Category: Farms & Ranches

Hawai’i Farm Guide – SPRING 2022

Hana Ranch & Hana Ranch Provisions supports edible Hawaiian Islands Farm Day

After working up an appetite visiting your favorite farm this Saturday May 21st, swing by Hana Ranch Provisions in Paia for their special Farm Day offering– half off all burgers! These burgers are a locavore’s dream come true with their locally-raised, grass-fed beef, island grown produce, and house made buns and condiments. Hana Ranch Provisions will also have a stand set up outside the restaurant promoting their new CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program. Stop by to see sample CSA boxes, talk story about the Ranch’s sustainable growing practices, and sign up for a box of your own. Don’t forget to share pictures and stories at #EHIFarmDay16!


And the next time you’re cruising East Maui, make sure to stop by Hana Ranch’s newest culinary installment, the Hana Burger food truck! Liberated from the typical asphalt and gravel parking lots we’re accustomed to finding food trucks in, Hana Burger sits on a grassy slope near the Ranch itself just south of Hana Town. The truck’s sparkling silver exterior will catch your eye amidst the pastoral green landscape, and reel you in for delicious, locally sourced burgers, fish sandwiches, salads and more. Open Monday – Friday, 11:00am to 3:00pm.


edible Hawaiian Islands will be hosting their 3rd annual Farm Day on Saturday May 21, 2016!  Simply, we encourage you to SHOP at a farmers’ market, VISIT a farm and THANK a farmer then share your experience through social media by using our hashtag #eHIFarmDay16.


Growing Future Farmers: Localicious Hawai‘i

Story by Heidi Pool
Photos by Steve Brinkman

How a Maui group set out to grow future farmers one salad at a time, and wound up inspiring a “localicious” movement across the State.

It all started with a salad. And the potential impact of a humble dollar. Literally.

In the fall of 2011, members of Maui County Farm Bureau’s “Grown on Maui” committee were pondering the fact that a typical principal farm operator in Hawai‘i is around 60 years old. “We realized we needed to do something to foster up-and-coming farmers,” says committee member Charlene Ka‘uhane. “Maui County’s Office of Economic Development is a strong supporter of our programs, but we’d maxed out on our existing funding, and realized we needed to explore other avenues.”

Fresh Local Salad Grown in Hawaii

From this conversation, the Farm Bureau’s “Localicious, Dine Out Maui” promotion was born. Participating restaurants create a salad made with locally grown ingredients and designate these items with the Grown on Maui logo. For every salad sold, a dollar is donated to the Bureau’s Growing Future Farmers fund, administered by the Hawai‘i Agricultural Foundation. Since its inception, the campaign has raised an impressive $13,000. “That’s a lot of salads,” Charlene chuckles.

Proceeds from Localicious, Dine Out Maui are distributed in the form of grants and scholarships for new farmers and ranchers to start or enhance agricultural businesses in Maui County. “Scholarship recipients are graduates of the University of Hawai‘i Maui College’s agricultural program who wish to complete four-year studies at UH Hilo or Oregon State University,” Charlene reports.

Existing farmers may apply for grants to expand their businesses. “Smaller farmers need just a little help, not a huge amount of money,” says committee member Chef Chris Schobel, formerly of Hula Grill. “Who knows, a scholarship or grant recipient could be the person who comes up with something really significant, all because we’re selling salads.”

But growing future farmers isn’t just about raising money. The Grown on Maui Committee has hosted several meetings with chefs and farmers so each can understand the other’s needs. “When we first began our meetings, we really didn’t know each other,” says committee member Eric Faivre, executive chef at the Grand Wailea. “They didn’t know what we needed, and we didn’t know what they grew. So we made lists of ten items we always use, like Romaine lettuce, and ten specialty items we’d like to have, like baby carrots and artichokes.”

Growing Future Farmers“Sourcing ingredients is harder than it looks,” says Tylun Pang, committee member and executive chef at the Fairmont Kea Lani’s Ko Restaurant. “This program has opened up some amazing doors. It’s given me a greater respect for what our farmers deal with every day. We now have a relationship, and it’s no longer about buying veggies in a box.”

Committee chairman Darren Strand, president of Maui Gold Pineapple Company, also applauds the collaboration. “The farmers said, ‘I wish I could sell more,’ and the chefs said, ‘I wish I could buy more.’ This program helps farmers sell more products, identifies restaurants willing to support ag, and creates a funding source to educate the next generation of farmers.”

