Chasing Coconut Chris

Christopher Carter, aka Coconut Chris, loves plants. By the time he was 8, he had started growing tomatoes and sugarcane in his parent's yard in Southern California. He stopped going to school in 9th grade just so he could devote more time to growing food. When he was 22, he worked at an exotic plant nursery in Vista, California, where he learned about plant propagation, grafting and edible landscaping, all useful skills for growing tropical plants in the middle of the Pacific.

Chris now lives in Kukuihaele, Hawaii, by the Waipio Valley, on a 600 acre ranch. While he goes by Coconut Chris (due to his ability to scale tall coconut palms in search of their fruit), it's bananas that Chris is especially into growing. Bananas have been growing in Hawaii for as long as people have been living here, with varieties brought over by the first Polynesian explorers. Chris grows over 50 kinds of bananas on his farm, many of them rare Hawaiian types. If not for his efforts, these species could become extinct; preserving them helps to maintain an important part of traditional Hawaiian culture. Plus, bananas are one of the easiest and fastest to grow of all the tropical fruits and are a nutritious source of carbohydrates.

Coconut Chris lives off-grid on his farm and follows a raw vegan diet. In addition to bananas, he grows an endless list of tropical foods: Jackfruit, starfruit, passionfruit, cacao, breadfruit, pomelo, papayas, edible hibiscus, soursop, durian and, of course, coconut. His passion for biodiversity and all home-grown food is truly infectious, and I always come away from a trip to his farm feeling inspired - along with a truck full of banana varietals to plant.