Rotarians visit iconic Sumida Farm in Pearlridge

Aug 2, 2013 | PC Community


It took me 44 years to finally make the turn off of Kamehameha Highway that leads into the Sumida Farm fronting Pearlridge Center between Sears and Anna Millers Restaurant in Aiea. You know the place with the huge watercress field with the Hawaiian grass hale and the driveway with all the fish tales hanging on garage walls. Well, as a member of the Rotary Club of Pearlridge, I met up with about 27 other club members and guests on Friday, July 23 for a tour of the farm and processing facility.

The Rotarians were met by David Sumida who is a third generation Sumida Farm owner and current Operations Manager. Sumida's grandfather started the farm 85 years ago. We were briefed by Sumida on the history of the farm and what to expect during the one hour tour of Hawaii's largest watercress producer.

The Sumida Farm tour was a part of the Rotary Club of Pearlridge Vocational Tour Program. Wilton Ho, who serves as the club's Vocational Program Chairperson coordinated last Friday's tour with David Sumida who was happy to add the Rotarians to the Sumida Farm tour schedule.

"I'm looking forward to hanging out with all of you and meeting Wilton Ho," said Sumida. "This is going to be a good tour because I'm sure most people on this tour have never been to the farm before and have always wanted to visit us but never had the opportunity. So today is really a good time. Parents tell me the same thing when they come on field trips, when they come with their child. They tell me they always wanted to visit, and I tell them this a perfect way to visit the farm and share it with your child. Today’s tour is to show you the journey of the watercress from the field to the processing and to the market. We’re going to go out in the fields and see what’s going on out there. We just finished harvesting, but there will be work out there, cleaning and planting. We’ll go from the fields to the wash house and from there we’ll go the processing area."

Our first stop on the tour was an introduction to the vacuum chill tank that holds half a ton of watercress at a time. The purpose of the tank is to prolong the freshness and lifespan of the watercress by bringing the temperature down to 36 degrees by evaporating the water from the watercress bundles.

"Once we pump all the air out, we basically lower the atmospheric pressure inside the tank to the point where the water will start to evaporate," Sumida explained. "It's evaporation that's cooling the watercress. Even though the bundles are wrapped very tightly, the evaporation process will penetrate and the whole thing will cool down. This half a ton goes to a wholesale of customers tomorrow at 3:00am. That's my job."

Next stop was out into the watercress patches where we were introduced to the refreshing vision of millions of gallons of natural spring’s water flowing along and through the 10 acre farm.

"This water is really amazing," Sumida said. "It’s natural spring water that bubbles up from the ground. We got springs all over the aina. Roughly 5 million gallons of spring water a day. My Dad always told me that you got 10 acres of watercress, you need 10 million gallons of water a day."

During our visit to the watercress field, we watched in the background, several Sumida Farm employees working hard cleaning and replanting in the patches. Through the generations, the Sumida's have built a special bond with their workers who originally came from Ilocos Norte in the Philippines.

"Our workers are Ilocano, and their all immigrants from the Philippines. Great, great, great workers."

After our watercress patch tour, the group gathered back in the processing area where we all given a generous gift of watercress to share with our families. The Sumida's also provided watercress recipes collected from visitors as well as from their own family favorites for us to take home.

Before we left I had to ask Mr. Sumida about the origin and purpose of the grass hale that has become an iconic landmark on the Sumida Farm located just off Kamehameha Highway.

"It was my Dad's idea and our workers built it in 1970. It was my Dad's idea to landscape the farm. It really serves no purpose. It took on a life of its own because it’s very photogenic. People like to take pictures of it, tourists, and locals."

The Sumida's have thrived in the same location for a long time. The family has served and contributed to communities and its residents across our state. They have just signed a new 20 year lease with Kamehameha Schools, Bishop Estate for which they are very happy and appreciative for the opportunity to carry on their legacy of providing a world class product into the next generation and possibly beyond. That brings up the question of a fourth generation of Sumida watercress farmers ready for the hand off as the third generation reaches retirement someday?

"There is a fourth generation, but not so much that they'll take over,” Sumida said. “They have careers already. I'm really happy for my kids. They're making more money than me. I have two sons, an artist and film director. My oldest son is an artist for Comedy Central, he has good gig.  My younger son directs and produces in Hollywood. I'm very proud of them. My daughter is nineteen and up and coming. I don't know what she's going to do yet. I asked her to work on the farm but she no like (said with a laugh and a smile). As kids they worked on the farm. All the way through. They would come with me at 3:00am in the morning for the big delivery, those kind of things. Most of the time my kids helped me with the watercress delivery because that's a big job. My kids come back once a year like during the holidays. We hang out, not so much to work."

Okay fifth generation, it’s going to be up to you!

With regard to the huge fish tales displayed on the Sumida Farm garage walls? Sumida explained,

"The fish tales are trophies. They belong to the Aiea Boat Club which is located here. Those are Marlin tales. It has to be at least 600 lbs. Back in my Dad's day that was pretty common. My Dad helped start the club, and my Dad was really generous so he let the club locate here. Our farm workshop is full of all the tools that they need, a welder, acetylene torch, drill press, so that they can actually build their boat trailers here. They take turns dry docking and repairing their boats and it goes back in the boat harbor."

I would like to express my gratitude to David Sumida and the Sumida family for welcoming me and the Rotary Club of Pearlridge ohana who were able to experience the tour.

One special moment, while on the tour, that I will always remember and take away from the day was when Mr. Sumida, while standing along the edge of one of the watercress patches, as a stream of fresh natural springs water swirled around his submerged boots, spoke of the mana from his grandparents and parents that is always present on the farm. At that moment you could truly feel the gift. Awesome!

If you would like more information with regard to Sumida Farm tour dates and times, please call Sumida Farm, Inc. at: (808) 488-4517.

Mahalo to Pearlridge Rotarian Dick Mosko for his help in getting all the Rotarians and their guests prepared and signed up for the Sumida Farm tour.

Photo by Barry Villamil | [email protected]

Rotary Club of Pearlridge members and guests take a group photo with David Sumida (front row, far right)

in front of the Aiea Boat Club Marlin trophy wall located at Sumida Farms in Aiea.

Photo by Barry Villamil | [email protected]

The Sumida Farms watercress grass hale has become a classic landmark along Kamehameha Highway

in Aiea near Pearlridge Center.

Photo by Barry Villamil | [email protected]