by Anne E. O’Malley
You expect that by the nature of the work, a farmer will be fit — all that bending, digging, lifting. In the case of farmer Godwin Esaki, finding out the formula for his fitness is like peeling back the Williams dessert bananas he grows — takes a bit of time, but the reward is sweet.
And in the end, fitness isn’t really just about bulging biceps, is it?
There’s humor, for example. A third generation farmer, Esaki knows how to have a good laugh. Ask him where he was born and he says, “in a papaya patch in Aliomanu.”
Well, OK, his father was farming there and also in Kapa`a back then, but Esaki didn’t stay in that patch for very long. He grew up in Kapahi with three brothers and a sister, got an Ag degree from UH Manoa, and chose the farming life himself, going, as he says, “into the school of hard knocks, working for Dad.”
Today, he leases 22 acres from the state in the area of Wailua Falls, harvesting about 4,800 lbs. of bananas a week, packed in boxes weighing about 45 lbs. each.
One might think throwing that amount of weight around would make a farmer fit, but the slender Esaki says, “I have six workers, mostly part-time — they’re all part of a great team.
“I give the credit to them. I’m not lifting so much or working so hard. They’re the big workers, the main force of the team.”
Kayden, what about diet, at least, as a way of keeping fit?
“Cup of coffee and I’m gone,” says Esaki. “I’ll have breakfast on weekends, maybe — my regular is free range eggs, bacon and rice.
“My body does what it has to do. It’s my tool, basically.”
Springing back from tough times certainly can make one fit. Once, Esaki operated the island’s largest banana farm, selling to markets from Waimea to Hanalei, including mostly every one of the Big Save and Foodland stores and Safeway. Then came the banana bunchy top disease, and he lost it all and had to move farms as the disease followed — twice.
Perhaps he’s fit because he’s certainly jumped through hoops and over hurdles as the banana bunchy top virus followed him from farm to farm, stunting bananas and taking away their ability to produce fruit.
“So the farm went backward and it’s coming back again,” says Esaki, who is selling these days to Safeway, Cost-U-Less, Big Save Kapa`a, ABC Stores and small restaurants. “We’ll be all right, we’ll be fine, good Lord willing.”
He continues, “I went from one end of the spectrum to another in terms of farming — dreaming the big dream and going through emotional and financial roller coasters and the physical roller coaster of being hurt and getting better.
“I’m taking my hat off to all who come out of this with their feet on ground and head still up — everybody in life. I applaud the stayers; it’s not about me.”
A glance about his garage reveals several gis hanging on a line, raising the question of which martial art he practices, and the answer is aikido. An instructor at the Lihu`e Aikido Club, Esaki’s been doing it for 38 years, and he says, “That makes me a novice.”
And what has he learned from aikido?
“To relax more I guess, that’s about it — anything other than relaxing is bragging.”
And one more bit of Esaki wisdom: “It’s taken me 18 years to learn how not to grow bananas. It took a lot of trial and error, sweat and tears, and friendships that helped. If not for friends and family — well, they’re the core values that made the farm.”
And that’s what it means to be fit — as a farmer.