Photo by Jack Wolford
Tane Datta is one of those guys who can— and will—talk all day about growing things that are good to eat. He and his wife Maureen tend their seven-and-a-half-acre farm, Adaptations, in Honaunau, where they experiment with plants both ordinary and strange. Like their trees, for example: Tane and Maureen grow oddities like star anise, curry and, arriving soon, Palestinian lime. Tane gave Ceylon cinnamon a shot in the early 1980s, he says, “just to see if it would grow.”
It did, and the 250 cinnamon trees he planted at 1,500-foot elevation are doing just fine. His success comes from his belief that plants will thrive where the environment suits them best. Now Tane’s and Maureen’s farm produces the only commercially grown cinnamon in Hawai‘i.
Ceylon, or true cinnamon, is not as strong-tasting as its cousin Cassia, the grocery store variety; it’s sweeter with a hint of citrus. A single tree can yield as much as forty pounds of cinnamon spice, which is made from the bark. Large branches are cut into three-foot logs; the bark is peeled, dried and sent to an organic mill in California, where it’s powdered and packaged for the Dattas’ Oceanfire brand.
Tane is always tinkering with new ways to get the most out of plants and the land on which they grow. He worked with chef, restaurateur and sustainable agriculture advocate Peter Merriman in the early 1990s, and he was instrumental in the development of the farm-to-table movement that has put Hawai‘i on the eco-culinary map. In fact, Adaptations is one of the oldest certified organic farms on the Big Island. “It’s about developing a relationship between people and plants,” Tane says. “Anything to make that connection stronger is a fun thing to do.”
Tane aims to build on his success with cinnamon: He’s working on producing cinnamon cooking planks, cinnamon leaf oil used in aromatherapy to improve memory and cinnamon for medicinal purposes. The bark is reputed to help maintain body weight, and one of its more impressive health benefits for diabetics is its ability to control blood sugar. Tane, the picture of health himself, sprinkles it on his morning cereal—just in case.