From Dream to Reality -
Kauai’s First Timber Frame and Organic Coffee Farm
Over the last four months I have experienced some of the most exciting times in my life as giant steps of growth and development have occurred at Blair Estate coffee farm in Kauai. After nearly two years of planning, ground was finally broken in mid-June for the construction of a new multi-purpose timber frame barn that will serve as a coffee processing and roasting facility as well as a home. This building project has proven itself to be not only the greatest challenge but the most rewarding thing I’ve done in life. I must also add that it wasn’t very far into the process that I realized none of this would be possible without the support of family and close friends.
In June the preparation of the frame began with the shaping of redwood timbers shipped in from a small mill in northern California. For over a century in Hawaii, redwood, now a scarce commodity, has proven its natural resistance to decay and termites. It wasn’t until I ran across Randy Huffman, an ecology- minded sawyer who operates a wood mill that specializes in wind-blown and salvaged redwoods, that I decided with clear conscience to build a classic New England style timber frame barn out of redwood on my organic coffee farm. Having been raised in New Hampshire and having lived in Hawaii for the last fourteen years I was looking to compliment an island way of life with a familiar style of building that reminded me of my roots. This barn has lent itself well to both purposes.
Over the course of two months the timbers were slowly sculpted by friend and master timber framer, Scott Dorwart of Stowe, Vermont. Despite the prospect of having to leave his wife and two children for nearly three months (something he rarely does) Scott arrived in Kauai to begin work on this exciting project. The challenge that faced him would be the turning of raw wood timbers into the frame work of a barn that would serve many purposes. Having spent a couple of summers in Vermont many years back, laboring with Scott to build his own house, it was during those years that I gained an appreciation for this style of old-world architecture. Mortised and tenoned, drilled and frameged with wood dowels, the barn at Blair Estate was chiselled into a six bent system and created entirely on the ground.
It was in the quiet of the morning on July 14th that we arrived at the farm to see the sun rise. The pieces of the frame lay on the ground before us. Needless to say nervous anxiety made it difficult to sleep the night before. So much was riding on the concept of everything fitting in perfect order for our timber frame barn to stand up by day’s end. But in almost perfect fashion the barn was raised, fitted and joined by the time the sun set. As the daylight exited the barn now stood before us. With so much time spent in preparation it was an incredible feeling to see all the pieces literally come together. Two days later the rafters and purlins were lifted and set into place and the barn that appeared only in our minds and on paper finally stood before us in real life.
We had come so far on a journey that had begun with a design session with architect Kim Brown of Waterbury Center, Vermont on a snowy night in the far northern reaches of New England; stretched through the months of arranging permits, suppliers and subcontractors, and finally led us to this sight — our barn standing tall with banana trees and Kauai’s blue sky in the background.
Thanks to the efforts of my parents the project moved along in great fashion. Bob Drent handled the finances of the building and Kaaren Drent masterfully handled the cooking for the crew so our pace of work was able to continue in a timely fashion. As we were nourished daily by Mom’s home cooking she also contributed to our success by handling the constant flow of outgoing coffee orders. Thanks to both of them because none of this would have been possible without their help.
In the midst of all this construction the farm’s first coffee cherries began to ripen on the trees. Harvest season was indeed upon us! Handpicking nearly all of this first year coffee was Gigi Nhu who somehow found the time and energy to lend a hand after her long days of teaching math at the local community college. It is a well documented fact that most coffee farms in Kona over the last century were operated in the same fashion. Most families saw moms and dads holding down normal day jobs, the farm work was something that occurred after work or on the weekends. It wasn’t until the recent craze for specialty coffee that farming coffee in Hawaii could be seen as anything more than a way to supplement a family’s income.
Also helping to save the day and aid in the maintenance of the farm were five St. Croix sheep that arrived in early June from the Big Island. Bred and raised by fellow organic Kona coffee farmer, Trent Bateman, this variety of sheep do not harm or eat coffee and they continue to go the distance in helping to keep the weeds down on the farm. Besides having great appetites they also produce endless amounts of free fertilizer!
While construction is scheduled to end by Christmas, Blair Estate coffee farm is scheduled to be open to the public for free farm tours and tasting in 2004. If you plan on visiting the island of Kauai we invite you to stop by and sample and see first hand Kauai’s proud new addition to the world of organic coffee. We hope to see you soon! Aloha