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Still Growing in Lalamilo

Third-generation farming families aren’t easy to find, but on the Big Island, the Yamamotos proudly maintain their farming heritage.

It's about 11 a.m. on a beautiful Waimea morning. A flatbed truck pulls up the dirt road and parks near the packing shed alongside a field filled with brilliant green cabbages. Four women hop off the flatbed and another woman emerges from the driver's seat. The ladies head for the table under the shed, grab their mugs and begin rummaging through the various snacks on the table. It's coffee-break time at Best Farm.

The ladies have already put in a half day of planting head cabbage and won bok seeds, the farm's two biggest crops. "It's a family affair; we just do the job," says Patsy Shioji with a smile. "He's the head guy; he's the boss," she says, pointing to Earl Yamamoto as he drives up on his tractor to join the coffee klatch.

Within minutes, Wendell Kawano, a farmer from next door who raises asparagus, stops by. So does Richard Nakano, bearing just-cooked ears of sweet corn. David Oshiro from Kawamata Farm down the road comes by, too; Oshiro's wife, Charlotte, is part of the Yamamoto clan that owns and operates Best Farm. It seems that the packing shed serves as the coffee room for the family farmers of Lalamilo, in Waimea on the Big Island.

The Yamamotos carry on a proud legacy of working the land. Photo: Macario

The third generation of the Yamamoto family-Earl, Bert and Curtis, and sisters Charlotte Oshiro and Charlene Nakagawa-continue a 90-year family legacy. "Our grandparents started as subsistence farmers, peddling the extras," explains Charlene. "Grandfather had been a plantation laborer and Grandmother was a picture bride."

Six months before the start of World War II, the Parker Ranch offered several farmers plowed land in the center of what is now the town of Waimea, anticipating the need for food crops. The first generation of Yamamotos was among the early farmers who supplied food to the troops training at Camp Tarawa, located where the third-generation Yamamotos farm today.

"After the war, the land in town was taken back," recalls Earl. "But the Lalamilo area was opened up around 1960 by Gov. [William] Quinn and several families bought tracts. Each lot had 15 acres of usable land and it had to be farmed or given up."

Only a half-dozen or so of those original farmers' families remain in the Lalamilo area. Some farms are leased to other farmers; some have been sold. The Yamamotos acquired more acreage over the years. "Most people coming into agricultural areas are non-ag people," explains Earl. "Neighbors are sometimes not tolerant of the dust, spraying and machinery that is integral to a farm."

"Farming has changed," he continues. "It's not just growing a crop; the business end is more complicated. There are more government regulations and documentation. These days, we need a compliance officer."

But Earl made the choice, 30 years ago, to return to the family farm, as did his brothers and sisters over the years. The five siblings, along with their cousin, Patsy, and four employees, work the 60-acre farm where cabbage, won bok, zucchini, lettuces and broccoli are the main crops, well suited to this cool area of Hawai'i.

"We enjoy the dirt," muses Charlene. "I enjoy people saying my cabbage is the best tasting."

The Yamamoto clan of Best Farm will be among the dozens of
Big Island farmers, ranchers and food producers at the

10th Annual Taste of the Range Food Festival
Sept. 16., from 6 to 8 p.m.
at the Hilton Waikoloa Village Hotel.
(808) 322-4892 www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/taste

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