The Taro Keeper

Lyndsey Haraguchi-Nakayama’s family has farmed on Kauai for five generations. By continuing the tradition, she’s not just cultivating a harvest—she’s preserving history.

What really makes Hawaii the destination of a lifetime is its spirit: the warmth of the people, and their reverence for the land and its history. In The Hawaii Issue, out now, we’ve profiled four locals who embody that spirit in their respective fields—food, surfing, agriculture, and the arts—and asked each of them to tell us what they love about the island they call home.

Just before Kauai’s Kuhio Highway dips away from the bluffs of Princeville and descends into rural Hanalei, an overlook reveals shimmeringtaro patches rimmed by mountains—an Instagrammable picture of tranquility.

For Lyndsey Haraguchi-Nakayama, a fifth-generation farmer, the picture is less serene. Trying to restore her family’s 55-acre taro farm and historic rice mill after three floods in 2018 has only added to her backbreaking work in calf-high water. “I went through two pairs of boots in a month,” she says, after leading a recent 3-hour tour of the irrigated fields, or lo‘i.

But Haraguchi-Nakayama’s sense of kuleana—Hawaiian for “responsibility”—toward the land and her family is sturdier than her footwear. Her great-great-grandparents emigrated from Japan to Kauai to work on a sugar plantation before growing rice in Hanalei Valley in the late 1800s. “That’s one reason why Hawaii has such a melting pot of ethnicities,” she says. 

In 1962, the Haraguchis switched from farming rice to farming the traditional Hawaiian staple of kalo, or taro, a starchy root vegetable with edible leaves that Polynesian voyagers brought to the islands centuries ago. The crop change coincided with a growing awareness of Hawaiian culture, as well as an interest in sustainability and a desire to support local farmers.

Today, the Hoopulapula Haraguchi Rice Mill & Taro Farm is part of the 917-acre Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge, designated in 1972 as a significant habitat for five endangered native water birds, including the state bird, nēnē (Hawaiian goose). One way to visit the refuge is through Haraguchi-Nakayama’s weekly “Taro Farm Flood Recovery Eco Tour.” Open to all ages, the tour demonstrates how to grow taro and combat invasive species like apple snails. It’s also an opportunity to sample taro treats sold at the family’s food truck, Hanalei Taro & Juice Co.

Tour proceeds help support the farm’s educational nonprofit, Hoopulapula Haraguchi Rice Mill, founded by Haraguchi-Nakayama’s mother, a former teacher. “Ho‘opulapula means ‘to plant the seedlings,’ of taro or rice,” she says, “but most importantly, the seeds of knowledge.”

Kauai Insider

Experience the beauty and bounty of the Garden Isle with these suggestions from Lyndsey Haraguchi-Nakayama.

● Lydgate Farms At this sustainable cacao farm, Haraguchi-Nakayama says, “They show you the whole process of how chocolate is made.” Even better: “You can taste chocolate from all these places, and honey, too.” 

Kauai Community Market Held every Saturday, this farmers market vets growers, crafters, and food vendors to ensure they are truly local. Haraguchi-Nakayama makes a beeline for the stand that sells green papaya salad. 

National Tropical Botanical Garden There’s plenty of kid-friendly fun to be had at this nonprofit’s two South Shore locations. Stroll through the 50-acre McBryde Garden, which boasts species like coral trees and native hibiscus. Then, take a tour of Allerton Garden and marvel at the massive tree roots seen in Jurassic Park. 

Hanalei River Besides Haraguchi-Nakayama’s farm tours, another great way to experience Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge is to rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard from an environmentally responsible outfitter like Kayak Hanalei. The company teaches visitors how to enjoy the waterways without disturbing the area’s endangered birds.

Jeanne Cooper is a former editor of The San Francisco Chronicle’s Travel section, and continues to pen its weekly “Globetrotter” column and “Hawaii Insider” blog.

Photography by Jenny Sathngam

Originally Published June 2019