On the slopes of HaleakalĀ, on Pūlehuiki Road in Kula, Clark Hashimoto is girding for the persimmon harvest. Nearly 500 trees on Hashimoto Persimmon Farm’s five loamy acres are loaded with fruit, their branches supported by neat rows of wooden scaffolding. Fuyu, maru, hachiya—most of the trees are just about 100 years old now, planted by Hashimoto’s great-grandfather, Shinichi Hashimoto. Over three months in late fall and winter they will yield more than 40,000 pounds of fruit, every one of which will find an eager buyer in local restaurants, stores, produce wholesalers and legions of fans who make the picturesque drive upcountry to buy the shiny, deep-orange orbs at the farm, 8 pounds for $20.
“It was a hobby for my great-grandfather,” says Clark. “He missed eating persimmons in Japan so he planted a few trees, planted the seeds from the fruit and grafted them. Who knew it would be so popular today?”
It was different when Clark, who turns 68 in October, was in high school. In those days the fruit went to whoever showed up to buy it, and the family made most of its living farming cabbages and onions. One brother took over that side of the farm, another became head of agricultural inspection on Maui, and Clark went on to agribusiness studies at California Polytechnic State University and a long career as an extension agent with CTAHR and then as former mayor Charmaine Tavares’ ag specialist. When he retired, the trees got the benefit of that accumulated wisdom. He pruned, boosted irrigation, improved fertilization. As yields went up, he started wholesaling to Armstrong Produce in Honolulu and Kula Produce in Kahului. Mama’s Fish House in Pā‘ia is a regular customer now; so is Made in Hawaii Foods in Honolulu, which sells the fresh and dried fruit at farmers’ markets.
For all their popularity today, persimmons remain a scarce crop in Hawai‘i. Clark says Pūlehuiki Road alone has seven persimmon farms, and there are more in Waimea on Hawai‘i Island, but these are small. Hashimoto’s five-acre orchard is still the state’s largest. About 250 of the trees hold maru persimmons, golden and bitter when picked but sweetened after a 24-hour cure. Another 200 are fuyus, bright orange and sweetened on the branch. And then there are the hachiyas, deep orange and shaped like bulging tops; these are picked hard and astringent but, left to overripen, can be scooped out of their skins with a spoon, their flesh magically soft and jelly-like. Shinichi planted only 12, but in recent years Clark has found room to plant about 12 more.
In peak season, tourists will come from other islands, placing orders—for the hachiyas especially—well beforehand and stopping at Ali‘i Kula Lavender, T. Komoda Store in Makawao and other delicious landmarks before flying home the same day with their bounty.
This is the season that brings together three generations of Hashimotos to keep up—Clark’s wife Jackie is in charge of orders, packing, customer service and making the persimmon jam, butter, syrup and scone mix; everyone else picks, sorts, packs and sells. Shinichi, the patriarch, couldn’t have foreseen how his hobby trees would keep the family together a century later. But will the farm continue into the fifth generation?
“Hopefully one of our kids will try to take over. They’re still in their 30s and 40s so a long ways from retirement,” Clark says. “What it makes is just enough to keep the tradition and some spending money. But you can’t live on persimmons.”