Keeping Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. Alive

By | Hawaii, Maalaea, Maui | 3 Comments

Visit Maui and chances are you’ll be intrigued by the ubiquity of signs for Alexander and Baldwin, from Wailuku’s H.P. Baldwin High to Makawao’s Baldwin Avenue.

But what’s the story behind it?

As two of the most influential (though controversial) figures in the Valley Isle’s history, Samuel Thomas Alexander and Henry Perrine Baldwin shaped the Maui we know today, having paved the way for its designation as one of the largest sugar providers on the planet.

sugarmill

Photography by Stu Soley

 

That legacy began at least thirteen centuries ago when Polynesians transported ‘ko’—or sugar—in their canoes before settling into the Hawaiian Islands.

“Native Hawaiian planters would typically maintain a patch of ko on the perimeter of their farm plots,” writes Paul Wood in Hana Hou. “They recognized some two dozen varieties and used the juice in food and as medicine, the leaves for thatch and the plumelike flowers in many ways.”

Operations for commercial sugar-harvesting began in the island’s Central Valley—specifically, Wailuku and Waikapu—during the 1820s. By 1870, Alexander and Baldwin made their first mark when they planted a sugarcane crop on their plantation below Makawao. Four years later, Wood writes, King David Kalakaua “helped persuade the U.S. government to enact the Reciprocity Treaty, allowing island sugar growers to sell their product duty-free.” As “boomtime” ensued, Alexander and Baldwin—childhood friends, both Protestants—expanded operations and created Maui Agricultural Company, an outfit that was incorporated with Claus Spreckel’s Hawaiian Commercial Co. and eventually became Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co.—a corporation that included California and Hawaii Sugar Company (that of the iconic pink and blue C & H label) and went on to dominate the Western World as one of the biggest suppliers of the sweet stuff.

Maui agricultural company

By 1901, those original efforts by Alexander and Baldwin were palpable across the island. The construction of Kahului Railroad and Kahului Harbor provided greater means to transport both sugar and people, while the erection of a towering mill in “goose hill”—a small community in the center of the island that’s known as Pu’unene—allowed HC&S to reuse its cane wash water for irrigation. Through the acquisition of additional land, HC&S’s plantations went on to span an enormous swath of the island’s 727 square miles, ultimately comprising 36,000 of Maui’s acres and giving kama’aina and visitors sweeping views of the crop’s tall, green stalks.

Alexander and Baldwin

For years, Alexander and Baldwin’s harvest was a tremendous boon for Hawaii’s economy; it also served as one of the driving forces behind the “mixed pot” demographic for which the Aloha State is famous. Droves of farmhands arrived from as far away as the Philippines and Portugal, taking Maui and the other islands from a place inhabited primarily by native Hawaiians and missionaries to one that included a variety of peoples and their attending cultures. As Hawai’i Magazine puts it, “Everyone who lives here now can see, hear, and taste the effect of the sugar plantations on the islands, from the landscape carved out by acres of cane to the pidgin we speak to the foods we eat: teri beef, manapua, adobo.”

But by 2016, nearly a century and a half after Alexander and Baldwin planted that first upcountry crop, the island’s sugarcane era reached its end when A&B announced the closure of HC&S, citing a transition to a diversified farm model and huge economic losses as the chief reasons for shuttering up its site in Pu’unene and letting go of 675 employees. (Other factors, including weather challenges and community opposition to cane burning and water use, also contributed to the decision, A&B’s President and CEO Christopher Benjamin said.)

nostalgia in Maui

Many Mauians are mourning—and bemoaning—the closure of HC&S. Aside from the job losses and displacements it’s caused, there’s the whole aspect of nostalgia—and necessity. For some, the smokestacks in Pu’unene served as a weather vane, illustrating whether the winds coming across the Central Valley were Konas or trades. For others, the closure hammers home the end of island life as it was known. “There is that nostalgia about that community life,” says Dorothy Pyle, a former professor of Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaii Maui College, whose husband, Bill, served as a long-time employee of HC&S. “It’s changing us forever because I will never see 36,000 acres of agriculture again, it just won’t happen. So that whole feel of the island—flying in over these fields and driving through them going to Lahaina—never going to be again.”

“That smell, it’s nostalgic,” agrees Larry Lambert, a former field engineering technician. “That’s what I’m going to miss. The squeezed, juicy, hot molasses. You can still smell it out in the fields, that aroma of burnt cane.”

Meanwhile, there is, pressingly so, the logistics of the land that was once devoted to cane—an area of Maui, Hawai’i Magazine reminds us, that is the twice the size of Manhattan.

