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.

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.

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.

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

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.”

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.”

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.

enjoy the dirt,” muses Charlene. “I enjoy people saying my cabbage is the best

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

Annual Taste of the Range Food Festival

Sept. 16., from 6 to 8
at the Hilton Waikoloa Village Hotel.
(808) 322-4892