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 Ho‘opulapula 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, Ho‘opulapula 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.”