If you’re a gardener, or a lover of farmers markets and natural foods, on the Island of Kaua’i, then you’ve probably come across those beautiful, lush starts that just plead to planted.
My mother and I have always had a garden and therefore are always looking for the best and most vital starts to plant. We’ve tried many from all the different locations across the island. They seemed to do fine at first but never thrived. That was until we came across Heaven On Earth Starts. “They just seem to be so happy and grow so well,” we said to each other one day out in the garden. They are also more pest resistant and hardy under various weather conditions. We were hooked. Now we know where to go.
You’ll see Robin’s beaming face tanned from the Hawaiian sun at the Farmers Markets, (mainly the one behind Kilauea Mini Golf on Saturday Mornings). Her table is filled with green smiling faces of herbs and vegetables. She always has a flower and veggie decoration set up to welcome the avid gardener or the wanna be, the ones who can’t but help and wonder…What if I grew that? What if I had my own Kale, Tomato, Cucumber, Basil, or Thyme plant? Hmmmm… What if.
“If everyone just grew one thing they ate, it would be a benefit,” Robin says. ” You start a relationship with it, you want it, you anticipate it. Basil! I want you in my tomato salad, so I’m going to give something to you.”
“It is a symbology,” she says, “of how I’d like to walk through the world” and hopes in turn other people will too. “We don’t get to just take, take, take. We have to give.” Plants and gardens teach us that.
We were so inspired by this passionate, yet humble woman that we sat down with her and inquired of all her gardening and plant propagating secrets. We hope you catch a spark of her plant prudence and get as excited about veggies and herbs as we did.
10 Questions for Robin
How long have you been on Kauai?
It’s been 16 years since Robin stepped foot on Hawaiian soil. “I came here in 1999 simply because I didn’t want to hear the Prince Song. I’ve also lived in cold climates all my life and I didn’t want to be cold on New Years Eve. I wanted to be warm, on a beach, with Pina Colada in hand. Most important though was NO PRINCE SONG!”
So there she found herself, at Polihale, Pina Colada in hand, and as an added bonus it was served in a coconut.
“I’ve also always loved growing things, but in more temperate climates. I wanted the gratification that comes from the year round growing season found in the tropics.”
When did you begin Heaven on Earth Starts and Why?
“I started in 2010. Mainly because I thought there could be better starts on Kauai. I found myself buying starts out of pity. It became a rescue mission. I kept thinking to myself, someone can do this better! So I built one little greenhouse and started fooling around.”
“I wanted to keep it really simple, and do it really well. Shortly thereafter, I started selling at the markets.” The interest shown and the community support, validated her decision to provide quality produce.
#1 Lack of a good product out there.
#2 “I wanted to restore a respect for the seed.” Robin wanted to prevent overcrowding in the starter pots. She couldn’t stand it when there were 20 tomato plants in one pot. “You end up taking them apart and have to re-nursery them. 40 seeds = 40 plants = 800 lbs of tomatos!” That’s a lot of tomatos! “The magic of plants power to produce lies in the seed. Seeds are the most important part. Without it you just have dirt and plastic. That’s really what drove me. I’m in awe of what a plant can produce if it is treated right.” Which brings us to Robin’s third why…
#3 “I really enjoy utilizing my nurturing power and I pour it all into this. Plants are just like human kids, if you ignore and undernourish them they don’t grow up to be mature and capable adults.”
#4 Talking with Robin, it soon became very evident that she really wants to create something good for the community. “I want to leave a legacy of earthworms behind me.” She desired to create a business that was not only good for her but good for the island, and the earth.
Robin also shared with us that she uses a special type of compost in all of her starts. “It’s called IMO. Indigenous Micro-organism Compost.” AKA Korean natural farming. Say what? “It’s an ancient practice of farming that utilizes all the things around you,” she says. “Like eggshells for example, they provide calcium to the soil.” Here on Kauai, Robins friend makes it with coconut tree waste. It’s a pretty involved and fascinating process and if you’d like to learn more about it I recommend chatting with Robin. “It’s a very healing plant and soil medicine. My friend and I love to use it because we feel like wherever a start is planted it begins to heal the soil all around it. With one plant in Lihu’e, one in Kalaheo, and one in Ha’ena we feel like we are healing the island.”
