Fields of Dreams

Haraguchi Rice Mill and taro farm blend tradition with innovation

By: By Dawna L. Robertson


Haraguchi Rice Mill
Tours: Wednesdays at 9 a.m. from the Haraguchi Rice Mill kiosk at 5-5070B Kuhio Hwy.
Cost: $65 per person
Commission: Varies


Click here to view a list of Kauai Museums 

At age six, Lyndsey Haraguchi-Nakayama was a mowing master. In fact, it’s one of her fondest childhood memories from growing up on her family’s wetland taro farm in Hanalei Valley on Kauai’s north shore.

The Haraguchis have 55 acres of taro fields. // (c) Sue Boynton, David Boynton Photography
The Haraguchis have
55 acres of taro fields.

Haraguchi-Nakayama now leaves the mowing to others, including her 86-year-old grandfather. To her, it simply proves that the farming passion knows no age limit. Today, this fifth-generation member of the hard-working family serves as educational coordinator and docent of the Haraguchi Rice Mill.

She describes taro farming as a labor of love where diversification has become essential. In addition to weekly tours of their picturesque taro fields and the last standing rice mill in the state, the Haraguchis have introduced creative taro-based cuisine showcasing a modern, more palatable take on an age-old tradition.

I had my first taste at the company’s kiosk before a Wednesday morning tour. The journey began at the adjacent Hanalei Juice and Taro Company with Kalo Koolers, nutrient-rich smoothies blending taro with tropical fruits.

Haraguchi-Nakayama’s husband, Brad, and her mother, Karol, have enhanced the image of this Polynesian staple with their signature concoctions, as well as other specialties like garlic taro hummus and coconut taro mochi.

"Mochi is sweet rice. So our coconut taro mochi covers both agricultural aspects of our tour," she said.

All can be enjoyed at the complimentary post-tour picnic lunch featuring unique recipes prepared with taro grown on the very farm we visited.

After a brief orientation, we set off to Haraguchi’s 55 acres of taro fields adjacent to the historic rice mill. The farm limits groups to 14 to reduce foot traffic. Haraguchi-Nakayama avoids lecturing tours, opting instead for hands-on, interactive approaches whenever opportunity lends itself — which is often.

"We see a lot of families with children taking our tour since it’s a fun way to learn about Kauai’s
agriculture and cultural history," she said. "And we’ve also seen quite a few architects who are interested in the design of the mill. It’s a nice tour because farming is such an important part of Kauai’s past and present."

Aside from learning about the growing and cultivating process, we witnessed a plethora of endangered Hawaiian water birds and native plants.

"The nene is our endangered state bird," said Haraguchi-Nakayama as we watched what she described as a very social group that frequently congregated on the bank of an irrigation ditch.

She also pointed out a mud hen, Koloa duck, black-necked stilt, cattle egret, Hawaiian coot and black-crowned night heron. Then, our focus swayed from these feathered friends to a taro foe — the apple snail.

The vivid pink appearance of this mollusk masks a dark, destructive nature. In Hawaii, taro farmers, scientists and agricultural experts are banding together to find ways to eradicate the pesky herbivore.

Our group was able to contribute to that effort in what was comparable to a treasure hunt. Haraguchi-Nakayama handed us homemade pickers to grab the intruders, which we then tossed into buckets.

"They’ll become fertilizer," she said with a smile.

After she exited "the trenches" and removed her knee-high rubber boots, we headed to the rice mill. Originally built by the Chinese in the late 1880s, it was purchased by the Haraguchi family in 1924. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the mill is situated within a National Wildlife Refuge not accessible to unauthorized traffic.

According to Haraguchi-Nakayama, the family has restored the mill three times — after a fire in 1930, following Hurricane Iwa in 1982 and after Hurricane Iniki in 1992.

"We always rebuilt to 1930 specs," she said.

Kauai’s rice industry collapsed in 1960, so the Haraguchis converted field production from rice to taro. They also founded a nonprofit organization in 1983 to preserve and interpret the mill as a living history museum.

Inside, Haraguchi-Nakayama showed us the rice milling process step by step, from hulking and polishing to sorting and bagging. Common-sense tweaks made production more efficient.

"They rigged an inner tube, rope and nails to hold bags open," she said. "That saved the labor of four workers who would otherwise be standing there just to hold bags open."

As a finale, we were treated to a lesson in poi pounding and coconut husking. While a few visitors were leery of the coconut-covered paiai — waterless poi resembling a purple ball of mashed potatoes — everyone gave it a shot. To no surprise, it tasted like poi with coconut.

The beauty of the taro tour is how it spans every step from field to table. And through preserving the historic mill as an agrarian museum, the Haraguchi family has also preserved the memory of the people who lived, worked and farmed in Hanalei.