My Dream

You may have heard on MasterChef that I am obsessed with a dream of opening a guest farm on the Big Island of Hawaii.  After traveling across the globe, 36 countries and 7 continents later, I fell in love with Hawaii, of all places.  But in particular, the southern district of the Big Island of Hawaii, called Puna.  One of the only places in Hawaii to escape tourist development, Puna is a sleepy district filled with rainforest, erupting volcanoes, wild coastline, and small organic farms.  Virtually everyone here lives off-grid, creating electricity from solar and wind power, and gathering rainwater from the 100+ inches of rain that fall here each year.  With elevations stretching from tropical coastline to alpine permafrost just shy of 14,000 feet (where it snows each winter!), the Big Island has virtually every life zone that exists on Planet Earth.

I’ve been captivated by the interesting group of people who call Puna home.  Native Hawaiians, people whose families have lived in Hawaii for generations, and many, many newcomers who have been lured to the island by its incomparable beauty and the ability to live sustainably and off-grid while surrounded by like-minded people.  I’ve made many connections there and my island friends are eagerly awaiting the beginning of my project.

A tree house in PunaThe goal is to acquire ranch/farmland and build sustainable, Earth-friendly residential and farm structures to house those who live on the farm, as well as luxurious, yet rustic guest cottages and treehouses for visitors and tourists.  The farm will grow a variety of organic fruits and vegetables, honey, animal products, and tilapia (the fish that will feed the future), and will source an attached cafe and microbrewery.  (There is an emerging, robust microbrew culture on the Big Island, with two active breweries so far, both on the west side of the island.)

The farm will serve as an agri-tourism draw for both day trippers and overnight guests.  They can choose to simply use the farm as a relaxed hide-a-way for their vacation, surrounded by lush rainforest and pastoral farmland…or they can get involved, hands on, and learn how the farm operates in an off-grid, zero-landfill way…a model for the future of sustainable agriculture.  They can enjoy fresh breakfasts each morning, packed lunches for excursions, and sumptuous meals each evening, prepared largely from products grown right on site; or slide up to the bar to sip crisp, refreshing craft beer brewed right on the farm.  The goal of the project is to help reconnect people to the food chain.  In this modern day with our industrial agriculture and distribution system, many people have no idea where the food on their plate originated (likely thousands of miles away), much less how it got from seed to plate.

Ben Starr at the Kilaeua lava ocean entry

Steps from where Madam Pele is creating new land

The guest farm will network with mainland universities and organizations promoting agricultural reform and sustainability practices, and will welcome interning students who are eager to start their own farms-of-the-future.  It will also serve as a magnet for artists looking for an escape to a place of potent beauty, connected to the earth, who can reside on the farm in exchange for a few hours of volunteer work each day.

The farm will give back to the community through several youth programs, from educational field trips by local schools, to a work-study program that will allow homeless youth (a big problem on the islands) to get back in school, be productive, and establish a support system to help shape their futures.

I’ve spent the majority of my life mastering so many different skills, and for many years I had no idea how I could put them all to good use.  I know plumbing, electrical work, carpentry, and stonework.  I brew beer and wine, and I’m obviously great in the kitchen.  I know how to care for chickens, goats, sheep, and pigs.  I’m most passionate about entertaining guests, and about helping artists find inspiration and succeed.  I love to teach, and I’m an accomplished public speaker.  But how on earth could I put all these passions and skills to work in one place?

While visiting the Big Island for the first time, staying in a treehouse way up in an ancient avocado tree…staring at the ocean and watching people work in the papaya fields below me…the epiphany occurred.  This will be my life’s work, and my life thus far has been preparing me for it.  Leading me toward it, even though I’d had no idea where all my interests were heading.

Obviously this is something I can’t do alone.  I have a clutch of life-long friends who are eager to help, some full time, and some for portions of each year.  The guest farm is intended to be a community of individuals working together to bring hospitality, joy, and awareness to everyone who sets foot there, with a core of people who live and work there full time, and a broader network of people who vacation or spend a few months at a time there.  Our impact will reach far beyond the island of Hawaii, though, as we have production companies and television networks who are eager to document the guest farm’s creation and day-to-day workings.

If you are interested in becoming a part of this unique effort, please contact me.  We will need hard workers.  We will need investors.  We will need innovators in alternative energy, permaculture and microclimate farming.  We will need dreamers and artists.

Travel is changing.  Agriculture is changing.  People and our relationship to the Earth are changing.  The time could not be better.  Join me!

40 Responses to My Dream

  1. Keep me posted Ben. This sounds great.

    • Ben, I just purchased my dream in Puna. 5 acre plantation with a large house. Just a few miles down from Pahoa. We are going to take it off of the grid in the next few years. There is an old pond on the property that needs a new liner. I know how excited you are. Keep the dream alive and it can happen.

