richard-and-bananas-low-res.jpgWhy has Richard Ha, a farmer, become so well known for his advocacy of renewable energy?

In 2007, Richard went to the Peak Oil conference and saw the light. Touring the Houston Ship channel at the Port of Houston, Richard learned that most of the oil in the U.S. comes through that channel and that we were currently (in 2007) living on reserves that were found 40 years ago. And, according to Ha, for the last 20 years the world has been using twice as much energy as it had been finding.

It became clear to Richard that oil supplies were going down, prices were going up and that he was growing, transporting and refrigerating food with a commodity that would soon be even more expensive and scarce.

Back at home, transportation fuel was getting so expensive that farm workers at Richard’s farm, Hamakua Springs, were asking to borrow money to pay for gas just so they could get to work. The cost of distribution and refrigeration were also on the rise.

Connecting the Dots

But it isn’t t just Hamakua Springs that Richard is worried about, he is concerned about our food supply in Hawai‘i over the long term. With transportation and production costs increasing as fossil fuel becomes more scare, how can a state that imports 85% of its food a minimum of 2,400 miles survive?

“We were only growing banana and tomatoes.  I realized that if it was necessary to provide food to the community, then it was important to have variety. “

Ha contracted with farmers in the area to grow a variety of crops—corn, sweet potato, taro, apple banana, citrus, cucumbers, and more—which he markets under the Hilo Coast brand.  By contracting with local farmers to grow what they wanted to grow, Ha was able to empower other local farmers, diversify farm products and reduce farm labor at Hamakua Springs.

Hydroelectric, Geothermal and… Fish from Fuel?

It has long been a dream of Ha’s to generate electricity from the water—the flume at Hamakua Springs—that runs through the property. They are now in the process of constructing a hydroelectric plant that will generate electricity for refrigeration for Ha and the other farmers in the area. For farmers, wholesalers and supermarkets, refrigeration is a major cost of food production.

“Food security has to do with farmers farming, and if they make money the farmer will farm,” says Ha.

Ha is also well known these days for being an advocate of geothermal energy, believing in its potential to be an inexpensive source of energy for food production.

“From the point of view of the farmer we should enable geothermal into the grid. Geothermal costs half as much as oil to produce electricity. And, its cost will stay stable while oil will keep on rising.  Geothermal is a proven technology that is environmentally benign—it produces no greenhouse gasses.”

Hydoelectric, geothermal, what next? Ha does not stop there! His latest endeavor is a partnership with the Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center (PBARC) on a project to feed Tilapia with the algae cake that is a by-product of oil producing algae.

The algae is fed with papaya waste, the algae is turned into biofuel, the algae by-product (algae cake) gets fed to fish. 

In anticipation that the algae is going to work as a fish food, Ha is currently experimenting with Tilapia on the farm.

“We are using spring water and testing growing the fish with commercial feeds to figuring out seasonality and other factors.  We aren’t selling the fish, we are giving it to our farm workers to supplement their diets.”