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It’s no secret that farming is a way of life. Some farmers choose the lifestyle, while others like Suthat Promnonsri, are born into it. Coming from generations of rice farmers, Suthat, or “Dang,” as he is called, it was natural that he become one too. His upbringing got him up at 4 a.m. and worked until 10 or 11 o’clock at night. If you feel bad for his wife Kamsai, or “Peet,” don’t. She too came from a long line of rice farmers and is just as accustomed to this type of work as Dang.
Both Dang and Peet are from the agricultural province of Kalasin, Thailand. It’s about a 40-minute plane ride, or seven-hour drive, from Bangkok. All of Dang’s family were rice farmers, as Kalasin’s main export to the world is sticky rice. Here on Kaua’i, Dang, Peet, and their two sons tend to nine acres on Grove Farm’s Lihu’e Lands. Like most Thai people, Dang got his nickname when he was a child. Typically, Thai people have a traditional name paired with a one-syllable nickname, which makes for easier communication.
“Hello, welcome to Dang’s Fresh Farm!” he says with his typical ear-to-ear grin. His pants and boots have a thin coating of dust, as he and Peet walk alongside the seemingly-endless neatly-tilled rows of pineapple, mixed greens, cucumber, cilantro, peppers, watermelon, basil, and tomatoes. He also grows Thai banana, papaya, soursop, and a prized bitter fruit that is highly sought after in Thailand.
All the fruits and vegetables thrive on Dang’s farm. Everything he learned about farming came from experience, trial and error, and lessons from the generations before him in Thailand. He gets happy when he talks about his farm and what he’s growing. That smile never leaves his face when he talks about what he’s growing. As he walks along his farm, he and Peet start to pick the fruit and vegetables that weren’t quite ready at the time of harvest. By the end of the tour, he has three huge Thai papayas, three cucumbers, four lemons, a pair of pineapple, a bunch of basil, starfruit, bananas, and a bag of mixed salad greens.
His produce is strategically timed to peak during the winter months, making it easier to sell his goods to restaurants and supermarkets looking to buy local due to the high cost of shipping from mainland farms suffering from below 60-degree weather. “Going be ready when everyone else no more,” he said. By doing this, Dang was nominated to be Verde Hawai’i’s farmer of the month. The Mexican restaurant in Lihue featured vegetables, fruits, and peppers grown by Dang and his family.
Leaving Thailand was difficult for him and his growing family, but it was hard to make a living farming rice on 1 to 2 acres. In 2004, he decided to do what’s best and head to the Pacific Northwest. He worked for Green Acre Farms as an apple and peach picker in Washington for a year and in 2005 he moved to the Big Island to work on a macadamia nut farm. It wasn’t until his cousin called him and told him about the opportunity to farm here that he decided to come to Kaua’i. Upon first arriving in 2013, Dang worked at a Thai restaurant in Nawiliwili for some extra money. This is where he learned to make the best pad thai you will ever eat. On his days off, he worked with Sakda Meephol – who is also a farmer featured in our Grove Farm Stories – in Koloa.
When asked about all the challenges of farming, he shrugs it off like there are none. “I don’t mind the long hours and hard work,” he said. “This is how I was raised, and now I’m passing down the tradition to my sons.” When he has time, he enjoyed fishing and camping with his family to unwind and relax, but he always had an uneasy feeling. “I would rather be working on the farm,” Dang said. “No time for fun, but the family stays together on the farm. It’s a good family business.”
Making the move over 6,000 miles away from Kalasin was quite the journey for Dang. One of the hardest parts was leaving behind his eight siblings and aging mother. But he enjoys the work he’s doing here on Kaua’i. “I work hard in Thailand, no money. I work hard here, I can pay for everything and send money to Thailand.” He said with his wide grin.
You can find Dang and his family at the Sunshine Markets around the island and at the Kaua’i Community College Farmers Market on Saturday’s from 9:30 a.m. - 1 p.m. If you would like to order fruits or vegetables from him, call Dang’s Fresh Farm at (808) 756-3613.