Chef Schobel adds another campaign benefit, the opportunity for restaurant servers and guests to interact about the importance of the island’s ag industry: “Guests feel positive about eating something delicious that’s grown on Maui and making a donation for a worthy cause.”

Committee member Scott McGill, executive chef of TS Restaurants group, which owns Hula Grill and Duke’s Beach House, specifically trains his staff members on the program. “We take them on farm visits, and we’ve had Dave Horsman from Ho‘opono Farms come into our restaurants to meet everyone,” he says. “I’m excited about the program, which makes our staff excited, which makes our guests excited.”

The Chefs behind Localicious

Localicious Hawai‘i

During the month of March, the Localicious campaign expands to encompass all Hawaiian Islands, not just Maui. “When we discovered how successful the Maui County Farm Bureau’s Localicious program has been, we saw an opportunity to create a statewide initiative,” says Denise Hayashi Yamaguchi, executive director of the Hawai‘i Ag Foundation.

Restaurants participating in Localicious Hawai‘i have designated an item on their menu (not necessarily a salad) that’s made with locally grown, caught or raised products, and a portion of the proceeds goes towards statewide ag education. Localicious Hawai‘i is chaired by renowned chef Alan Wong, who has restaurants on both O‘ahu and Maui.

“Restaurants raising at least $500 during the month of March can adopt a local school where the Foundation’s Ag in the Classroom program will be implemented,” says Denise. “The Foundation will partner with public school teachers to introduce an innovative national agricultural program in the classroom beginning in fall 2014. Our goal for this year’s Localicious Hawai‘i campaign is 60 participating restaurants generating $50,000 in donations, and we plan to make it an annual event.”

And it all began with a simple salad

Growing Future Farmers - Salad

“Growing future farmers is critical to the perpetuation of Hawai‘i’s agricultural industry,” says Charlene Ka‘uhane, “and ag education is fundamental to ensuring its continued viability. We want our keiki to know where their food comes from, understand ag’s importance in our communities, and see farming as a genuine career opportunity.”

“Localicious is a perfect example of how giving now pays off in the future,” says Chef Schobel.

To find out which Hawai‘i restaurants are participating in the Localicious Hawai‘i campaign during the month of March, visit








Get Fresh: Produce Boxes Across Hawai‘i

Boxes full of fresh, seasonal produce direct from your local farms are available across Hawai‘i. While some subscription services act as brokers, and others are traditional CSAs (short for Community-Supported Agriculture, in which you are technically purchasing a harvest share from a certain farm) the benefits to you are the same—the freshest, 100 percent local ingredients to your table at a great value, all while showing direct support to your local growers. This is also a great gift idea!

Things to consider: Check on the volume, or amount of produce, the box will come with to ensure it meets your needs. If organic is a priority, be sure your box is certified. All boxes are not confined to produce; ask whether you can include items like flowers, honey, eggs, bread, or jams and syrups. Another important detail is whether there is a delivery or if you’ll have to pick up the boxes yourself.

Boxes are available from dozens of sources; depending on which island you are on, here are a few good places to start:

Hawai‘i Island is so vast—and fertile! Hawaii Homegrown Food Network keeps a thorough island-wide listing of the dozens of CSAs available. Visit their website and look in their Resources tab for full listing.

Kula Fields Farmshop services Maui, O‘ahu, and Lāna‘i with home delivery of a variety of different produce boxes and specialty items. Visit for more information.

MA‘O Organic Farm’s traditional CSA box also helps support their socially-driven farming projects. O‘ahu Fresh brokers produce and specialty items from island farmers with delivery and pick-up available.

Kauai Farm Connection is a consortium of organic farmers that offers a subscription produce box; pick-up available in Kilauea and Kapa‘a.

A Historical Timeline of Coffee in Hawai‘i

Special Downoad: Historical Timeline of Coffee in Hawai‘i Bookmark (print and use!)

1813 – Don Francisco de Paula y Marin records planting coffee on O‘ahu.

1825 – The HMS Blonde sails in Honolulu with 30 coffee plants.

1828 – Coffee is planted in Kona and Hilo on The Big Island of Hawai‘i.

1830s – Coffee initiated as a commercial crop.

1835 – Coffee is planted in Koloa, Kaua‘i.

1849 – Coffee is exported to California during the Gold Rush.

1877 – Lava from Mauna Loa volcano flows through the Kona District.

1882 – Hawai‘i Agricultural Society forms.

1890 – Strong economies in Europe and America results in rise of market prices for coffee, creating a boom for Kona coffee.

