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



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After the snails, the group heads to the tour’s historic attraction, the Haraguchi Rice Mill.  These fields were taro in ancient times. When the Haraguchi family bought them in 1924, they were planted with rice. Rice was the Haraguchis’ main crop until competition from California made them switch back to taro in 1962.

The rice mill, stocked with machinery from Japan, was for decades a major part of the Kauai agricultural scene and the mainstay of the family business. Although it’s no longer used, the family has preserved the rice mill as a nonprofit historic landmark, rebuilding it after not one, but two hurricanes, not to mention the occasional flood. It’s now filled with a growing collection of historic artifacts.

Kauai_Hanalei_valley_taro_fields_tour
To visit Haraguchi Farm, your first—and last—stop is Hanalei Taro & Juice Co.

In 1984, Lyndsey’s mother, a former teacher, instituted free tours of the rice mill for schools, over the years ushering some 25,000 Kauai students and teachers through the mill. In 2005, with little or no fanfare, Lyndsey started the paid tours for adults, by arrangement only, usually once a week. “It started slow,” she says, “but it’s grown, mainly by word of mouth.”

A tour of a historic rice mill and taro fields is not for everyone, but those who go seem to be deeply engaged. It’s not a canned tour. Lyndsey isn’t reading from a script, she’s immersed in the subject and family history, able to answer questions on everything from turn-of-the-century mill engineering to endangered birds, since the taro fields also function as a wildlife sanctuary.

At the mill, we get a chance to pound poi, drink coconut water and sample Hawaiian-style coconut-taro cakes. That’s not the only food. The tour ends as it began, at the solar-powered lunch wagon, Hanalei Taro & Juice Co., run by Lyndsey’s husband, Brad Nakayama. 

The tour includes lunch. “How do I eat this?” asks one guest of the laulau (You unwrap the shiny green ti leaves, but you eat the darker green taro tops wrapped round the pork).  Other guests take one look and choose turkey sandwiches.

Over lunch, I talked to Shann and Les Anderson, visitors from Maple Grove, Minn.  It’s Shann’s second tour.  “I went last time we were here, a couple of years ago,” she says.

"This time, I told Les, You have to take this tour. You have to love Lyndsey and her family. Farming’s a hard life, even in Hawai‘i.”

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Hoopulapula Haraguchi Rice Mill Tours, 5070 Kuhio Hwy., Hanalei, (808) 651-3399, www.haraguchiricemill.org. Tours are by appointment only. The tour fee, starting at $65, helps fund restoration efforts, free school tours and educational programs.

(A version of this feature was originally published in the October 2010 issue of HAWAII Magazine.)

Photos: Sue Boynton Photos

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