Maui sugarcane fields

“The challenge and opportunity we face is 36,000 acres from sea level to 1,000 feet, with 60 inches of rain on the windward side to 12 inches of rain on the leeward side and all the conceivable soil types and typography,” says Jerrod Schreck, director of land stewardship and renewable energy development at A&B. “We were spoiled by sugar, it’s a really forgiving crop, and the market facilitated it for a long time. But the circumstances have changed, and we’re not convinced an industrial monocrop is the solution.” In the meantime, A&B is, Hawai’i Magazines writes, “experimenting with biofuel crops including sorghum and is in the process of converting 4,000 acres into pasture for grass-finished beef.”

As Maui adjusts to this shift, a number of islanders are determined to keep HC&S’s heritage alive. Pyle, Hawaii Public Radio reports, lives in an upcountry home created by “sanded slabs of redwood from leftover molasses crates that floated across the Pacific”—remnants from the Paia Mill, which closed in 2000. Others keep photos and keepsakes from the epoch. But it is The Mill House, and the Maui Tropical Plantation upon which it sits, that is going above and beyond to both honor and sustain sugarcane’s history in Hawaii.

historic mill pieces

A brief glance at the history behind Maui Tropical Plantation and The Mill House suggests why. The name of the restaurant itself was inspired by its rich history in Waikapu—a region, near the original site of The Cornwell Mill, that once housed mill workers and their modest homes and camps. When production increased and The Cornwell Mill closed, Wailuku and other mills opened in the area, and the extended acreage of the Maui Tropical Plantation was leased for harvesting sugarcane.

Maui Tropical Plantation

When news that the Wailuku Mill would be closing, Mr. Atherton—one of the owners of the Maui Tropical Plantation—felt it was vital to salvage and preserve some of its pieces. For years, these vestiges rested at the plantation, but as the idea of opening The Mill House came to bear, it became clear how these relics could be celebrated. Over time, and in conjunction with local artists and the plantation’s co-owner, Mr. Boyce, it was decided that the larger pieces of the Wailuku Mill could be installed at The Mill House as part of its infrastructure and to serve as displays. The effect, in a word, is stunning—and one of the many draws that lure people to the plantation and its award-winning restaurant.

gear pond

The impending closure of the Pu’unene Mill deepened The Mill House’s resolve to pay proper homage to the island’s past. The closure, says The Mill House’s Director of Communications, Marketing, and Education Amanda Hall, “affected Maui Tropical Plantation as much of the land, which had been leased for sugarcane growing, would now be available for other farmers. At the same time, we realized it also meant we would no longer see the mill in operation—and we felt it was important for our employees to get a chance to see what the mill looked like in all of its glory.”

Maui Tropical Plantation history

To that end, Mr. Boyce “reached out to his connections at the mill and we were afforded the chance to tour the mill in full operation,” says Hall. “For the chefs this was an exciting experience as they got to see the full production process of an ingredient they use every day. For many of us, we left the mill feeling closer to each other and closer to Maui. We all commented that the connection to the sugarcane fields that we passed as we drove back to the plantation and the pieces that we see here every day had a much deeper meaning for us.”

maui sugarcane plant

When the Pu’unene Mill completely ceased production, Hall and other plantation employees were invited to save and restore pieces from the mill. “These visits to the plant were far different than the ones before,” she says. “They were sad and eerie as there were no workers around and the machinery had come to a halt. There was a strong realization among all of us of how many lives have been involved in the history of the plant.” Vast rooms that once hummed with the sound of large machinery had gone silent. Employee lockers were left untouched, still containing bits and pieces from the laborers’ lives. Stations in the blacksmith shop were peppered with tools from previous operators just walking away. “You could hear the clink of a piece of metal if you dropped it on the floor a hundred yards away,” Hall adds, saying that the mill was “reminiscent of a ghost town.”

sugarmill in Maui Hawaii

But in the wake of these trips, Hall says, “we became even more closely connected with what this mill had stood for and the impact it had on Maui. Our desire to preserve these items became all consuming. Where once we had salvaged large 12-ton gears from the Wailuku plant, now we were in search of small treasures. Blacksmith goggles, hammers, calendars from employee lockers, bolts, nuts, anything that a human hand had touched. A chalkboard with blacksmith measurements written across it still intact. Locker doors lined with Playboy magazine centerfolds and photos from coed softball championships. Lamps strung over workstations were dismantled and brought to The Mill House in hopes to repurpose them and allow a new electricity to flow through.”

Mill House History

Since then, the Maui Tropical Plantation has done just that—literally and metaphorically—by spending a great deal of time installing vignettes throughout the property to tell the story of the mill’s importance. “In a way, the story is universal,” Hall says. “Myself and our owner grew up in areas where steel and lumber mills once stood and now as a result of globalization have moved to other countries. The abandoned sites that dot the American landscape and the stories of those who worked in them still resonates with many.”

