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Hothouse Tomatoes and Hawaiian Cowboys

When Worldwide Farmers Exchange trainees Alexander Delos Santos and Antonio Villanueva signed on to intern at Kawamata Farms in Waimea, Hawaii, they not only got an education in hothouse tomato production – they became fully immersed in the unique paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) culture that makes this scenic district unlike any other in the Hawaiian islands.

Located in the northern interior of Hawaii’s Big Island, the historic Waimea County has a distinctively Western feel, due in no small part to its rolling hills, green pastures, and the fact that it’s home to one of the largest, privately owned cattle ranches in the U.S.

Against a pastoral backdrop of ranching, wrangling, and rodeos, Alexander and Antonio began their respective internships with Kawamata Farms, an award-winning commercial tomato grower that sells produce under the popular Kamuela Tomatoes brand. There, they learned how to grow tomatoes using the Dutch method of hydroponics in which tomato plants are grown in a nutrient solution rather than soil.

Hydroponics 101

As Alexander and Antonio experienced first-hand, growing tomatoes hydroponically allows the grower to raise them in a controlled environment without weeds, insects, or soil-borne diseases. Hydroponic systems are efficient and environmentally friendly, recycling water and nutrients, as well as optimizing space. Another benefit of hydroponic tomatoes is that the plants grow faster than their soil-grown counterparts, and their yield is greater.

Waimea is located in the northern interior of Hawaii’s Big Island.
Waimea is located in the northern interior of Hawaii’s Big Island.
Alexander Delos Santos pruning tomatoes in 2009 at Kawamata Farms in Waimea, Hawaii.
Alexander Delos Santos pruning tomatoes in 2009 at Kawamata Farms in Waimea, Hawaii.
Philippine native Antonio Villanueva learned how to harvest, grade, and pack tomatoes during is 2007 internship at Kawamata Farms.
Philippine native Antonio Villanueva learned how to harvest, grade, and pack tomatoes during is 2007 internship at Kawamata Farms.
A taste of the Old West: when you live in a ranching community, “WHOA” often makes more sense than “STOP.”
A taste of the Old West: when you live in a ranching community, “WHOA” often makes more sense than “STOP.”