Our Sustainable Practices

Since the beginning, Greenwell Farms has sought to maintain a healthy and vibrant growing environment, to engage in practices that nourish the land and are sustainable long term to create our specialty 100% Kona Coffee.

Caring for the Land

If you have ever visited the islands, you know that the beauty, fragility, and rarity of this place are palpable, and the connection one feels to the natural splendor of Hawai’i is transformative.  Greenwell Farms has stewarded the land here for over 170 years and it still surprises us, guides us, and sustains us. It is central to life in Hawai’i, vibrant land means vibrant people.

If you have ever visited the islands, you also know it is an incredibly varied collection of micro-climates. The Kona Coffee Belt is one of these, 35 miles long, a mile and a half wide, 500 to 3,200 feet in elevation with ample rainfall, well-drained, porous volcanic soil and a super temperate climate. Morning sun, afternoon cloud cover and soft winds, make this an ideal region for growing coffee.

For us it starts with a relationship, of getting to know the place you live and work, of nurturing and nourishing it for long-term sustainability and then doing everything in our power to make the trees healthy and happy. It means listening, observing and trying new things until we achieve the best possible outcome for both the coffee and the land that sustains it.

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Our Sustainable Farming Practices

When humans evolved from hunter gatherers to agriculturalists, there were a few simple basics they had to master. This included fertilizing the fields, choosing the right crop for the right place and time, and managing environmental threats such as insects, funguses and competing plants.  These basic concepts are still true today. The main difference is that in the modern day, we can consciously choose to address each of these issues in the most environmentally friendly way possible.

Protecting Against CBB

Greenwell Farms employs a multi-faceted program to manage our arch enemy, the Coffee Berry Borer (CBB). We employ a multi-year Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program to keep their populations at bay.

  • Grafting our trees for resistance to drought and ground-based nematodes.
  • Stripping and pre-stripping coffee completely from the tree pre- and post-harvest.

  • Applying traps containing water with natural soap in the fields to monitor when the beetles are flying.
  • Spraying organic funguses that are predatory to the beetle at the right times

  • Keeping the ground free of fallen fruit.

  • Stumping the trees (using the Beaumont-Fukunaga method established in the 50s) to create a non-fruiting year that reduces the beetle population to zero in year one, and higher coffee yields in year two.

Protecting Against CLR

One new and constantly evolving story here in Kona is the battle against Coffee Leaf Rust (CLR), a fungus that causes premature defoliation. To prevent and fight against this, we rotate products and experiment with different tree varieties that are resistant to the fungus, but still taste great. We also work closely with the Hawaii Agriculture Research Center (HARC) and College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CATHR) from the University of Hawaii to explore sustainable methods and Hawaii-compatible solutions.

Protecting the Land

Aside from literal pests, weeds are another common irritant in the fields and in many of our front yards. However, working with the weeds actually provides benefits. We use mowers, weed whackers and mulching to keep weeds under control and at a manageable length. This helps to prevent erosion, decrease moisture evaporation, and create a healthy microbial layer that aids in regenerating the soil.

Although fertilizers are essential to healthy trees and great tasting coffee, our mulching program, mowing, and field testing for nutrients allow us to fine-tune fertilizer applications. Fertilizers can be comprised of virgin raw material (rock dust), composted organic matter, and biosolids. From pest prevention to soil protection, Greenwell Farms mindfully and consciously chooses a path forward for each specific situation to keep the land healthy and vibrant, and will allow us to continue to grow coffee for another 150+ years.

Preserving the Environment

As you can imagine, there are various elements that go into sustainable farming practices. Here are other practices we engage in to honor our commitment to maintaining environmental vibrancy on our farm.

  • Reclaiming water used in wet milling, which is treated with Effective Microorganisms (EM), and using that water to feed pasture land in the lower part of our farm, where it’s drier.
  • Remaining a dry farm, meaning watering our coffee trees entirely by rain.

  • Partially sun drying our coffee to lower the amount of propane used in the dryers.
  • Reducing our electricity consumption from the grid through the use of solar panels on our dry mill operation.

  • Maintaining a large compost pile that changes location every couple of years. All organic matter that has no other use is composted at the lower (more rocky) elevation of the farm and is then spread out to create soil in that area. Then the pile moves to the next section so that little by little, we bring nutrients and life to these areas.

  • Returning all elements of coffee, besides the coffee beans themselves, back to the ground.

  • Creating a root system that is drought- and nematode-resistant, and coffee branches with great tasting coffee by grafting all of our coffee trees. This process results in trees that are healthier, live longer and require less ongoing treatment.
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Connecting with Our Community

We believe in growth for our land and our community. Here are some of the ways we at Greenwell Farms contribute to a more sustainable future for all:

  • Supplying trees to local farmers to help them re-plant with CLR-resistant varieties - we have proudly donated thousands so far!
  • Hosting “talk stories” (informal lectures) for industry specialists to share information with our farming community.
  • Increased production of varied crops (pepper, vanilla, cacao) as well as maintaining a host of fruits, flowers and native flora for a vibrant ecosystem.
  • Establishing an arrangement with a local bee-keeping company, which allows them to maintain their bee boxes on multiple parts of our farm with their main business to grow queen bees. These bees are sent all over the world to help re-establish bee colonies.
  • Creating a deeper understanding of the coffee harvesting process and a more mindful consumer through our complimentary daily farm tours, which are designed to educate visitors about coffee production from seed to cup.

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Our Commitment to Regeneration

The definition of the word “regenerative” speaks of the ability for environments, like the Kona Coffee Belt, to be able to regrow, renew, and restore. Regeneration stands for sustained growth, maintained healthy conditions and rejuvenated environments. The opposite of “regenerate” would be to destroy, deplete, and devitalize an environment, essentially robbing it of its ability to support life.

Since the beginning, Greenwell Farms has sought to maintain a healthy and vibrant growing environment, to engage in practices that nourish the land and are sustainable long term – just as those that came before us did

A Cultural Context

Hawaiian culture modeled sustainability from the start. When Captain Cook happened upon the Hawaiian Islands in 1778, he found a culture that was well-fed, healthy, and organized. Their society consisted of a complex supply chain that granted everyone “work” that directly related to creating an abundance for the people without having outside contact or foreign trade.

That same cultural context exists in Hawaii today: an idea that the land is not merely dirt or ground, but a living entity upon which we cohabitate. The health of the land affects the health of the people, and the actions of the people can affect the health of the land. As stewards of the land, here for a brief moment in time, we must maintain and contribute to its vibrancy for the continued success of subsequent generations.

As a fifth-generation family farm who has carried this responsibility for over 170 years, this cultural context is present in our hearts and minds every day and in every decision we make.