Notes from a TerViva Intern: Hawai’i Field Dispatch

Hawai’i growers are abandoning sugarcane because of costs and competition, with hundreds of thousands of acres lost in the past two decades. TerViva offers these growers a market driven solution to sustainably produce vegetable oil and protein through the commercialization of an orchard crop called Pongamia. Pongamia was introduced to Hawai’i more than 100 years ago and achieves excellent yields on former sugarcane land on Oahu. The following is a guest blog post by TerViva intern Isabelle Amlicke, who shares her experiences working alongside TerViva associates throughout the summer of 2018.

By Isabelle Amlicke

I came to Hawai’i expecting to learn about cultivating pongamia, but also to be a spectator to all the cool things my colleagues were doing. I had previously apprenticed at farms, so thought I knew what was coming: I’d learn some pongamia-specific skills like grafting and pod data collection, then I would spend my time weeding, up-potting, watering, and maintaining trees.

Turns out I was wonderfully wrong. By lunch on my first day, I realized this was not going to be my typical farming internship. After learning about TerViva’s Hawai’i operations and goals, I headed to the fields to learn how to take data on pongamia flowers and pods using a digital app. After a week of practice, I had the chance to explain how the app worked to a group of CEOs who came to tour our fields.

This internship was all about hands-on, real world experience. I learned new skills that include planting and taking care of the seeds, pruning trees for scion wood production, and recognizing the stages of pod development. But that’s certainly not all. The projects in the nursery and fields present valuable learning opportunities I never expected. Remodeling the nursery and dealing with water issues in the field has exposed me to planning and designing irrigation systems, designing new benches for grafts and young trees, and designing germination tables.

Even though my colleagues are officially in charge of different aspects of tree production, they also assist with other sides of the business to support growers. There’s never an idle moment with thousands of trees to care for and collect data on. I’ve gotten familiar with every stage of pongamia’s life cycle, from seed to harvest. One of the reasons I’ve learned so much so quickly is because, as an intern, I’ve been able to join in on doing a bit of everything. This summer, I truly got to be part of TerViva’s team.

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