Monday, April 6, 2009

Curing With Coffee

My most recent Big Island visit perked up when I attended the annual Kona Coffee Cultural Festival, Hawaii’s longest running ag event that’s been a major part of the island’s cultural complexion for some four decades. Picking up steam among connoisseurs, Kona Coffee consists exclusively of beans grown on the western slopes of Hualalai and Mauna Loa in a strip extending south from Holualoa to Honaunau. More than 670 farms create a tapestry amid the 22-mile-long, two-mile-wide coffee-rich corridor.

American missionary Samuel Ruggles introduced coffee to the island in 1828, transporting cuttings of Arabica trees from Oahu to Kona. The area was a natural choice, thanks to its rich volcanic soil, ample rainfall, natural cloud cover and hard-working family farmers who toiled away to establish the renowned region thriving today.

To explore this savory taste of the Big Island, you can pick up a Kona Coffee Country driving map from the concierge at most Kona Coast hotels and from businesses in Kailua-Kona Town. The comprehensive piece includes information on coffee history, current industry standards and an overview of cultivation practices. For direction ease, it opens to a map pinpointing farms and retail sites that welcome guests.

One of the industry’s most storied producers – and a long-time favorite of mine – is Greenwell Farms in Kealakekua. Most recently, Greenwell has brewed up additional recognition by donating 200 pounds of its finest for the inaugural Grounds For Health specialty coffee auction slated for June 2.

Launching in 1996 in Pochutla, Oaxaca, Mexico, Grounds For Health expanded services to the nearby town of Pluma Hidalgo two years later. It then established a site in Huatusco, Veracruz in 2000. Before the arrival of the Grounds For Health team, there was very little cervical cancer screening done in these areas. And there was no outreach at all to women in more remote communities. As a further setback, any screening done was hampered by questionable cytological accuracy and poor delivery of results.

Today, the Grounds For Health mission is to bring effective cervical cancer screening and treatment to women in coffee-growing communities throughout the world. By recruiting the world's largest coffee producers for the specialty auction, Grounds For Health hopes to spread goodwill to the global farming community and to foster a spirit of international collaboration.

Funds generated from the auction will be used for purchasing health care equipment, providing training and technical assistance to in-country partners, strengthening local treatment capacity, developing a network of community health promoters and educating women in coffee-growing communities. It's one of the first organizations to bring innovative, life-saving technology to coffee farmers and their families.

Based on research funded by the Gates Foundation and endorsed by the World Health Organization, this "Single Visit Screen & Treat" approach has proven affordable, effective and sustainable in low-resource settings.
It has also allowed rural women to receive care in one day. Even more important for long-term sustainability, the skills and equipment required for providing this care are simple enough for general health care practitioners in local communities.

Tom Greenwell, General Manager of Greenwell Farms, is pleased to show his farm's support. "Greenwell Farms has been in the coffee industry for 150 years and knows first hand the ups and downs of farming,” he said. “By participating in this unique auction, we are trying to help our fellow farmers around the world."

After establishing Greenwell Farms in 1850, Henry Nicholas Greenwell devoted the next 40 years farming, ranching and perfecting his Kona coffee. Today, the farm grows its own coffee on a portion of 100 acres amid the most productive land in the Kona District. It also purchases coffee cherry from over 200 selected farmers within the Kona region.

The farm lies adjacent to the ancestral home of Henry and his wife, Elizabeth, which is now occupied by the Kona Historical Society & Museum. Guided walking tours run continuously from 8am - 4pm Monday through Friday and 8am - 3pm on Saturday. Be sure to sample the white chocolate covered coffee beans in the tasting area!

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