“Sugarcane growing and processing is such a big part of Maui’s history,” she says, so much so, “it’s important for us to have guests at The Mill House get to see that story in as much of its entirety as possible. For us it’s about connecting the dots between the farmland that was grown for sugarcane, to the ways it was transported to the processing plants, to the large machinery that operated within those plants, down to the small tools used each day by the many workers whose lives were supported by this industry—and then now, to reflect upon what we learned.”

Hawaiian Commercial Sugar Company

As for the sugar museum itself? The Pu’unene-based exhibition hall, which celebrated its 30th anniversary in July of 2017, isn’t just thriving—it’s stronger than ever.

“We have nowhere to go but up,” museum director Roslyn Lightfoot told The Maui News. “The closing of the mill has been a death in the family…but it is opening up other opportunities for us. People are recognizing the value of what we support.”

Accordingly, The Maui News reports, “expansion plans are underway,” including a train museum (that will feature the Kahuku steam engine and the locomotives on display at Maui Tropical Plantation), and a plantation village, as well as “increased outdoor displays of the mill and field equipment, and a large grassy area for community events, including cultural festivals and plantation camp reunions.”

Those who visit the museum in Pu’unene often pause outside its entrance to snap shots of what went down as the last functioning sugar mill in Hawaii. Posterity may be one of the aims, but the impact sugar had on Maui will always remain. “It might be a few different shades of green,” HC&S’s former General Manager Rick Volner said of the future of Maui’s cane fields, “but it will still be green.”

Maui whale watching

Insane Maui whale watch!

By | Hawaii, Maalaea, Maui | One Comment

Now that our whales are officially home for the winter, we thought we’d share our favorite whale watch from last season.  Here we are off the coast of Maalaea with a group of humpback whales that mugged our boat for over 30 minutes.  We saw over a dozen breaches, and this playful pod observed us with incredible proximity.

This is one of the live videos we shot from the boat.  It starts getting really fun around 60 seconds into the video:

 

Photographer Natalie Brown was onboard and shot these amazing shots below.

humpback whales

They swam below the boat over 10 times!  It was as exciting as it gets.

Maui whale watch

Are you ready to go on a whale watch?  Check out these Maui whale watch boats.

amazing whale watch

This is going to be another amazing season with record number of returning humpback whales, we can just feel it!  Having been on a sunset cruise last week and seeing 3 breaches and plenty of whales so early, we’re confident it’ll be a season to remember.

whales Maui

Find the right whale watch for you and your family by calling (808) 419-3065 and speaking with an expert.

Maui whale watching

hawaii snakes

Are There Snakes in Hawaii?

By | Hawaii, Maalaea, Maui | No Comments

Hawaii is paradise in more ways than one. Not only is the weather perennially sublime, but the islands are also literally peaceful—at least when it comes to the animal kingdom.

Endemic flies are flightless. The native spider—fittingly called the Happy Face Spider—is non-poisonous; the cave cricket is blind. Even flora in the 50th state is passive: raspberries are thorn-less, nettles are nettle-less, and mint is mint-less—mint being, of course, an evolutionary strategy to ward off potential hunters.

Does Hawaii have snakes?

 

But even amid all this natural diplomacy, one of the biggest questions visitors ask is: Are there snakes in Hawaii?

Technically, yes—but not necessarily in the way you’re probably thinking of. Read More

Maui wedding

10 Maui Wedding Planning Mistakes

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A dream come true for couples around the world, deciding to host your wedding on one of the most beautiful islands in the world is a true gift to yourself and your guests! While getting Maui’d comes with its fair share of obvious perks, many couples underestimate the amount of work it takes, especially when planning from thousands of miles away. Photos from successful Maui weddings by Natalie Brown.

Here we offer our advice for common mistakes to avoid when planning your perfect Maui wedding, and remember, you’re on island time. Enjoy it!

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waterfalls Maui

11 Days on Maui

By | Hawaii, Maui | One Comment

With 440-plus islands on Earth, vacationers have a surplus of sandy shores from which to choose—from the glamorous, white-washed cliffs of Santorini to the romantic, glassy-watered coves of Saint Martin.

And yet, global travelers consistently choose to spend their hard-earned vacation days, honeymoons, and holidays on Maui, which, as the second largest island in Hawaii, sees more than 2.2 million visitors per year.