How did you choose the name “Heaven On Earth Starts”?
” When I was a landscaper in Colorado, the name of my landscaping company was Heaven On Earth. I chose that name because I was enjoying creating that in peoples yards.” She carried that concept with her to Kauai and when she began her starts business it became Heaven On Earth Starts. ” I was selling the starts here on Kauai at the farmers markets and so it became Heaven On Earth Starts Here. I thought it was really catchy and others did too so I decided to make t-shirts.”
How did you come to know so much about plants and starting seeds?
“I went to Rutgers College on the east coast. It has about 5 different schools and Cooks college is the agricultural school under Rutgers that I attended. Once I found my way into the plant programs my whole academic life changed. Up to that point I was a horrible student, partied, you know, had a good time other than studying. I studied plant science and plant biochemistry. I had some great mentors and ended up working in a department with some great scientists. So I learned the sciency side to plants but soon found out that I needed to be outside applying what I knew in a practical way.” So what did she do?
“I moved west.” Colorado became her home and she started a landscaping business. It was there that she learned about digging in the soil and prepping the soil. “I also became an irrigation specialist.” What about the nursery stuff? “Honestly, I just learned as I went. I’ve learned a lot in the last 6 years.”
“When I got to Kauai I worked with Dan Shook and learned a lot about tropical plants. I’ve also picked up Biodynamics and planting with the Lunar Calender. I feel like it gives you more benefit and if it is a matter of timing that will give you healthy, strong plants then I’ll do it! It makes things easier.”
Have there been any challenges that you’ve had to overcome in this business?
“When you start a business, you’re gonna get an education and with an education comes a tuition.” Ain’t that the truth! Robin knows the value of making mistakes, “it helps you learn,” she says. “Every year it’s something. One year it was getting the right soil. My soil got confiscated at the docks in Nawiliwili because it had a particular type of Organism in it not allowed in Hawaii.” Oops! “When you get burnt a couple thousand dollars you learn really quickly.”
Do you have a secret formula for growing healthy starts?
“My secret? Is consistency. You gotta be here everyday and show up to your plants.” In her greenhouses Robin has her starts neatly lined up, irrigation set up, and her soils and composts all neatly put away and pots organized. I would say her other secret is organization. Between her organized materials and being consistent with the soil mixtures, the planting days, watering schedules and the careful eye with which she attends to her babies she is living, breathing example of consistency.
What is your favorite thing about running this business?
You’d think it would be the plants, right? “It’s the people,” she says. More precisely “my return customers, but especially the kids. When I’m at the market and a kid runs up to me and tells me all about their cucumber they just picked and ate, or when someone comes in and raves about the freshness of the tomato’s they are harvesting, I light up.”
“For people to start a relationship with a plant takes a real leap of seeing it as an equal. They think WOW we are in this together. When they eat their first tomato they think, I grew this! I did this! This is my plant. It creates this relationship that is a way to peace. Peace within themselves because they are healthier from eating fresh fruits and vegetables and in turn they make better decisions and act better towards others.”“When people are fed well, they are happy.”
What is your favorite vegetable, herb, flower?
“Oh man, that’s hard. Maybe thyme? I use it in everything. That and basil. There is nothing like a tomato and basil salad. So yeah, tomatos too!” (chuckles)
How can people find your starts?
“I’m at the farmers market behind Kilauea Mini Golf every Saturday morning. Or if they can’t make it there they can go to Kauai Seascapes Nursery, they are open Monday-Saturday, and also Hoku natural foods.”
Thank you so much Robin for your passionate and purposeful business! We love what you are contributing to this island and this earth. As Robin would say…”Heaven On Earth Starts Here.” So let’s start now! Aloha.