Lyndsey Haraguchi-Nakayama demonstrates the old-Hawaii method of harvesting taro. // © 2016 Kahahawai Photography
Feature image (above): Tour guests see endangered waterbirds such as the Hawaiian stilt. // © 2016 Kahahawai Photography
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Hoopulapula Haraguchi Rice Mill’s guided tours are offered on Wednesdays at 10 a.m. and last approximately four hours.
Hanalei Taro & Juice Co.
Hoopulapula Haraguchi Rice Mill
When Lyndsey Haraguchi-Nakayama was just 2 years old, she was already spending time in fields of taro, a traditional Polynesian food source. By the age of 6, the Hawaii native was driving tractors on her family’s taro farm on Kauai. Now, she continues her connection with the historic site, its memories and traditions by leading weekly, reservation-only tours of Hoopulapula Haraguchi Rice Mill, her family’s rice mill and taro farm.
“My parents, Rodney and Karol Haraguchi, are the fourth generation of the family farm that started the nonprofit, historic Hoopulapula Haraguchi Rice Mill, which includes artifacts dating back to the 1800s,” Haraguchi-Nakayama said. “Family recipes have also been passed down through the generations that are served on tour and at Hanalei Taro & Juice Co.”
Built by Chinese immigrants and dating back to the 1800s, Hoopulapula Haraguchi Rice Mill was purchased by Haraguchi-Nakayama’s family in 1924. Listed on the National Register of Historical Places, Hoopulapula Haraguchi Rice Mill is the last remaining rice mill in Hawaii. It is nestled amongst the working wetland taro fields of Hanalei Valley on Kauai’s lush north shore. It is also located within a National Wildlife Refuge, offering tour-goers the opportunity to see endangered waterbirds such as Hawaiian stilts and Java sparrows.
The mill has been restored three times by the Haraguchi family: after a fire in 1930; after Hurricane Iwa in 1982; and after Hurricane Iniki in 1992. When Kauai’s rice industry collapsed in 1960, the rice mill stopped operating, and the family preserved it as a nonprofit historic landmark. Hoopulapula Haraguchi Rice Mill is now home to an extensive collection of artifacts and has received thousands of visitors over the past three decades.
“The tour is an insightful glimpse into the past agricultural history of Hanalei Valley, as well as present farming challenges,” Haraguchi-Nakayama said. “Guests get to hear some of the stories of growing up on the farm. For our family, it’s a humble way to share the food, tradition and culture of the family farm, as well as to sustain nonprofit educational programs.”
Visitors are served a taro smoothie as they walk through taro patches that have been cultivated for multiple generations. They learn how the crop is harvested and processed via modern and traditional farming techniques. Hands-on activities such as poi pounding and apple-snail picking and egg eradication offer the opportunity to play a part in the family’s longstanding agricultural tradition.
Back at the rice mill, Haraguchi-Nakayama provides an in-depth explanation of the unique architecture and special machinery from Japan while sharing personal stories and family history.
Along with the sample produce tastings provided throughout the tour, visitors are treated to a complimentary farm-to-table lunch and dessert at the end. The menu features authentic Hawaiian dishes that source fresh taro, fruits and vegetables from Haraguchi Farms and meat from Kauai ranchers. Some of the dishes served include traditional “lau lau” (pork wrapped in steamed taro leaves), taro veggie burgers and taro mochi cake.
“I always knew in my heart that I would return to the farm and continue the family farming tradition even while leaving the island for undergraduate and graduate school,” Haraguchi-Nakayama said. “I love educating guests about the agricultural history and endangered bird species, sharing family stories and interacting with each guest as I welcome them into the family farm.”
Exploring Hanalei history
For schooling in a page of unique island history, I join a tour of Hawaii’s only remaining rice mill, situated among the taro ponds. Rice was grown here commercially from the 19th century until Hawaii’s rice industry collapsed in the 1960s.
The Ho`opulapula Haraguchi Rice Mill is now in the middle of Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge, off-limits to most visitors, so if you’re a birder the tour also offers chances to bolster your life list with possible glimpses of endangered species such as the ae`o (Hawaiian stilt), `alae ke`oke`o (Hawaiian coot), `alae `ula (Hawaiian moorhen), nene (Hawaiian goose) and the koloa maoli (Hawaiian duck).
The tour is highly personal. Leading it is 35-year-old Lyndsey Haraguchi-Nakayama, whose family is in its sixth generation of farming the valley, which included operating the mill until its closure. Now, through a nonprofit, the family helps preserve the historic mill, which has been rebuilt and restored through many flash floods — you can get rain here that would impress Noah — and two major hurricanes.
“At the ripe old age of 6 I started driving tractors, to help with evacuations,” Haraguchi-Nakayama recalls as she stands by a taro pond and tells her family’s story.
Under the old mill’s corrugated metal roof, she shows how scoops of rice moved on a conveyor belt powered at first by a water wheel, later by a hefty diesel engine. Machinery dating to 1830s China includes boulders that turned together to crush and hull the rice.
I learn almost enough about rice milling and taro farming to wade into a pond and go to work.
The tour concludes with a demonstration of taro pounding using a lava-rock stone. There are samples of coconut water and fresh pa`i`ai, or pounded poi — like purplish lumps of dough rolled in freshly shredded coconut. Then comes a catered lunch of sticky rice, lau lau pork (marinated pork wrapped in a steamed taro leaf) and a sweet mochi cake.
It leaves me bulging with Hanalei culture — and its food.
Photo courtesy: Kent Chastain
Lunch at: Hanalei Juice & Taro Company. On the way to Hanalei, this food truck has delicious dairy-free smoothies, in which taro and coconut replace dairy. Experience true Hawaiian dishes there, too. Read More
A hit with locals and visitors, the Hanalei Taro & Juice Co. is a spot that all visitors need to stop at and enjoy. Very local style, the restaurant is a local style lunch wagon resting roadside in Hanalei. Serving traditional Hawaiian food, but with a modern twist, this is your best bet to fill up on taro, the root crop that sustained Hawaiians for generations. Here you can find taro and many other healthy ingredients prepared with a modern twist, such as a taro smoothie, Hawaiian plate lunches, taro hummus, taro veggie burgers, and even taro acai bowls- the list goes on. A perfect place for those who enjoy a traditional diet and vegetarians too, the wagon will give you a taste of Hawaii's unique array of food. The lunch wagon run by the same family who runs the historical Haraguchi rice mill and their farms, and the taro and other ingredients are locally grown. Coming into Hanalei, look for it on the right. Read More