” a 2009 calendar that features eleven female farmers—all over 50—who are devoted to protecting the good name of the gourmet bean. Following the lead of a group of Englishwomen whose nude calendar raised a million dollars for a local hospital (and inspired the movie Calendar Girls), these farmers got naked to raise awareness of their cause. Some were shy at first, but warmed as they fixed each other’s hair and arranged strategically placed props.
“It’s not about us; it’s about the coffee!” Moss reminded them. Hawai‘i Island’s coffee belt lies on the slopes of Hualalai and Mauna Loa and hosts 670 small family farms. By law, only coffee grown in this region can be labeled “100% Kona Coffee.” And, the farmers contend, only this one area can produce the real thing. “There’s no way you can taste Kona in a 10 percent blend,” Moss says. “We’re saying, ‘Please don’t use the name Kona on a bag of foreign beans.’
“At first I thought,‘How are we going to get rid of 1,000 calendars?’” she remembers. Instead, the calendar’s success has been overwhelming (they’re now in their third printing and in all of the Islands’ Borders bookstores), and the women have become local celebrities, making appearances at parades and festivals in their pink “Kona Coffee Calendar Girls” shirts. “It was lots and lots of fun,” says Miss September Deb Sims. “Instead of dressing up, we were dressing down." HH