Nalo Farms Needs Your Help

The Waimānalo farm, which suffered serious crop damage after this weekend’s storm, started a GoFundMe campaign to stay in business.


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Dean Okimoto of Nalo Farms standing in his 14-acre farm in Waimānalo before Friday’s rains devastated it.
Photo: Courtesy of Nalo Farms

 

As soon as Dean Okimoto of Nalo Farms got to his farm in Waimānalo on Saturday morning, he knew it was bad.

 

“Heck, we couldn’t even get into the farm because the force of the water had broken the gate,” he says. “That was the first indication that there had been a lot of rain.”

 

He drove past coconuts, car tires, a baby car seat and a vacuum cleaner to find his farm under 4 feet of water.

 

 

A post shared by Nalo Farms (@nalofarms) on

 

Nalo Farm is one of dozens of O‘ahu businesses and residents—there are even more on Kaua‘i—affected by Friday night’s torrential rains. Many homes in East Honolulu and Waimānalo sustained major flood damage, rising waters destroyed cars and debris blocked roads in Kailua, ʻĀina Haina, Waimānalo and Hawai‘i Kai. Kalanianaʻole Highway was closed on Friday night as floodwaters rose, trapping drivers in their cars and adding hours to commute times. Fast-rising waters hadn’t receded from the grounds and building at Calvary by the Sea Lutheran Church and Montessori School by Saturday morning; the pastor took to social media, looking for a temporary, 2,300-square-foot facility with toilets and sinks to lease for at least a month. Honolulu Waldorf School is closed today. The National Weather Service reported rain was falling at a rate of 2 to 4 inches per hours in East Honolulu and Windward O‘ahu.

 

Friday’s storm wiped out 12 of Nalo Farms’ 14 acres in Waimānalo, with damage to fencing, irrigation and crops. (The third-generation farm specializes in salad greens, microgreens, herbs and other produce, much of that supplying 70 to 80 local restaurants and a few grocery stores.)

 

Fifty of the farm’s 130 three-tiered beehives were lost, too, Okimoto added, with some swept more than 1,000 feet away by floodwaters.

 

“When all that gets wiped out,” Okimoto says, “you have no income coming in because you have no crops, you lost all that money from seeds and planting, and you still have to pay your employees to clean up and plant again. So, it’s threefold.”

 

He estimates it will take at least a month to clean up and replant, and another month to harvest and sell. That’s two months with no income—and bills still need to get paid.

 

On Saturday the farm set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise $100,000 to help replace and repair the infrastructure that was lost and to replant its crops. So far, it has raised more than $20,000, with people leaving heartfelt comments of thanks, support and love.

 

“A small token of appreciation for all the herbs and greens that I have purchased from you over the years,” posted one backer. Another added, “Mahalo for the love your farm has grown. We believe in you!”

 

 

“I tell you what, [the outpouring of support] has really reinvigorated me,” says Okimoto, 63, adding that it’s been humbling and a bit awkward, too. “There is hope for ag. There’s an understanding out there about the importance of ag. People really do appreciate it. And that’s what makes me feel like, ʻOK, I can still fight for this.’”

 

This devastation comes a few days after Okimoto announced he was selling 2.5 acres of prime ag land in Waimānalo—land passed down to him from his parents—and transferring the lease on the nearby 14-acre farm (the one that got flooded on Friday) to his farm workers. His plan was to pay off debts, remain a minority stakeholder and keep Nalo Farms in operation while he worked on other projects, including continuing to promote and support Hawaiʻi ag.

 

He listed the 2.5 acres at $1.316 million and has received interest, he says. But this recent flooding is a setback.

 

“At the time [of putting the property up for sale], we were still able to pay our bills and continue on,” he says. “I still had time to look for a buyer. But this storm put a whole new wrinkle in plans.”

 

He’s still moving forward on his plans to sell his property and transfer the lease. As Roy Yamaguchi, James Beard Award-winning chef and friend, says, “Dean is a fighter.”

 

“I’ve known him for almost 30 years,” says Yamaguchi, who uses Nalo Farms greens in his Oʻahu restaurants. “He’s no quitter, that’s for sure. But this is why I feel for farmers, how their livelihoods are based on their hard work and sometimes these things happen … But, to me, it’s not only Dean. Farmers are the benchmark and rock stars of our community when it comes to our sustainability, so we need to be able to support local farmers, ranchers and fishermen. It’s so important to help not only Dean but all farmers who work hard on a day-to-day basis to grow food for us. That’s really the key.”

 

To help save Nalo Farms, visit here.

 

READ MORE STORIES BY CATHERINE TOTH FOX

 

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