From Dream To
first timber frame and organic coffee farm
by Les Drent
Midway in the construction
at Blair Estate.
Over the last four months I have experienced some of
the most exciting times in my life as giant steps of
growth and development have occurred at Blair Estate
coffee farm in Kauai. After nearly two years of planning,
ground was finally broken in mid-June for the construction
of a new multi-purpose timber frame barn that will serve
as a coffee processing and roasting facility as well
as a home. This building project has proven itself to
be not only the greatest challenge but the most rewarding
thing Ive done in life. I must also add that it
wasnt very far into the process that I realized
none of this would be possible without the support of
family and close friends.
In June the preparation of the frame began with the
shaping of redwood timbers shipped in from a small mill
in northern California. For over a century in Hawaii,
redwood, now a scarce commodity, has proven its natural
resistance to decay and termites. It wasnt until
I ran across Randy Huffman, an ecology- minded sawyer
who operates a wood mill that specializes in wind-blown
and salvaged redwoods, that I decided with clear conscience
to build a classic New England style timber frame barn
out of redwood on my organic coffee farm. Having been
raised in New Hampshire and having lived in Hawaii for
the last fourteen years I was looking to compliment
an island way of life with a familiar style of building
that reminded me of my roots. This barn has lent itself
well to both purposes.
Bob, Les and Scott and
the arrival of the redwood.
Over the course of two months the timbers were slowly
sculpted by friend and master timber framer, Scott Dorwart
of Stowe, Vermont. Despite the prospect of having to
leave his wife and two children for nearly three months
(something he rarely does) Scott arrived in Kauai to
begin work on this exciting project. The challenge that
faced him would be the turning of raw wood timbers into
the frame work of a barn that would serve many purposes.
Having spent a couple of summers in Vermont many years
back, laboring with Scott to build his own house, it
was during those years that I gained an appreciation
for this style of old-world architecture. Mortised and
tenoned, drilled and framed with wood dowels, the barn
at Blair Estate was chiselled into a six bent system
and created entirely on the ground.
Scott sculpting the frame.
Kim Brown (VT) and Peter Inglis (CO) lending a big
hand in building.
It was in the quiet of the morning on July 14th that
we arrived at the farm to see the sun rise. The pieces
of the frame lay on the ground before us. Needless to
say nervous anxiety made it difficult to sleep the night
before. So much was riding on the concept of everything
fitting in perfect order for our timber frame barn to
stand up by days end. But in almost perfect fashion
the barn was raised, fitted and joined by the time the
sun set. As the daylight exited the barn now stood before
us. With so much time spent in preparation it was an
incredible feeling to see all the pieces literally come
together. Two days later the rafters and purlins were
lifted and set into place and the barn that appeared
only in our minds and on paper finally stood before
us in real life.
We had come so far on a journey that had begun with
a design session with architect Kim Brown of Waterbury
Center, Vermont on a snowy night in the far northern
reaches of New England; stretched through the months
of arranging permits, suppliers and subcontractors,
and finally led us to this sight -- our barn standing
tall with banana trees and Kauais blue sky in
Thanks to the efforts of my parents the project moved
along in great fashion. Bob Drent handled the finances
of the building and Kaaren Drent masterfully handled
the cooking for the crew so our pace of work was able
to continue in a timely fashion. As we were nourished
daily by Moms home cooking she also contributed
to our success by handling the constant flow of outgoing
coffee orders. Thanks to both of them because none of
this would have been possible without their help.
In the midst of all this construction the farm's first
coffee cherries began to ripen on the trees. Harvest
season was indeed upon us! Handpicking nearly all of
this first year coffee was Gigi Nhu who somehow found
the time and energy to lend a hand after her long days
of teaching math at the local community college. It
is a well documented fact that most coffee farms in
Kona over the last century were operated in the same
fashion. Most families saw moms and dads holding down
normal day jobs, the farm work was something that occurred
after work or on the weekends. It wasnt until
the recent craze for specialty coffee that farming coffee
in Hawaii could be seen as anything more than a way
to supplement a familys income.
Kaaren Drent and the St. Croix sheep.
Also helping to save the day and aid in the maintenance
of the farm were five St. Croix sheep that arrived in
early June from the Big Island. Bred and raised by fellow
organic Kona coffee farmer, Trent Bateman, this variety
of sheep do not harm or eat coffee and they continue
to go the distance in helping to keep the weeds down
on the farm. Besides having great appetites they also
produce endless amounts of free fertilizer!
Left to right: Devin,Scott,
Les and Glen after a day of barn raising.
While construction is scheduled to end by Christmas,
Blair Estate coffee farm is scheduled to be open to
the public for free farm tours and tasting in 2004.
If you plan on visiting the island of Kauai we invite
you to stop by and sample and see first hand Kauai's
proud new addition to the world of organic coffee. We
hope to see you soon! Aloha
To order coffee or for more information on Blair Estate's
organic coffee farm and a lot more pictures of our progress
you can visit us at www.blairestatecoffee.com
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appeared originally in Coffee Times print magazine and
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