1892 – Hermann Widemann introduces a Guatemalan coffee variety to Hawai‘i that is now referred to as “Kona Typica.”

1898 – Japanese coffee farmers establish the Kona Japanese Coffee Producers Association in an effort to improve processing and market a higher value product.

1904 – Judge Copp plants coffee in the Kokomo District of Maui. 125 acres are planted by Honolua Ranch in West Maui.

1904 – Donkeys, known as “Kona Nightingales” are brought in to help with the coffee harvest.

1910 – Japanese coffee farmers make-up 80% of the total farming population in Kona.

1932 – Dept. of Education institutes the “Coffee Vacation” so students can pick coffee during their hiatus from school from August – November.

1944 – Upcountry Maui children trade hand-picked and roasted coffee to the Marines of the Fighting Fourth at Kokomo for cans of Spam.

1956 – Fukunaga and Beaumont publish research from the Kona Experiment Station revolutionizing coffee pruning worldwide.

1957 – 15 million pounds of coffee are produced in Hawai‘i—the peak of production.

1959 – Statehood.

1967 – Kona Pacific Farmer’s Co-Op purchases and converts a former pineapple cannery into a coffee mill.

1969 – “Coffee Vacation” canceled, Kona schools conform with the rest of Hawai‘i.

1970 – Kona Coffee Festival

1980 – Malulani Farm plants 500 acres of Red Catuai coffee on Moloka‘i.

1987 – Kaua‘i Coffee Co. plants 3100 acres of former sugar fields into coffee.

1988 – Pioneer Sugar Mill converts 500 acres to Ka‘anapali Estate Coffee in West Maui.

1994 – The Internet revolution. Coffee farmers are now able to market directly to consumers.

1995 – The Hawai‘i Coffee Association is formed.

1998 – Labeling guidelines law passed for origin certification in Hawai‘i.

2005 – Kona Coffee Council and Maui Coffee Association established.

2010 – Kaua‘i Coffee Co. produces half of the coffee grown in the United States.

2013 – 200th Anniversary of Coffee in Hawai‘i.

History of Coffee in Hawaii

Taking Root: 200 Years of Coffee in Hawai‘i

Story by Margaret Kearns

This year, coffee—one of Hawai‘i’s heritage crops—celebrates its 200th anniversary of taking root in the islands. If not the largest agricultural crop in the State, coffee is among its most romantic, often nuanced with the impassioned sensorial descriptors akin to viniculture. And while conversations over a cup of joe can linger on subtleties of terroir and mouthfeel, Hawai‘i coffee-growers today are navigating the future—and threats—of their $34.6 million per year industry.

According to records, Hawai‘i’s first coffee plant was introduced in 1813 through King Kamehameha I’s Spanish advisor, Don Francisco de Paula y Marin. His royal journal noted planting the seedlings on O‘ahu, though little is known of the fate of that planting. In 1828 missionary Samuel Ruggles brought the first coffee tree to Kona, and by the 1930s coffee had become a commercial product in Hawai‘i—the only state in the nation to successfully cultivate the crop. (For the full historical timeline, check out this post.)

Two centuries later, more than 800 coffee farms operate across the islands. A whopping 700 of these farms are on Hawai‘i Island, most averaging just five acres in size. According to Hawaii Coffee Association’s (HCA) statistics, Hawai‘i Island is at the heart of the multi-million industry, with its ideal growing conditions of rich volcanic soil, climate and elevations of 1,000 to 3,000 feet. Across Hawai‘i, coffee is primarily farmed in the Kona tradition: hand-picked, fermented, and washed.

While Kona coffee continues to be the most renowned, the bean thrives in 11 growing regions across the islands, including areas on O‘ahu, Moloka‘i, Maui, and Kaua‘i. HCA president Greg Stille, a Maui-based grower himself, points out that in recent years, Ka‘u and Hamakua on Hawai‘i Island, as well as coffee farms on other islands, are challenging Kona’s top spot.

Numbers indicate that pouring a mug of Hawaii-grown coffee will continue to be a premium experience. Reports from the annual HCA conference held in July estimate the total coffee crop at 7.2 million pounds, down 5 percent from last year. While planted acreage remained unchanged at 8,000, harvested acreage logged in at 6,100, a 25 percent dip. Despite the decline in yield, the association estimates total coffee farm revenues to be up 10 percent this season.

