Flower farm suffers from Big Island vog

Richard March
Richard March

By Stephanie Lum - bio | email

KA'U (KHNL) -- Nestled in a peaceful valley deep in Pahala, business is blooming at McCall Flower Farm.

Workers are busy bundling flowers for sale at the market which is a good sign. The bunches of dead plants however, as a result of the vog, is not.

Vog is short for volcanic smog. It's a form of air pollution made by Mother Nature. Sulfur dioxide and other gases and particles issuing from Kilauea volcano combine with moist air from the trade winds to create it.

"This is all burned from the vog! It all started when Halemaumau erupted last March," said Richard March who is a cultivator at the farm.

March points to the withered plants scattered throughout the greenhouse and says there's no way to protect the flowers from the devastating effects of the sulfur dioxide.

He holds up a colorful bunch of rose buds and shows us one with a speckled pattern on the rose petals.

"This is what the gas does to our plants. It's poison and eats away at the petals, stems and leaves us with flowers we can't sell. Sometimes it gets so bad, when the vog rolls in, I have to put a piece of candy in my mouth to get over the taste because the taste is nasty!" said March.

It's a war many farmers in the area are having with mother nature, but March says they're one of the few still in business thanks to a number of plants that continue to stand tall and vibrant.

"We're getting by right now and to us that's the main thing we still have jobs," said March.

Another bright side to this story are the baby coffee trees growing on a parcel of land adjacent from the flower crops.

"They looked at the coffee and it's not getting burned so they figure let's try it. Maybe we can still get the place going, so now we're starting to plant coffee. We can only hope for the best for that," said March.

Many Big Island farmers are taking a hard financial hit as a result of the vog's wrath and are still hoping grants from the government will help them recover their financial losses.

"When our farmers tell us they're being impacted by the vog, we're sympathetic and we look forward to helping protect their health and safety, but there's not much we can do to minimize or mitigate or alleviate the impact of vog," said Mayor Billy Kenoi.