  2. This sounds amazing! I wish you all the best!

  3. Theresa Denton

    You have to get there in an airplane, huh?

    • Not necessarily, Theresa! There are plenty of cruise ships that depart from the west coast for Hawaii! You can still come visit.

  4. Michelle Hutchins

    Since I first read about this months ago I haven’t stopped thinking about it. I would love to work and live there. I think it would be an amazing way to live life, and still be helping people, the community and the world.

  5. Hi Ben – I found your site while perusing the web for DIY outdoor pizza ovens and fireplaces. Great site, keep up the good work!

    On your sustainable farm idea, well, it’s awesome! We recently moved *further* off the grid, (though not entirely, yet) to a little plot in the village of Glen Ellen, CA. An incredibly magical place, I can see why Jack London loved to write and live here. We’ve been toying with rainwater reclamation projects (under a new deck I just built), growing more than 50% of our diet (two adults and two children) organically in our garden, and looking into solar and other options for electrical independence. Another thing I’ve been researching is aquaponics-based self-contained fishery (holds a couple hundred Tilapia at anytime) and gardens (fed by all the fish waste).

    It seems we share a lot of common interests. I am an aspiring writer, chef, traveler, and Veteran’s advocate, among other things, and would be willing to chat, help, anything regarding your ventures. Keep me posted!

    Keep up the good work!

    • Jason, it’s such an honor to hear from you. Your place sounds DIVINE! (I’ve been through Glen Ellen and know all about why Jack London loved it so much!) I would LOVE to come see your place sometime! I’m overdue for a wine country visit…

  6. It sounds like you should utilize an accountant friend and form a 501c non-profit organization to start collecting donations; or are you looking for larger individual investors that would be expecting future profits in return?

    • Dan, I am halfway through a book on 501c3′s…you read my mind. I’m not sure I will open the project up to small donations until we have some seed money and progress to prove to everyone that we are serious and are beginning the process.

  7. Elizabeth Marshall

    I would love to visit!

  8. I will come work on your farm!!

  9. Ben, I moved to Puna last week and just found your video. Mahalo! The organic eco-village sounds awesome! I have a friend in Indonesia that is doing something very similar. I think it is a brilliant idea. If you need help let me know. Aloha!

  10. I’m in Hawaiian Paradise Park. Where are you? I look forward to meeting you some day and working with you to manifest your dream(s)!

    • Well, I’m in Dallas, but I’m most focused on the Kamaili Road area, just up from Opihikao. Though ANY spot in Puna that’s large enough to accommodate a farm, B&B, and dorms for homeless kids will be perfect. Maybe we can grab some beach time next time I’m out there!

  11. I have just stumbled across this Hawaiian paradise park it seems like what i have been looking for all my life. is this place as good as it seems or is it too good to be true. dose the land have topsoil or is it all lava rock. do plumes of volcanic gas smother you or is it tollerable. please contact me i would love to know. i have a hobby type farm in lower alabama on the gulf coast. sheep pigs goats chickens fish and orchard/ garden but the landscape here is brutel. most things i want are not tollerent to this climate.

    • Hi, Jason! Hawaiian Paradise Park isn’t EXACTLY Paradise. Because of the cheap prices, you’ll find a lot of crystal meth in the neighborhood. The closer you get to the ocean, the better the neighborhood is (because the houses are more expensive.) The lots are usually 1 acre each. Not a HUGE amount of space for animals plus gardening. (Hawaiian Acres has an average lot size of 3 acres, which gives you a bit more room. However, it suffers many of the same drug and violence problems as HPP.) There’s not a LOT of topsoil in HPP, but you can have topsoil brought in if you need more. There’s not much of a problem with vog…that usually blows north to Kona. There are MANY more rural areas in the Puna region where you can buy acreage for pennies, many of which have informal (unpermitted) living structures on them. (We looked at a 20 acre lot with 2 unpermitted houses on it for sale for $80k.) So there are some definite bargains, but keep in mind that the cheap subdivisions bring drugs and violence with them!

  12. What a great road Ben! I will keep my eyes open for a good deal in that area. I am a real estate junkie. I just moved here to HPP and find it to be a little hit and miss. Some of the houses are nice and some are kind of run down. I haven’t ran into any meth heads or violence yet. Definitely let me know when you are coming into town. We can cruise!

  13. Ben Linus? From the show LOST? Is that you?…?
    I am inspired by your dream. I wish you the best and hope good things come your way.

