Let’s take a trip to an AKA-certified farm to see what traditional yet clean and safe kava harvesting looks like.
This AKA Certified Farm is located in the Hawaiian Islands, which happen to have amazing fertile soil and climate for growing Kava. Upon arrival we are greeted by the farmer who wastes no time in taking us down to the Kava fields. The fields are gorgeous, well organized and the Kava is labeled by variety and date planted. Several varieties are being grown here such that if one is susceptible to crop failure, the farmer does not lose the entire crop. This farmer grows several varieties, but specializes in Nene, Papa ‘Ele‘ele, and Mahakea because they are consistent in Kavalactone content, have desirable chemotypes, are pest-resistant, and are reliable producers. The farmer goes on to explain,
Most Hawaiian Kava is a blend of different varieties since the demand for Hawaiian Kava far exceeds the supply, individual varieties are not generally sold.
The Kava is grown until maturation which is indicated by the plant setting flower. Although sterile, Kava still produces flowers when it is mature, at which point the farmer considers the Kava ready to harvest. The plants at this farm reach 10-12 feet under shade cloth and are in excellent health. The farmer attributes the health of his kava to the organic, composted soil used. When asked about pesticides the farmer responds,
The only pesticides that are used here are organic compounds such as sulfur that quickly breakdown and become soil amendments.
Indeed for two and three year old Kava plants, these are robust! The famer explains that due to the overwhelming demand for Hawaiian Kava, it is generally harvested at 2-3 years, rather than 5-8 year Kava in Vanuatu. This is because there are very few actual Kava farms in Hawaii and to keep up with demand, shorter harvest times and making blends of Hawaiian varieties are commonplace. When asked how early harvesting affects the quality of the kava, the farmer responds, [quote]There is a misconception that the longer that Kava grows, the more potent it becomes, but growing conditions have much more of an impact on Kavalactone content than the age of the plant. The age of the plant simply determines the yield for the farmer.
There are many traditional ways of growing Kava, including forest planting, mound planting, lava planting, and rock baskets. This farm is utilizing a combination of forest planting and irrigated mound planting with irrigation and shade cloths. They are planting the more tender varieties such as Hiwa in the forest, while the more robust and hardy varieties are grown in mounded rows. They are using super robust varieties such as Isa as spacers to shade younger daily drinking Kavas from the strong sun that would otherwise burn their leaves. The Isa also serves as a bug replant, as the peppery smell and taste keeps the pests away from the daily drinking crop.
It should be mentioned that this farmer has been growing Kava for over 30 years in Hawaii and has an excellent knowledge of each one of the plants that is grown on the farm, as well as the potential pitfalls of each variety. For example, certain nematodes love to attack the roots of Nene, but don’t prefer Moi. The farmer is able to give very detailed explanation of the growing patterns of each variety as well as how to tell the difference between all varieties not just on a morphological level, but on chemotype level as well. As the farmer explains, [quote]Hiwa, is spiritual kava, it should be reserved for special occasions and not as a daily drinking kava. This is why we grow primarily three daily drinking varieties, the others like Kings Kava (Hiwa) and Isa are not intended for daily drinking and can linger around for longer than you would want.
This particular farm is very traditional and does not utilize mechanized equipment to harvest. Rather, four people gather around a 3-year old Mahakea plant with machetes and begin chopping the stalks from the root clumps. These stalks are later carried back to the nursery and are made into new Kava cuttings for the next planting. After the top parts of the plant are cut down, they use long metal pry bars called “Oo Oo” bars, (Pronounced “Oh Oh”), to dig under the plant and loosen the roots from the soil. They do this in a circular fashion, first driving the bar into the ground around the perimeter of the plant, and then prying the plant upwards.
Once it is apparent that the plant is ready to come out of the ground, in a group effort they remove and shake the excess dirt from the roots. The clump is then transported by truck to the processing facility.
Within the covered processing facility, the roots are pressure washed to remove all dirt. They are then cut into smaller clumps and pressure washed once more. The roots are then thoroughly inspected for diseases such as rot, mold and nematodes, and are then soaked in a vat of water with a mild peroxide solution added to sterilize the roots.
After sterilized, the roots are then shade dried indoors in a commercial dehydrator until they are completely dry. The roots are inspected for moisture content before going to the next step: Milling. There are two methods of milling Kava; hammer mills and sieve grinders. The material from this farm is milled in a sieve grinder which makes small particles of the kava without grinding the fibers too fine. After milling, the Kava is weighed and put into air-tight bags for storage. Labels are affixed to the bags which include identifying information, variety, age of the crop, harvest date and lot numbers. This information is also recorded in a computerized record system such that all batches of material that is sent out from this farm can be traced in the unlikely event that a recall should need to take place.
The material is held in quarantine until the proper FDA cGMP required testing is performed. A 50g sample is sent to the AKA with a request for a certificate of analysis to be issued on the material. Once the certificate is performed, the material can be released from quarantine and sold to either the end consumer, or manufacturers or Kava Bars. This farm is registered and inspected by the FDA, USDA, and local agriculture departments. The facility is regularly inspected to ensure that good manufacturing practices are followed with regards to the growing, harvesting, processing, and storage of the Kava.
All in all, this visit to an AKA Certified Farm was incredibly educational. It is important to know how Kava is grown, harvested, processed and packaged. This farm is following all applicable laws and regulations and is dedicated to keeping their customers healthy and safe by supplying high quality Kava and not cutting any corners. The addition of a lab test certifying their quality from the source makes them an attractive supplier as opposed to a middle man, or Alibaba supplier of raw Kava.