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Quote Unquote: Meet the Third-Generation Farmer Behind Kamiya Gold Papayas

Michael Kamiya, 40, is a third-generation papaya farmer who worked in the corporate printing world before joining the family business full-time seven years ago. His grandparents started a small farm in Kāne‘ohe in the 1940s. Now, Kamiya Gold grows papayas on a total of 30 acres and recently completed construction of a new packing shed on a property in Punalu‘u.


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Michael Kamiya
Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino

AS KIDS WE GREW UP working on the farm. When we were little our job was to put the little stickers on the papaya.

 

IN 2011, MY DAD WANTED to either retire or sell Kamiya farms. I did some soul-searching and decided I wanted to make sure our family legacy still goes on.

 

YOU DON’T REALIZE WHAT a life change it is to become a farmer after working in a corporate office and corporate life.

 

I’M JUST SO GRATEFUL for what my dad has done. There’s no way I could do this as a younger farmer without that knowledge and experience.

 

MY MOM IS the papaya packer. She’s a retired schoolteacher but now that she’s retired, she’s there on production days.

 

“It’s crazy and it’s a lot of balance. But it’s your own business ... when you own it, it’s so different.”

 

MY DAD IS STILL THE PRESIDENT. He still makes all the executive decisions. I’m the farm laborer, delivery driver, pesticide applicator. I still handle all the sales. I do it all.

 

MY SISTER [JONI] HELPS with all the Facebook and a lot of the marketing. We have to do a lot of legislative issues. This past session really was kind of hairy because there are so many pesticide disclosures and pesticide buffer zones and it totally affects us.

 

ALL THE CHEMICALS WE use are EPA approved and they all have to be food safe. You can buy more harmful things at Home Depot than we can buy to use on our fruit.

 

SOMEONE STOLE THE port-a-potty! That was horrible. I had to pay for it because the company said I was responsible: $2,500. That was very painful.

 

WEATHER–THAT’S THE toughest part. You can’t control Mother Nature; you just have to be able to adjust to it. Sometimes there’s rain or there’s no rain and you’re in a drought. Right now, there’s so much rain on the Windward Side, a lot of trees are just dying because they’re sitting in the water too much.

 

YOU PLANT IT FROM A seedling and you watch it grow and you nurture it all the way until it’s giving you fruit. They’re making money for you. So, they’re like your workers. You have to take care of these trees.

 

I AM VERY, VERY FORTUNATE that I get to meet a lot of our customers. They smile and say, “I love the papaya.” They eat it every single day.

 

Taste papaya samples and meet the Kamiya family and other farmers at the 56th annual Hawai‘i State Farm Fair July 14 and 15 at Kualoa Ranch.

 

SEE ALSO: Everything You Need to Know About Local Fruit in Hawai‘i

 

READ MORE STORIES BY ROBBIE DINGEMAN

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Honolulu Magazine July 2018
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