Hanging out with Ken Love, Hawaii’s ‘Fruit King’

By Kavitha Mhatre

Hawaiian fruit grower and Executive Director of Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers, Ken Love said, “I have not seen as many varieties of fruits in any other place as seen in India. Fruits are being wasted without getting proper market and value. Hence, my aim is to guide farmers on the same.”

Having been an avid fruit lover all my life and fascinated by agricultural practices and techniques that Indian farmers employ to produce a bounty of juicy and tasty fruits every year, I was obviously thrilled to hear that the ‘Fruit Specialist’  from Hawaii was in our city. They say, “With Love, Fruit and Family Come Together.”

Ken Love was here to deliver a special lecture in Belavala Parisara Kendra, an organisation that is focused on documenting and spreading knowledge about ecological farming practices among all sections of society. Preservation, building a value addition and generating a better market for tropical fruits are some of the topics that the lecture covered.

Over plates of hot buttery masala dosa and steaming cups of filter coffee, Star of Mysore had an informal conversation with the ‘Fruit King’ who believes that “Fruit is the key to the planet’s unlocking its potential restoring much of the world’s paradise.”

Mind you, he is also a man with an agenda in the city and tells us that it is high time that farmers in Mysuru join hands to protect tropical fruits. We speak about one of our favourite subjects, yes, fruits ! And we also discuss farmers, crops, agricultural practices and the importance of adopting diversity in the aforementioned areas. Excerpts…

Star of Mysore (SOM): Is this your first visit to Mysuru?

Ken Love: This is my third visit and every time I come here, Mysuru feels like home to me. The lush green palms, the gorgeous green cover and natural surroundings remind me of home, Hawaii.

SOM: When did the ‘fruit’ become a passion?

Ken Love: The journey started about 50 years ago. I spent a lot of time on the farm with my uncle while my aunt taught me all about ‘fruit preservation.’ That kind of ignited the spark and initiated the journey of my love for fruits.

SOM: What is the one advice you would give local farmers with regard to fruits?

Ken Love: I believe ‘Diversity is The Key.’ I would advise farmers not to focus on one particular fruit or crop. Crop diversity is important for agricultural growth and can help tackle the problem of labour shortage and labour costs in India. I have been told that farmers in India get paid $4-$6 (Rs. 292.50 – Rs. 438.75) for a day’s labour. In Hawaii, the wage rate is around $15 (Rs. 1,096.88) an hour. Even with that wage we cannot get help.

Farmers are better off when they can sell a little of many different crops at different times instead of a lot of one or two items at one time of year when everyone else has the same crop. I would also advice farmers to build a rapport with chefs; they are an important market themselves. The point is to build long-term relationships with chefs who use fruits as ingredients and encourage them to go ‘local’ as opposed to buying imported fruits for their recipes.

The Fruit King at Belavala Parisara Kendra, Mysuru.

SOM: You have travelled across globe exploring and pursuing exotic fruits. Which country do you believe is a role model with respect to quality of fruits?

Ken Love: I have spent 35 years in Japan and I believe Japan stands unsurpassed with respect to its quality of fruits. Their harvesting techniques, pruning methods and canopy management are way more superior to the rest of the countries. The farmers there take the time to protect their plants to manage invasive bugs and pests. What is also noteworthy is that farmers in Japan take care of the trees right from their birth and that is the best time to shape a tree. These well-managed trees then grow up to produce a superior quality yield. Japanese farmers also follow diversity religiously and hence the average number of crops in a small-sized farm in Japan is usually 7 to 8.

 SOM: What is your favourite fruit?

Ken Love: (Chuckles) That’s a tough one. Well, there is the Green Sapote, the Jackfruit and the Durian. There is something special about a Jackfruit that touches a chord inside (laughs).

SOM: In terms of adequate nutrition and nourishment, what advice would you give fruit-lovers and fruitarians?

Ken Love: Again, it’s all about diversity here. No one fruit can give you complete nourishment. The point is to strike a balance between wide varieties of fruits. Do your research and include a variety of them in your diet to get adequate nutrition.

SOM: What can farmers across the globe learn from Indian farmers?

Ken Love: Well, the dedication of Indian farmers is inspiring and a quality that all of us can learn, especially Americans. Secondly, the diversity of Indian crops is something that farmers across the globe can seek to achieve. India allocates an average of 17 percent of its GDP (Gross Domestic Product) for agricultural expenditure whereas less than 1 percent of the annual budget is allocated for agricultural expenditure in Hawaii. The Indian budget reserved for agricultural expenditure is certainly a chapter that other countries can learn from.

SOM: What are your thoughts on the ‘Future of Fruits and Agriculture’?

Ken Love: Worldwide, people are realising the importance of going back to their agricultural roots. And with the advent of various tourisms directed towards exotic natural environments — eco tourism, rain tourism, agro tourism, people are becoming more aware of the importance of agriculture. Farmers today are focusing on practices that are sustainable and feasible. I would ask them to focus on the smallest components of farming and agriculture, the more they utilise and refine the smaller components, the more sustainable they become.

SOM: Your advice to the younger lot who want to get into agriculture?

Ken Love: (Laughs). We need you, the world needs you. I would advise them to be mindful of the hard work and dedication that agriculture takes. I would also like to tell aspiring agriculturists that it is important to thoroughly understand the cost of production of their crops before they take to agriculture. And most importantly, pay yourself as a farmer. Farming should pay you for your efforts and help you build a nest egg, like most other professions do. What is the point of all the efforts if you are not making money for yourself?

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