Family Farms Grow Great Coffee

Tropical region produces the finest hand-picked beans for a perfect cup of java.

| September/October 2008

Mention Kona coffee to a knowledgeable coffee drinker, and his or her eyes light up. The coffee bean grown by just a few small family farms on the volcanic mountain slopes of the Kona region on Hawaii, the big island, is known for brewing great-tasting coffee.

Microclimate for flavor

On the leeward slope of Mauna Loa Volcano, between the elevations of 500 feet and 2,800 feet, lies a narrow agriculture strip of land approximately 22 miles long by 2 miles wide. Within this Kona belt, some 630 farmers tend coffee trees on 3,500 acres. In fact, 90 percent of the Kona coffee beans are grown on independent farms with orchards of 3 acres or less. This unique region is blessed with near perfect coffee-bean growing conditions – a combination of rich, dark volcanic soil, gentle slopes, sun and rain.

While not every coffee farm offers tours to visitors, one that does is Greenwell Farms, located in the heart of the Coffee Belt. Greenwell Farms is family owned and operated – currently run by the fourth generation – and has been growing coffee beans since 1850. The 35-acre farm is near the town of Kealakekua, south of Kailua Kona.

Greenwell guides like Erika Borge, a local part-time student employee, lead informative walking tours that pass among some of the original plantation orchard trees and stop at the mill processing plant.

The Kona coffee bean’s growing season runs from August through February. According to Borge, a coffee tree will produce about 25 pounds of cherries (ripe beans) per tree per year, and it takes about seven pounds of beans to make one pound of coffee.

She says that while Greenwell Farms will grow about 120,000 pounds of its own coffee beans each year, Greenwell also purchases another 300,000 pounds of beans from other small coffee growers in the area who don’t do their own processing.

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