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Common Ground's Guava Roots

By: Rebecca Arechiga
The campus of Common Ground has deep guava roots. CG’s 47 acres are a piece of what was formerly the 500-acre Guava Kai Plantation, which first opened its doors in 1977 .

During its heyday, Guava Kai considered itself to be the guava capital of the world—and with 480 acres in commercial cultivation in 2004, it really was—ranking among the largest guava plantations anywhere. Guava Kai produced more than half of the state of Hawaiʻi’s guava; daily harvests could exceed 150,000 pounds.

With guava being one of the most beloved tropical flavors, the plantation was bustling. They welcomed tourists and locals alike, every day of the year, and sold whole guavas at fruit stands across the island. Most of their harvest was processed into a puree and shipped to outer islands, the mainland, Canada and Japan to be used in fruit drinks, jams and jellies, sherbets and various confections. As a tourist stop, they provided the opportunity for visitors to pick their own guava, learn the process of cultivation and processing, and enjoy guava smoothies and guava ice cream. Guava Kai was a Kilauea mainstay until they closed their doors after 30 years in February of 2007.

The campus of CG has a long plantation history, even before Guava Kai. The land had formerly been a part of the Kilauea Sugar Company, an 11,500-acre operation which produced sugar for 95 years, from 1877-1971. This “Plantation-era” is a consequential piece of the history of Kauaʻi and played a lasting role in shaping the island, driving the development of infrastructure. The Kilauea Sugar Company was the first to construct a railroad system for transportation in 1881. Queen Liliuokalani even drove in the first stake. Small pieces of the track can still be found on the Common Ground campus.

Long before the land which would later become the Guava Kai Plantation ever began changing hands, guava was brought to Hawaiʻi via an extended water crossing. In about 1791, a Spaniard adventurer by the name of Don Francisco de Paula Marin first stepped foot on Hawaiian soil. He served as Kamehameha I’s business advisor, bookkeeper, and interpreter and was known to have a green thumb. Marin planted elaborate gardens of diverse fruits and vegetables, many of which had never before been documented in Hawaiʻi; olive, prickly pear cactus, tamarind, peach and grape. He also grew guava. Although often credited with having specifically introduced guava to the islands, it is neither mentioned in his journal or his correspondence. Regardless, guava most likely made its way to Hawaiʻi via ship—it is not native. Whether or not Marin brought it himself, he did further propagate the fruit.