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Hanalei taro tour a journey into Kauai family's farming history

Green and glistening: The taro of Haraguchi Farm in Kauai's Hanalei Valley

Even dressed in muddy boots and jeans, Lyndsey Haraguchi-Nakayama has an entire tour group hanging on her every word. It’s not every day you get to meet a fifth-generation farmer from Kauai’s lush Hanalei Valley.

The wetland taro fields that stretch out green and glimmering as you cross the one-lane metal bridge into Hanalei? That’s Haraguchi Farm, the largest taro farm in the state. 

Lyndsey’s great-great-grandfather began working these fields in 1924. They’re still worked by the family—her father and mother, brother, husband, even her 88-year-old grandfather and her 3-year-old daughter, making six generations in all. When she’s not giving one of her rare tours, Lyndsey spends her hours working the farm.

Taro grows in flooded fields called lo‘i, and the taro shoots are planted, tended and harvested by hand while wading in water and mud. It’s backbreaking labor. “Our family keeps chiropractors in business,” laughs Lyndsey.

Taro farming is arduous enough, but in addition, the low-lying fields are exposed to hurricanes and flash floods. The last flood, in November, 2009, almost wiped out the farm. Lyndsey’s mother had to be rescued from the farmhouse by Zodiac boat, and the family had to redo all its lo‘i and replace much equipment.

“It takes perseverance to be a farmer, maybe just being stubborn,” says Lyndsey.  She brightens the group’s mood by telling how she learned to drive a tractor at age 6, specifically so that when floods came, she could drive one of the farm’s tractors to higher ground, while her father drove the other. “To me, it was fun.”

Lyndsey Haraguchi-Nakayama is the fifth generation to work these muddy fields.

The dozen or so people on this tour seem deeply affected by the trials of life on the lo‘i. You can tell by their reaction to the snails. 

In the 1980s, apple snails were introduced to Hawaii, originally for aquariums.  They got loose—and devastated taro crops. The snails lay bright pink egg sacs, easily visible against the green taro stalks. 

Suddenly everyone on the tour is wielding a long-handled strainer, doing his or her best to scrape pink snail eggs off the plants. Lyndsey has to keep reminding them not to go into the water. “You’ll get stuck, and the mud will ruin your shoes.”

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