11 day Maui itinerary

It’s no wonder. Frequently rated the #1 island in the world, the Valley Isle has it all—sugary beaches, radiant waters, rugged coastlines, stunning flora, and beguiling fauna. And from ziplining through lush valleys to diving off shimmery waterfalls to eating five-star cuisine (often with an ocean view), Maui also offers countless things to do—so much so planning an 11-day trip to the island can leave even the most decisive among us dizzied.

While part of the appeal of vacations is going with the flow—particularly in Hawaii—having a general outline of where and how to spend your days will give you the freedom to enjoy each experience to the fullest.

Here, then, is the ultimate 11-day Maui itinerary—which will hammer home why the island is a premier vacation destination.

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aloha olympics

Aloha Olympics

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We’re not sure about you, but the Summer Olympics are one of our favorite things to watch! And as much as we support all of our U.S. teams and athletes, we can’t deny our excitement for the Aloha Olympics, open only to Hawaii residents.

So without further ado, we present the Aloha Olympics.

volcano volleyball

Volcano Volleyball 

This Aloha Olympics team sport begins with a qualifier round on flat ground to see who will be given the advantage of the higher elevation side of the net once the official games begin on the slopes of Haleakala Volcano. The two teams of 6 will be challenged not only by the intensely sloping ground, which must be played at elevation levels of no less than 8,000 feet, but the added challenges of occasional fly-by clouds or Nene goose visitors.

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Roger Gildersleeve

Life Lessons from a Legendary Maui Captain

By | Hawaii, Maui | 3 Comments

By Chris Norberg

Reflecting on what I’ve learned from a friendship with Roger.

Roger Gildersleeve Maui

Captain Roger Gildersleeve gave me the support and confidence to live the life I lead.  He was my first marketing client on Maui, where I help promote his beautiful vessel the Kai Kanani.  He gave me a shot, and his confidence in me was priceless.  I now have 70 clients, support a family of four, and am positively growing every day thanks to his inspiration.

 

His loss is being felt throughout the islands, but his absence is not what this article is about.  It’s important we share what he left behind.

I’ll never forget my first meeting with Roger.  He’d seemed to have figured things out.  Having had been through a life threatening illness (physically evident from a scar on his head.)  He admitted to looking at the future with a positive nature and love for life.  He was taking advantage of the gift of second chance.

For those not on Maui, it would seem that running a successful luxury catamaran in paradise would leave very little room for negativity.  Those that live on Maui know that life’s challenges follow anywhere you go. But for Roger, even during a particularly stressful time in his life, he remained positive, celebrating each small success he managed during the turmoil.  At least to me, he always seemed to be living with that 2nd lease on life mentality.  Each additional breath was a blessing.  Can you imagine our world if we all had that gift?

Over the near decade that I’ve had the pleasure of knowing him, he’s increased his dependency on his Kai Kanani ohana.  He treated his captains and crew like family–he’s given his trust to great people like Captains Cary and Anthony–in order to spend his valuable time doing what he loved (even more than being on the water): time with his kids and grand kids.  He’d also spent countless patient hours taking the most beautiful photos of birds I’ve ever seen.  He dove into photography like a boy in love.  His passion was infectious. Read More

sailing around Maui

Treat Yo Self!

By | Maalaea, Maui | No Comments

luxury resortRaise your hand if money has ever stopped you from doing something absolutely amazing.

Right.

Now assuming you’re not Larry Ellison, and everyone else has answered in the affirmative, let’s now assume that you have the opportunity to explore Maui with the ultimate ‘treat yo’self’ mantra in mind. You don’t need to be Ellison to enjoy some luxurious Maui experiences.  It’s worth holding back on consistent and extravagant vacation indulging in order to enjoy one or two truly sumptuous life long memories.

While everyone’s list would obviously vary based on their specific desires and interests, we hope you enjoy the following treat yo’self suggestions! And get a +1 to join you. Ahem.

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chefs bbq

Chef’s Barbecue Celebration

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Maui Chefs Invitational: BBQ

What happens when you pair eight prominent chefs with a perfect Maui Sunday and live music by the inimitable Marty Dread—and set it all among the exquisite grounds of Maui Tropical Plantation?

Nothing less than pure exuberance, fantastic eats, and a celebration that’ll appeal to the whole family.

chefs bbq

The 1st Annual Maui Chefs Invitational—a three-day fête showcasing some of the most visionary culinary masters in the U.S.—will culminate in a barbecue and celebration on Sunday, November 13th. Held in gorgeous Waikapu, this five-hour shindig will highlight Maui’s marvelous bounty and give kama’aina and keiki the chance to come together to enjoy what these star chefs have to offer. TICKETS

Intrigued? Here’s the deets:

 

When

Sunday, November 13th, 2016

1pm-6pm

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