Something About Sugar

Once sugar was king here in Hawaii, with plantations on all of the main islands. Today? It’s a much different story. There are just two left, one on Kauai and the other here on Maui, run by Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar with 35,000 acres in sugar cane. Ever use one of those little brown packets, Sugar in the Raw? That’s all Maui sugar. (Keep using it … please!)

Since Day One, the traditional harvesting method for sugar cane includes burning sections of a field before the cane itself is cut and taken to the mill for processing. The sugar is in the stalk, you see, and the burning is the easiest and most efficient way to remove the leaves. There are other methods, but they are far more expensive and sugar, unfortunately, is a marginal operation as it is.

I took this photo as we were having breakfast on our deck yesterday morning. That’s not a huge low cloud, it’s smoke from a cane field. There were very light winds yesterday and HC&S was burning one of their fields halfway between here and town.

If conditions are right – meaning no wind or a very light breeze – the smoke goes straight up and is carried off by upper level winds. But sometimes conditions change and some of the smoke blows into residential areas.

When that happens, local folks close their windows and turn on the ceiling fans for a couple of hours. But malihini, newcomers who have moved to Maui from somewhere else, scream bloody murder. Of course, when they bought their house or their condo, they signed a paper acknowledging that there were cane fields nearby and they would likely be affected by cane burning. It’s all spelled out in those documents and printed in BIG, BOLD, BLACK TYPE.

Ah, yes … but that’s all forgotton when it gets smoky. There are outraged letters-to-the-editor demanding that HC&S stop burning the cane. So what if it would put the company out of business?

It all reminds me a lot of the people who buy homes near an airport, then complain about the noise. Pretty classic, isn’t it?