Neighbors: Peter Baldwin: Grass roots

Some might say he was born into Maui ranching royalty, but Peter Baldwin learned the cattle business from the ground up.

Even though he’s descended from the founder of Haleakala Ranch, Baldwin spent his high school summers working “fence gang” or pulling weeds. And when, after college, he decided he wanted to return to the ranch full-time, he was put to work as a cowboy.

“For the first five years, I packed my lunch on the back of my saddle,” he said.

The president of Haleakala Ranch, who retired about 10 years ago, will be honored this week as the grand marshal of the Makawao Parade and the 58th annual Makawao Rodeo.

The parade is scheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday in Makawao town, while the rodeo will continue today with qualifying at 9 a.m. and the Bull Bash at 7 p.m. Rodeo events start at 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Baldwin was the fourth generation of his family to run Haleakala Ranch, which recently celebrated its 125th anniversary. His parents, Manduke and Haku Baldwin, introduced him to horses as a young boy, while his early experiences tagging along with his father around the ranch gave him a love of open spaces and the rugged life of a paniolo.

“In the early days, we rode often from Kanaio to Waiapai, next to Kaupo,” he said. “My dad and the cowboys were doing cattle work, but we always hunted goats – I shot my first goat when I was 6.”

In 1965, his father asked him to take over management of Haleakala Dairy. He later bought the operation and continued to run it for more than a decade before selling it to Meadow Gold in 2000.

During his tenure as Haleakala Ranch president, Baldwin worked to update the genetics of the cattle herd, purchasing bulls to introduce the Gelbvieh, Red Angus and Black Angus bloodlines. The breeding program helped the ranch keep up with the demands of a changing marketplace.

“Around the same time, we started moving toward a more holistic approach to grazing and land management,” he said, noting that the ranch introduced a “rotational grazing” program that’s gentler on both land and animals.

But ask Baldwin to name the highlight of his career, and he said it comes down to the people.

“It would begin and end with working with the men in some way, shape or form,” he said. “I truly like and respect, and have always respected the people who work at the ranch, and I regard them very highly.”

Baldwin said he’s “proud” of how Haleakala Ranch has stewarded its lands for the past 125 years.

Since his departure, Baldwin has focused on managing Piiholo Ranch, on land he purchased from Haleakala after retirement. In addition to a zipline operation run by his three sons and their families, as well as a horseback riding facility, Baldwin keeps a small herd of about 100 Mexican Corriente cows for breeding and 100 roping steers for use at local events around the island.

“My life (since retirement) has been Piiholo,” he said. “I really wanted to continue the life that I’d come to know and enjoy.”

In addition to his experience as a cattleman, Baldwin, who was inducted into the Paniolo Hall of Fame in 2007, has been nationally recognized as a roper and polo player. His polo achievements include being chosen amateur player of the year by the U.S. Polo Association in 1987, after his Maui team won the Pacific Coast Open, the America’s Cup and the U.S. Handicap. In roping, he spent a summer on the professional rodeo circuit in the 1960s, and has competed in events including the U.S. Finals in Oklahoma City, the World Series Finals in Las Vegas and the Reno Invitational.

Among his community involvements, Baldwin helped found the Maui Youth Soccer Organization, and served on the boards of Bank of Hawaii, Hawaiian Airlines and Maui Land & Pineapple Co., and as a trustee for The Nature Conservancy.

Now 75, Baldwin said he’s looking forward to competing once again in this year’s Makawao Rodeo.

“I’m less active in the community,” he said, “but I still saddle up a horse a lot.”

* Ilima Loomis is a Maui-based writer and editor. Do you have an interesting neighbor? Tell us about them at Neighbors and “The State of Aloha,” written by Ben Lowenthal, alternate Fridays.