It’s not quite what neighbors had in mind when they asked whether guards would patrol the grounds of his new grow site, one of the first to be awarded a state license. But Ha believed that armed guards would do more harm than good.
“We’re not going to have armed guards,” he told his neighbors, “because we’d end up shooting ourselves.”
A prominent farmer on the Big Island, Ha recalled the lessons he learned in his days as a banana grower. “Some people rip off bananas,” he explained to Leafly in a phone interview earlier this week. And those people, in order to lop their loot from the plants, usually carry machetes. It’s a commonsense conclusion, Ha said: “Do not confront anybody who’s ripping off bananas.” It’s not worth the risk just to save a few bundles of fruit.
The stakes are higher with cannabis. The crop is pricier, and Ha had to make some serious investments to obtain a license and bring his operation up to the state’s cannabis code. But the farmer still wants to avoid confrontation with would-be thieves. So instead of preparing to engage with trespassers, he’s making sure there’s no place for them to hide.
Enter the cows.
The grow site for Ha’s medical cannabis venture, Lau Ola, sits on a 40-acre plot lush with branches and undergrowth — ideal camouflage for burglars. The cows, he says, will act as enormous bovine lawnmowers, clearing brush and increasing visibility.
“We know cattle ranchers,” Ha said. “It’s a win-win for us and them. They get to raise their animals, and we don’t have to do the weeding and maintenance, grass-cutting and things like that.”
Ha knows the cows aren’t exactly watchdogs. So to up the intimidation factor, sometimes Ha refers to the cattle as “wild bulls.” He even plans to post signs to that effect.
“Everybody’s afraid of bulls,” he explained dryly. “Nobody wants to be caught in a pasture with a wild bull.”
Farmer Richard Ha, CEO of Lau Ola and future employer of security cows. Photo courtesy Richard Ha/Lau Ola
Ha’s goal is to avoid run-ins entirely by encouraging would-be intruders to leave well enough alone. In addition to the security cows, he’ll also share the surveillance video feed “so the neighbors can watch traffic go up and down” the road.
Those steps are crucial for building support within the tight-knit community, and ensuring that neighbors are comfortable with his fledgling operation.
“Because I’m a farmer, I’m very aware of these kinds of things,” Ha said. “The first thing we did is have them come in and talk with us when we started planning.”
Before getting into cannabis, Ha studied the science of growing hydroponic tomatoes. He took classes about controlled-environment agriculture, learning how to tweak temperature, humidity, and lighting. In his eyes, it’s the best approach to prevent mold, insect damage, and other threats. But the economics never worked out. “A pound of high-end hydroponic tomatoes gets you 20 cents an ounce,” he said.
So when Hawaii began licensing the cultivation and distribution of medical cannabis, Ha saw an opportunity. “It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out.”