The first time I met Patricia Bragg, she set about rearranging my office furniture the moment she walked in. First she attempted to slide my in-boxes and computer off to the side of my desk. Then, after glancing around the small room and apparently concluding that the furniture arrangement was totally unsuitable to her needs, she asked if she could grab a chair from the hall. I said yes, and she planted it directly in front of my desk.
The reason for her visit, which took place just a few weeks ago on the afternoon of Feb. 15, was to quarrel over a fact we’d reported three months earlier. In his Nov. 22, 2007 column, Rob Parsons–a former county environmental coordinator well-versed in land use issues–revealed that Bragg, a longtime health guru and friend to numerous celebrities, had recently asked the county to identify each and every historic parcel on the 553 acres of farmland and 40,000 macadamia nut trees she owns in Waiehu. Such a move, which is a matter of public record, is generally done as a first step toward subdivision.
“That article was all wrong,” she told me over the phone the night before her visit. “It was very, very erroneous. My whole life I’ve led a life of service. The only reason I bought that land was to save the trees. My farmers are very happy. I really resent that article, and I want you to interview me.”
I readily agreed to an interview, having no idea that my decision would expose me to such an unusual world. It is the world of Patricia Bragg, self-proclaimed “Health Crusader.”
“Trends come and go, but her vinegar is what I’d call a natural foods store staple,” Donny McGean, owner of Hawaiian Moons in Kihei, told me. “You really couldn’t call yourself a store without it.”
Well known in the health food industry, Bragg has recently been the subject of profiles in New Zealand’s Sunday Star Times, the locally published Vision Magazine and the trade publication Natural Foods Merchandiser.
Short, but full of energy, during our first interview Bragg stuck her chest at me to show how proud she was for apparently never having worn a bra in her life (other reporters have described similar actions). She portrays herself as a simple nutritionist, head of the nearly century-old Bragg Live Food Products–maker of fine Liquid Aminos and Organic Apple Cider Vinegar–out to teach the world how to eat healthy and live long, happy lives.
Yet one of her oldest friends has described her as a “mystery,” and there’s considerable truth in that. Bragg is a complex personality, capable of both selfless generosity and relentless self-promotion. She constantly invokes the name of her “father,” the late nutritionist Paul Bragg, yet clams up when talk turns to her actual biological parents. She’ll drop the names of her friends at the drop of her bright pink hat–Tom Selleck, Clint Eastwood, Jack LaLane–but insists she’s not a “Hollywood celebrity.Bragg Health Foundation donates money to a surprising spectrum of charities:groups opposed to genetically modified foods on one hand, fundamentalist Christian ministries on the other.
Bragg is capable of passionate statements, especially concerning her intentions concerning her Waiehu property. Her statements are indeed comforting, but they also differ from the public record.
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Patricia Bragg has strong ties to Maui. In addition to numerous friends, she also owns a considerable chunk of territory. In 2002, Bragg bought 553 acres of Waiehu from Wailuku Agribusiness. She paid $1.1 million for it, according to court records. And last year, she asked county officials to identify all historic parcels on her property.
According to Bragg and Brian Jenkins, her Wailuku-based attorney, she asked the County of Maui to recognize her 25 individual parcels not as a prelude to subdivision, but to protect her water rights.
“There is a possibility that agricultural water rights may be lost or compromised if the twenty five historic lots of record lost their historic separate identity and became legally consolidated into one lot,” Jenkins wrote in a Feb. 15, 2008 letter to Maui Time, which we published in our Feb. 21, 2008 issue.
Indeed, Bragg vigorously denied ever even considering subdividing the Waiehu property.
“I never had any intention of subdividing the land,” Bragg told me during her Feb. 15 face-to-face interview, denying numerous times that she now or ever intended to subdivide. “I bought that land sight-unseen in eight minutes. We have 12 Filipino farmers who are so wonderful. The farmers are very happy. They were worried to death when the property was sold [in 2002].”
Some of Bragg’s friends and associates even weighed in, saying subdivision was not her plan. “Subdivide? I don’t think she had that in mind,” Bill Galt, the founder of Good Earth Restaurants and a longtime friend of Patricia, told me. “Her whole thing was to preserve.”
In his Feb. 15 letter to Maui Time, attorney Brian Jenkins wrote that “As part of Ms. Bragg’s purchase of these lands, there was an agreement to create a ten (10) acre organic farm in the middle of a much larger parcel and an agreement to create another 10 acre parcel for agricultural purposes in the Kou portion of the land.”What’s more, Jenkins wrote that Bragg “never”intended to “create any more ‘new’ parcels”than those two cited above.
In fact, in court records filed in 2004 concerning her purchase of the Waiehu property Bragg said the reason she couldn’t create at least one of the parcels cited above was that she hadn’t yet “subdivided” the property . On June 27, 2002, the court records show that Bragg entered into an agreement with a local couple, Valerie Deva and Don Harris, in which Bragg would loan the couple the $1.1 million to buy the Waiehu land. To pay off the loan, the agreement allowed the couple to transfer the property to Bragg.
But the agreement also said the couple could turn around and buy a 10-acre parcel of the property from Bragg for $20,000 ($2,000 an acre). They decided to do that, but apparently the sale never took place. Beacuse of this, in 2004 Deva and Harris took Bragg to court. Bragg’s declaration in that case, dated Sept. 24, 2004, explains why she never sold the 10-acre parcel to the couple.
“It is my intent to fulfill the Agreement with the Plaintiffs and sell them the 10 acre parcel described by the Agreement as soon as the property has been subdivided,” Bragg said in the declaration. “I understand that I cannot transfer a portion of the a piece of property unless it has been legally subdivided.”
Bragg added that she hadn’t yet been able to subdivide because Hawaiian activists had challenged her title. “Until such time as this issue is resolved,” Bragg continued, “I will be unable to proceed with subdivision and unable to transfer title to Plaintiffs pursuant to their Option to Purchase.”
The case dragged on two more years, eventually ending up in arbitration. In May 2006, arbitrator G. Richard Morry ruled largely in favor of Deva and Harris—they got most, but not all of what they wanted—but no land transfer has yet taken place.
PART 2: Who is Bragg? ->