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Volcano, HI

Mistake Of A Lifetime - 11/17/2009
After several relatively brief visits to The Big Island of Hawaii, my husband and I, both strict vegetarians, decided to move from Palo Alto CA to Volcano Village with our parrot, dog, and cat. We should have done much more research before making that commitment.

To our amazement and disappointment, we soon learned that the general availability of organic produce in Volcano and on the rest of the Big Island is next to zero. And at 4,000 ft, Volcano's colder-than-average climate does not allow you to grow most of the fruits and vegetables that can be easily raised in the much warmer, humid climates found on the rest of the island. (At present, there are exactly 2 organic vendors selling at the Volcano Farmer's Market, neither of which grow their wares in the Village.)

"Eating Locally", as the bumper stickers advocate, you can go broke living in Volcano. All food prices on this, the agrarian side of the island, including local fruits and other produce, are obscenely high, and contrary to expectation if you are vegetarian and eat only organics, there are no discounts to be had at the Farmer's Market--unless you consider $3.99/lb for zucchini, $4.21 for tomatoes and $4.29 for a single 3 oz raddicio to be reasonable. And since the Volcano Farmer's Market is open only on Sundays and only from 6 am to 8:30 am, if you snooze, you lose.

You might be able to adapt to living in Volcano, but what about your companion animals? The available veterinary care on this side of the island is both antiquated and just plain bad. The nearest vet office is 20 miles beyond Volcano and many vets on this side of the island do not even have an x-ray machine. There is no emergency or 24-hour veterinary service. Better veterinary service is available, but it's a 3 hour drive away, on the Kona side of the island.

Are you thick skinned enough to live in Volcano? I worked as a veterinary technician and animal shelter worker for over 20 years on the mainland, and have discovered that animal neglect and cruelty are rampant across this island, Volcano Village being no exception. To note that cockfighting is illegal in the state of Hawaii is absurd, as it is arguably the state's favorite past time. And backyard dog breeding is certainly its most common hobby. Spay and neuter are virtually unheard of, completely unsupported and unsubscribed to by the general population. Dogs are kept outdoors under all manner of horrible circumstances and in every neighborhood, even chihuahuas can be seen in front yards, short-chained to rotting, dilapidated dog houses. Abandoned staving dogs, kittens and chickens can be found living in the brush at every one of the island's "transfer stations" (dumps), including Volcano's. Another "humane" indicator, is the statewide campaign now in effect (heavily lobbied for by members of the state tourist industry), to eradicate the harmless Coki frogs by blasting them (and all flora and fauna in the same pathway) with acid.

What level of health care are you accustomed to? Dental care is likewise frighteningly antiquated on this side of the island (equipment circa 1962), as are hospital facilities, but you might not mind scheduling your dental appointments to coincide with your veterinary appointments (just 3 hours away and 3 hours back) on the Kona side, and some medical insurance policies do cover flying patients to Queen's Hospital on Oahu (just 1.5 hours away) for some procedures.

Living in Volcano will be an ecological trip back in time. With the tourist industry dominating Hawaii, there is a monumental amount of "disposable" waste overflowing the state. Its landfills are filled beyond capacity and much of the excess is currently being shipped to the state of WA for burial. The concept of recycling household bottles, cans, wastepaper, etc, is just beginning to be introduced here (think mainland 1973). A measure to end the use of plastic bags has been defeated twice in recent years after heavy lobbing against it by the Hawaii Food Industry Association and the Retail Merchants of Hawaii on the grounds that it would mean raising their prices to consumers.

Other facts to contend with are that the median cost of buying a house in Volcano is $302,650, while home appreciation the last year (2008-2009) has been -10.40 percent. Volcano's cost of living is 13.54% higher than the U.S. average and the unemployment rate in Volcano is 9.10 percent, compared to the U.S. average of 8.5%. Recent job growth is Negative: Volcano jobs have decreased by 5.40 percent from 2008 to 2009. And public school education in Volcano, as in all of Hawaii, is exceedingly low ranked, compared to the national average, and I know several parents who have moved their children back to the mainland after having experienced this reality.

All this being said, living in Volcano may still be just your cup of Paradise. I'm simply offering a counterbalance to the local tourist industry hype, suggesting that you do your own research and think it over well before finally making the move. Because as we've discovered, as much as it costs to move to Volcano from the mainland, it'll costs you even more to move back.


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