Guåhan Sustainable Culture
Educate. Cultivate. Nourish.
September 29, 2023
What does a land steward need to farm? The first thing that comes to mind might be sunlight. Water. Soil. Fertilizer and maybe, if you’re especially thoughtful, trowels and other gardening equipment. While all of these materials are necessary in the physical process of farming, there is one thing that all farmers have in common. Resilience. The ability to try. To succeed. To fail. And to start again. Typhoon Mawar tested this characteristic in all farmers on Guam and challenged their livelihoods and will to persevere through their recovery process. GSC interviewed Kyle Quinata, a farmer from Håle’ta Farms, to share the lessons he’s learned from his recovery journey after Typhoon Mawar.
In Chamoru, hale means roots.
Roots are the source of life, the origin of an endeavor towards growth, change, and legacy. When a planted seed sprouts, it branches off while still being connected to where it came from. The plant’s journey from seed to root to seedling parallels the Quinata family’s intergenerational farming tradition.
The Quinata’s farming origin begins with retirement. When Frankie Quinata was in grade school, his grandfather took up farming after he retired from the navy. Frankie and his brother learned the traditional way of making local moonshine, also known as tuba. When Frankie got older, he passed this farming tradition to his sons, Kyle and Kenan Quinata.
While other kids would start their homework after school or play around at home, Kyle Quinata’s first priority was to run the drip lines or pull the weeds at his father’s farm. Kyle grew up dreaming of his own tractor. Now, as an adult with his own tractor and farm, he has a new dream: to pass down the farming tradition to his children.
A living metaphor of the Quinata family tree, Håle’ta Farms means our roots.
And even when the plant is shaken, jostled, or terribly split, its roots hold it together and keep it as one.
Kyle Quinata and the rest of his family had one week to prepare their farm in Talo’fo’fo before Typhoon Mawar hit the island. Typhoon Mawar was the strongest typhoon to hit Guam in more than two decades – with a wind speed of 140 miles per hour and pouring rainfall. Even though the Quinata family kept up with the weather advisory rate, they had to act fast to secure their farm for the impending storm. So they took down the tarp from their canopy. Secured their brand new shed as best they could. And took all the loose and high bio items that they could pack into their truck.
The foundation of Håle’ta Farms sat on top of sweat, hard work, and love. Before Mawar, the farm fostered long rows of watermelon just starting to blossom, a diversity of citrus trees that breathed calamansi fragrance into the air, and mulberry trees that left Ella and Evan’s fingers sticky and ruby-red with juice (Ella and Evan are Kyle’s children). In the beginning, the three acres of the Quinata’s farm had been a stretch of jungle across Talo’fo’fo.
Kyle, his father Frankie, and his brother Kenan had spent weeks cutting down trees and preparing the landscape for their family’s generation-long traditions of farming. This land that the Quinata farmers spent time tending to since 2020, as if it was another young family member in their household, would be left to endure the storm. But they had to leave and hope for the best, it was time to prepare their home for the storm, board their windows, and hold the hands of their youngest family members as Ella, Evan, and their newborn baby Eden’s first typhoon.
After the typhoon passed, Kyle Quinata came back to their farm two days before his father did. The road to his farm was closed off – the trees that line the entryway caved in. Almost 40 citrus trees had been tipped over, bent, and snapped. Trees were uprooted from the ground. The strength of the winds took the heaviest fruits with them, and the bananas and watermelons were left ravaged as if by a messy thief. Four chicken tractors were destroyed. And the brand new shed that Frankie Quinata built had flown into their neighbor’s yard.
During our interview, when I asked him how he felt when he had returned for the first time on his farm, he told me he felt two things: sadness and disgust. Is the watermelon ready? Can we pick the bananas now? Their friends would ask. It was almost time to harvest, but when the storm came, there was nothing left. As the author of this piece, I want to be clear and honest that I am no farmer. Yet, after the Quinata family told me about the process of growing watermelon, its finicky maturation and long harvest time, I could not help but share a sense of grief for what was lost.
Even with all of the family’s hard work vanished and the barren state of the farm, Kyle and his family persevered. There is an end to the chapter of mourning. You can only grieve for so long until you must choose to start picking up the pieces and work towards where you were. For Kyle, that choice was facilitated by the programs that he had enrolled in.
Having the farm insured with USDA and being bonafide farmers with Guam’s Department of Agriculture allowed the Quinata family to claim insurance for aspects of the farm’s damage. The programs that they were in such as, USDA’s D-SNAP program, drove the Quinata’s recovery process. Such programs required specific processes for Kyle to capitalize on recovery funding. For example, Kyle and the other farmers in his family could not touch his crops until the agency inspected their farm. Once the inspection occurred, Kyle and the USDA agency could work together on a game plan to recover what was lost and move forward.
In addition, grants from organizations like Guåhan Sustainable Culture allowed farmers like Kyle to resupply their farm of fertilizer and chicken feed. Guåhan Sustainable Culture’s micro-grants were given to over 200 farmers, with the intention of supporting the purchase of necessary production resources lost or needed after the storm. Recovery is a step-by-step process, and the path does not have to be walked alone. Guåhan Sustainable Culture intends to help farmers like the Quinatas to feel supported taking the first steps forward.
The Quinata family is starting to regrow their farm, one row of cucumbers at a time. They are putting cash crops first and watching as the calamansi and citrus trees recover. Resting in Kyle’s parents’ house, three dozen chicks from UoG incubate waiting to join the rest of the chickens on Håle’ta Farms. With time, the Quinatas hope that they’ll start to collect eggs. Despite all of the hardship, Kyle finds strength and hope to continue in his family and the community that’s working to help farmers.
As Kyle explains, Typhoon Mawar is a dry run. In order to farm or even garden, people must be resilient. It doesn’t have to be a super storm for crops to crash. It could be drought, pest, or one week of heavy rain. As a farmer, you have to be able to recognize when the brunt of the challenge has passed and take the time to start again. You always have a choice on how to move forward, because you can never go back, only remain stagnant.
For Håle’ta Farms, moving forwards means working towards family dreams. In his future visions for the family farm, Kyle wants to bring students to Håle’ta Farms and utilize the space for learning. Kyle values not only the produce from the farm, but also the lessons that can be learned from immersion in the environment and quality time between people. Håle’ta Farms will be a place of inspiration, so younger farmers will be able to leave with a realization that they can grow too.
The beauty about learning, be it farming or a different subject, is that you are never doing it alone or making up knowledge from scratch. There is trial and error, other farmers who can impart their knowledge, and other students who are learning beside you. With farming, you aren’t reinventing the wheel, you are learning how to improve upon it so it can take you and those you support farther.
“If you find something that you’re passionate about that’s something that you really want to do, there’s going to be bumps in the road, right? You have to be able to push forward and know that you’re not alone and you can always reach out to other people on your journey. If you’re passionate, just keep going towards that and working towards your goal of what you want to do. And don’t give up.” – Kyle Quinata
While Kyle and his family’s story is one of many in Guam after Typhoon Mawar, his perseverance and strength is a shared quality of all farmers on our island. Stories like Kyle’s remind us that, there will be setbacks in our journey both large and small. But fortunately, there are support systems that aim to help us move forward and persist through these challenges. Our island is not going anywhere and neither are the people who sustain our community and environment.
New cucumber growing where the watermelon crops once were