On March 18, 2016, the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust (HILT) purchased a conservation easement on the 75-acre HCC Farms LLC coffee farm located south of Captain Cook, HI. This highly productive coffee land situated above Kealakekua Bay had been subdivided into fourteen five acre lots. With the easement in place, one residence can be constructed on the 75-acre tract, but the rest of the land will remain in agricultural use forever. HCC Farms LLC is located on Kealakekua Ridge on the western slope of Mauna Loa above Kealakekua Bay. The coffee farm is located along a steep ridgeline which was once heavily forested with native ‘Ōhi‘a trees and has now been planted with coffee trees. ‘Ōhi‘a forest covers the areas that are unsuitable for planting coffee. These forested areas provide habitat for native birds including apapane and ‘io which are known to nest on the property.
The average rainfall here is 60 inches per year which is in the ideal range for growing Kona coffee. The ridgeline funnels rainwater to the ocean, sometimes in tremendous flows. The landowner has worked with NRCS to build retention basins that slow the flow of water and thus allow the sediment load that the water carries to settle out. After the installation of the retention basins along the ridge bottom, the runoff remains in the retention basins and the soil and silts are used by the farm as part of their operations. Agricultural use of land protects the soil and allows for the natural percolation of water into the ground and into the water table thus contributing to clean water and increased water quality for surrounding landowners. The property is bordered by the 11,000 acre Kealakekua Ranch on which a conservation easement was previously placed, so the addition of this approximately 75 acres will make for a large area of conserved lands.
Kona Coffee is world renowned and a signature product of Kona, HI. Preservation of coffee farm lands is an important priority of the Kona Community Development Plan (2008), which emphasizes conserving of natural resources, open space and watersheds. This conservation easement perpetuates those desired qualities delineated in the Plan. The conserved land can best be managed by owners who care for the land and will carefully steward it. As was recently heard on KAPA radio in an advertisement for using local foods, “There’s nothing better for the soil than a farmer’s footsteps on it”. Ed Schultz, President of HCC Farms LLC said: “We were really excited to find a conservation group aligned with our goals for protecting agricultural land in Hawaii for the long term. HILT’s leadership team did a great job of educating us on the process and really worked with us every step of the way to ensure our land was conserved the right way.”
The funds for the purchase of the easement were contributed by the Freeman Foundation of Honolulu, in hopes of beginning a long-term effort to conserve coffee farms and other agricultural working lands in Hawaii. This easement on HCC Farms LLC is a first step towards the Land Trust’s goal of conserving other coffee farms in the area and helping those farmers continue to work the land while being rewarded for their efforts with some financial assistance.
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