Farmers brave lava, fumes to tend crops and they're the lucky ones

Big Island farmers brave lava, toxic fumes to harvest crops
Published: Jun. 18, 2018 at 10:13 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 19, 2018 at 12:21 PM HST
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KAPOHO, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - Big Island farmers lucky enough to still have viable crops are braving hazardous conditions to harvest what they can.

Take Rusty and Jenny Perry.

The large, channelized lava flow that has been creating new land over Kapoho Bay goes right over what used to be the driveway of the Perrys' property.

The couple own Kapoho Grown, a Big Island farm with fields of lychee, apple bananas and papaya. But when the Perrys were forced to evacuate their farm weeks ago, they were only able to take items from their home.

The state Department of Agriculture estimates losses due to farming operations amid the ongoing eruptions at more than $14 million.

As much as half of the state's cut flower industry and up to 80 percent of the county's papaya farms have been lost. And more than two dozen farmers report a complete loss of operations due to lava.

The Perrys didn't have time to take any fruit with them when they fled, and ended up missing shipments of produce to the mainland and other parts of the state.

"It's just waiting there, waiting to be picked," said Jenny Perry.

When they realized their orchards were still thriving, neighbors offered them a way to get back to the farm.

To safely get to their property, the couple's new route requires them to go though multiple gates on neighboring land, and travel on unpaved back roads. It's quadrupled the drive time to their lane.

"My neighbor said go through my property, if you have to cut the fence, cut the fence. So we did," Jenny Perry said.

They go in a few days a week, with two other workers, taking whatever they can haul out, but they make sure they leave before it gets dark.

"I would much rather be here, but we don't want to spend the night here anymore," Rusty said. "We can see the flow going down but nothing says it has to go in that direction."

The Perrys worry that the river of lava could crest the banks and then crawl over their property. Still, they know how lucky they are.

"Very lucky. So many of my friends have lost everything," Jenny Perry said.

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