Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow.
This is a sad day for most of us here on Maui. Alexander & Baldwin, a local company that traces its origin back almost 150 years, has announced it will close the last remaining sugar plantation in Hawaii by the end of this year. Sugar is just no longer economically viable.
The history of sugar here is not all positive, but it’s hard to describe how it has impacted this place in so many ways. Hawaii is a multi-ethnic society in which everyone belongs to a racial minority … and that’s mostly because of sugar. First came the Chinese, then the Japanese, then the Portuguese, then the Filipinos … all to work in sugar. They worked, they assimilated, they left the fields and entered business, became doctors and lawyers and educators and politicians. And new waves of immigrants arrived to take their places in the fields.
Today, across the broad isthmus of Central Maui, there are 35,000 acres “in sugar”. To irrigate the cane, the plantation created an intricate system of ditches and flumes to bring water down from the mountains into the fields. Part of the worry here today—along with concern for the 650 jobs that will be lost—is for what all that acreage will look like when the cane is gone and that water is no longer needed. Brown and dry and dusty?
Everyone here has known this day would eventually come. The company has experimented for years, looking for a practical use for the leaves (the sugar comes from the juice in the stalk) and for alternate crops. The local media is quoting company officials as being confident that Central Maui will remain in agriculture, will continue to be lush and green. I hope so. I hope they’re right. But I’m still going to miss those fields of cane. A lot.