Issue 11.3: June/July 2008

Blast From the Past

story by John Kitchen
photo by Sergio Goes


Pearl Takamoto makes rice as she does every morning, except it’s not a simple matter of plugging in an electric cooker. This is, well, work—Pearl builds a fire with coffee wood sticks, boils water and cooks the rice in a metal pot.

Welcome back to the low-tech days of 1913 and mauka (upslope) Kona, site of the Kona Historical Society’s Kona Coffee Living History Farm, where Pearl and her fellow interpretive staffers re-create life as it was for the Uchida family, who homesteaded this land. The Uchidas worked their farm for three generations—until 1994, when it was entered into the National Register of Historic Places.

Wearing period dress, Pearl looks the part; she’s a Kona girl who grew up on a similar coffee farm. When cooked, the rice will be shaped into snack-size blocks called musubi, which visitors—especially the kids—will help create. If musubi isn’t your thing, put on a basket and pick some coffee or watch Casey Delo Santos demonstrate coffee drying. Visitors guide themselves around the site, with Pearl and the other interpreters providing the show- and-tell.

It’s all designed to give you a sense of the lives of the Japanese farmers who homesteaded these coffee lands. By the early 1900s, 80 percent of Kona’s coffee farmers were Japanese immigrants; they transformed the industry from large-scale plantations to small family farms, a change that rescued the Kona coffee industry from collapse. The farm is the only living history coffee farm in the United States. While it’s a simple place—a few historic structures and an interesting variety of authentic tools and artifacts of the day—it is also a working farm, producing and selling (at $22 per pound) more than 8,000 pounds of delicious, premium roast Kona coffee annually.

Maybe it’s the simplicity that visitors enjoy. “Everybody finds something to relate to here personally,” says assistant site manager Wendy Vance. People find the farm both interesting and poignant, Wendy says, because “this is a lifestyle on the verge of disappearing.” But it will be preserved here. HH

Kona Historical Society