Start Small. Celebrate Success. Build on Your Success.

The first time Mike Hodson doubled his farming operation, he built a second greenhouse. Then he did it again, and then a few more times. In just five years, Hodson, who grows organic tomatoes on the Big Island of Hawaii, has expanded his operation from one to 45 greenhouses and he’s not done yet. By the end of 2013, Hodson expects to operate more than a hundred greenhouses. His simple advice: Start small. Celebrate success. Build on your success.

“When you start small, you make mistakes and you keep tweaking those mistakes to make yourself better,” explains Hodson, president of Wow Farm. “It’s easier to tweak your mistakes on one greenhouse than 45. If you make mistakes then, you have to tweak 45 greenhouses. That’s a massive effort.”

Hodson’s farm produces 6,000 pounds of tomatoes each week. He is sharing his secrets of success through the Waimea Hawaiian Homesteaders’ Association “Farming for the Working Class” program that teaches Native Hawaiians to farm fallow land through hands-on workshops, classroom learning and business training. 

Although Hodson comes from a long line of farmers, he didn’t begin farming himself until in his 40s. Even then, it was a hobby - to relieve stress caused by his job as a police detective. He says the land - ‘aina in Hawaiian - helped filter negative things out of his system. “It kept me stable and balanced,” says Hodson. “I didn’t know how important farming was at the time.”

Tomatoes aren’t typically grown in Hawaii since there is no seasonal change in temperature, and bugs and disease present problems. With no one nearby to mentor him, Hodson taught himself to farm. His goal was to grow enough for his family to eat. After the success of his first greenhouse, the family celebrated. With time, he started giving extra tomatoes away to friends and family. Eventually, Hodson began selling his surplus at a farmers market. 

“At the first farmers market, I earned $5 all day. I celebrated that because it was $5 I didn’t have the day before,” says Hodson. “My definition of ambition is the burning desire to succeed. In order to build ambition, you have to have success. If you dream of a huge project and don’t reward yourself with small success along the way, you’re not building ambition.”

What makes Hodson’s story unique is that he was still working a full-time job that provided income during the initial stages of farming. Now, he’s sharing his approach with Hawaiians who are employed full-time, but also share an interest in growing food to eat and sell. With grant money from First Nations Development Institute, he developed a program titled “Farming for the Working Class.” The 161-acre community project through the Waimea Hawaiian Homesteaders Association involves building 14 new greenhouses, providing participants with hands-on, experiential learning.

“What I’ve learned is that you can’t do it by yourself. Learned knowledge not shared is lost, so you have to get the whole family involved, “ says Hodson, who designed the curriculum to teach entire families – rather than individuals - to farm.” You learn faster and are more successful. In the Hawaiian culture, family is very important and I believe it is in all indigenous cultures.”