    • Ha ha ha… I couldn’t even get through the first season of Lost, Donnie, so I have NO idea what this means! But thanks so much for the well wishes! *hugs*

  14. I want to be a part of this. I will send you an email as soon as I can articulate more.

  15. I just got back from the Big Island and we did an ATV excursion in the Waipi’o Valley. It’s gorgeous and I can see your dream fitting in perfectly! My husband is a certified beer judge and he visited both Kona and Big Island Brewing – said both had great beers, so get yourself a great brewmaster!

    • Ah, Waipi’o. I’ve scrambled around back there many times. Stunning place. Not sure if you know this, but I’ve been brewing beer for a decade and fully intend on brewing in Hawaii. I know the brewmaster at Big Island (I LOVE that little restaurant! Best green chili stew I’ve had on earth…) and I really enjoy Kona’s beers. So glad you had an amazing trip there!

  16. Hi Ben,

    I just stumbled across you site after watching Season 2 (your elimination today). Sadly, I am two seasons behind on Masterchef. Yes, my husband and I would love to know more about your idea and sustainable living. We are in Austin, Tx and in the heart of Austin I raise chickens (I can’t eat them though) and grow my own veggies. We are planning/hoping to be a part of a community similar to yours. Our dream: have a house with an acre of more of land in a community with similar houses that are able to sustain themselves via growing their own veggies/raising cattle. In short a farming community lifestyle would be great. Lots of land and animals with a profession in farming would we a lifelong dream come true. Keep us posted.

    Nas

  17. I love this part of the Big Island, too!

  18. Ahhh, your dream and mine are very similar. My husband and I grew up in Hawaii and hope to move back when he retires from the military. We are slowly acquiring the knowledge to live a sustainable, off-grid existence and would love to be kept abreast of your dream’s development. We are currently learning how to home brew beer, ferment a variety of foods, and make our own charcuterie and cheese. We grow a large portion of our own food now on our small 1/4 acre lot in suburban WA.

  19. I love the big island. I’m on Maui now but am going to buy land on the big island real soon!

  20. Hi Ben, I feel Hawaii is my 2nd home. I also have friends on the Big Island in Honokaa. I love the people, culture of the islands. I am very, very interested in this Dream because it is my dream as well. I have sent you an email. I hope it is still valid. I also sent it to your FB page. Mahalo Braddah.

  21. I’m interested in your project! I’ll follow you on FB.

  22. Hate to sound negative, but, it sounds like you are bringing tourist development to an area that you liked because of its’ lack thereof. Sure your version is not a tall oceanfront condo structure. But by making it popular (and by your own popularity) you could be creating a path for that version.

    • Jeff, travel writers like me struggle with this issue all the time. Just because an area has not yet “been discovered” does not mean that it should be blocked off so no one else can enjoy it. But sometimes, exposure to the public does bring overdevelopment. Luckily, the Puna area has no beaches, which is exactly WHY people go to Hawaii. Like the little Caribbean island of Dominica, which has been featured in major magazines for many decades, there’s simply no possible way for overdevelopment, because there’s simply no beaches for big hotels to be built on. The vast majority of the public is still headed to a beach when they book a tropical location, so Puna (and Dominica, and many other tropical paradises) are naturally shielded from overdevelopment because they have no beaches. Puna is the realm of tiny bed and breakfasts and rural farms, and it always will be!

      • I love it there Ben and you’re absolutely right. The locals will fight any development that is even thought about in that area. So don’t think about it folks. Keep it awesome!

  23. Hi Ben
    I stumbled across this while surfing the net, read about this and i totally love the sound of your dream~ Hope one day i’ll be able to go over Hawaii and visit, maybe even work there~ ^^ Jiayous~
    (P/S: I’ll definitely save money from now to go there over to Hawaii

  24. What an awesome idea! I love the whole concept! When you start looking for workers I would be the first to sign up! :)

  25. Sorry Sarah its too late. I already have first dibs.

  26. Aloha, Ben-

    I get it. My husband and I visited the Puna district a few years ago and fell in love. Nothing on our visits to any other island, any sort of resort area, anywhere- has compared. On that very trip, we purchased an acre in Leilani Estates, anticipating the day 4 years from now when we will be empty nesters. I ran by your site via chance this evening, as we are planning a 2015 visit and I am looking for new things to explore. What a great thing you are planning!

    Right now, the Puna Lava Flow threats. I find myself offended when I hear people admonishing Puna district residents as the flow advances; “They should know better than to build a house next to a volcano.” They don’t get it. They haven’t been there.

    So now that I’ve run across your site, I will keep an eye on your goings on. I am glad to learn about a future neighbor! Hope to meet you someday and be a part of your growing adventure! Mahalo for your dream and effort!

    Christina Pearl
    Portland, OR