Best of Hawaiʻi

CTAHR alum builds Hawaiian Turfgrass into a fan favorite

  • 30 December 2020
  • Author: Mark Berthold
  • Number of views: 2956
Best of Hawaiʻi

When Sean Fong was an undergrad in the Dept. of Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences, like many young people, he wasn’t quite sure what the future held for him. But he liked the professors, respected their vast knowledge, and was grateful for their willingness to mentor him.

Then he took a turfgrass management class, and the rest is history. The company he would eventually build from scratch, Hawaiian Turfgrass, won Hawaiʻi’s Best 2020 by the Star Advertiser.

“The recognition means a lot,” Sean says. “It’s a validation of the hard work our crew is doing, the great job my team is doing. It comes down to the growers taking pride in quality control of the grass, the installers working with customers and setting them up for success, not skipping steps. I also want to thank our customers for spreading the word about us.”

After the turfgrass class, Sean had found his focus. He learned everything he could about grass management and production, the best varieties and how to bring them to Hawaiʻi. The multitude of classes taught him to look at quality control, technology, greenhouse aspects.

“When I graduated, I was so gung ho, I knew what I wanted to do,” he says. “We started with nothing, no equipment or land, going at it every day without getting paid at first, investing everything back into the company. Day by day, we won, built some more.”

Sean continues, “We made sure to get the very best varieties, and really manage production – CTAHR taught me all that. All the professors have a been a great source of information, beyond graduation. They taught me to perfect my craft and become the best grass farmer I could.”

Sean learned quickly to ‘piggyback’ on varieties that were university and privately bred for superior characteristics and traits, and still relies on the expertise of CTAHR.

“We’re adding grasses used in NFL and college football fields,” he says. “Our grasses are proven, rating high in tests. They perform better, with less maintenance, less watering, more draught tolerant, better characteristics, nicer look, less thatch (grass buildup and spongy). They require less fertilizer, yet outperform the common varieties. It’s personally satisfying to see the grass doing its best, shining, standing out. The quality speaks for itself.”

In the decade+ since Sean graduated and started Hawaiian Turfgrass, the company has gone from leasing a single 6,000-sq. ft. bed to now owning 67 acres. He credits his success to “not being afraid to get your hands dirty, and CTAHR professors.

I don’t know everything, professors have been great resource to circle back to. I believe in education, the more we can do to perfect our craft the better overall. Dr. Z Cheng they come out and visit us. They’re great resources.

“I had a NO FEAR mentality, but I don’t know everything, so CTAHR professors have been great resource to circle back to. Mahalo!”

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