“The good news/ bad news is demand for our specialty coffee here [in Hawai‘i] and in worldwide markets exceeds availability, resulting in higher prices for our coffee. One of the industry’s biggest challenges is finding more land in ideal coffee growing areas and attracting like-minded individuals committed to sustainably growing and cultivating outstanding quality beans,” Stille says.

Kaanapali Coffee FarmsIn fact, Stille, who together with his wife Susy, owns and operates the two-acre, boutique Piliani Kope Farm above the town of Lahaina on Maui, is personally on the search for more coffee acreage. He’s eyeing four different farms located in Kona, ranging from 12 to 108 acres.

A Mighty Threat

That Stille is even considering property in the Kona region is an indicator that he’s bullish on the success of a collaborative effort to tackle a tiny but dangerous pest. The Coffee Berry Borer (CBB) beetle was discovered on Kona district farms three years ago and has since destroyed up to 80 percent of infested crops, forcing many to stop cultivation. (Remember that 25 percent drop in harvested acres?)

Tom Greenwell, a fourth-generation Kona coffee grower, explains: “Up until 2010, Hawai‘i was just one of two coffee producing regions in the world not affected by the Coffee Borer Beetle—the most destructive of all coffee farm pests. For more than 150 years, growing coffee here had been relatively easy. We’re blessed with ideal conditions, soil, weather and elevation among them. That’s not to say we haven’t had our share of challenges over the years, such as drought, other pests and high labor costs, but nothing as potentially devastating as this.”

While CBB is not the only reason for harvest shortfalls and increased retail pricing (land and labor costs also contribute), it is by far the biggest. Preventing its spread to other growing regions is imperative to the health of Hawai‘i’s coffee industry.

Such grave threat to our nation’s only coffee growers was a wake-up call in Washington DC: this February, $1 million was made available toward the effort to combat the pest thanks to the efforts of U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and grassroots groups like the Kona Coffee Farmers Association and the Coffee Berry Borer Task Force.

Kona Coffee Farmers Association President Cecelia Smith and her husband Bob, both descendants of sugar plantation families, have been cultivating their five-acre Smith Farms Kona coffee for 25 years in Honaunau, the area hardest hit by the borer beetle. As they watched their crop yields decrease by 40 percent while facing increased costs for pesticides, they somberly considered giving up on the business they’d spent over a quarter-century building.

“We’re extremely grateful to the USDA and to Mazie; $1 million is a large amount of money and the best part is it will be used to fund science-based research, that’s exactly what we need—long-term scientific research,” she says. “It’s so much more help than attempting to fight it yourself.”

Beyond Kona

CoH-Molokai red dirtIn the meantime, coffee farms on all five islands are continuing to improve growing methods and processing techniques to bring out the unique flavor profiles found in several distinct coffee varieties— Arabic Typica, Red Caturra, Catuai, Pache, and Bourbon.

Far from the small farms of Hawai‘i Island is Kauai Coffee Company, Hawai‘i’s first and largest commercial coffee orchard. The mammoth 3,100-acre plantation drip-irrigates its 4 million trees (possibly the largest coffee plantation in the world to do so), uses mechanical harvesters, and wet processes their beans using aqua-pulpers for mucilage removal. Kauai Coffee Company alone comprises nearly 40 percent of the 8,000 acres in coffee production in Hawai‘i.

At the other end of the spectrum, and island, are John and Daphne McClure, owners of Moloa‘a Bay Coffee near Hanalei. The couple has been farming award-winning coffee on six acres for over a decade. All of his 3,000 Kona Typica trees are sustainably grown, hand-picked and naturally processed. They do all the demanding work from planting and stumping (pruning trees to their stumps), processing, roasting, packaging, and marketing themselves.

“I do most of the farming, while Daphne handles packaging, marketing and sales,” McClure says. “We bring in a small crew to help during peak harvest times.”

His hands-on approach has not gone unnoticed. For the last three years, Moloa‘a Bay Coffee has claimed first place in their division in HCA’s esteemed annual cupping competition.

On the Friendly Isle, the only source for 100 percent Moloka‘i-grown coffee comes from Coffees of Hawai‘i, the island’s only grower. The the 500-acre estate is planted with the Red Catuai, an Arabica variety, selected for its superior quality and compatibility with local growing conditions. The established orchards are rooted in the vivid red soil on the upper slopes of Kualapu‘u, right in the heart of the island.

And what of that initial recipient of the mighty bean, O‘ahu? While early attempts at cultivation on the south side of the island proved unsuccessful, coffee found a nurturing home on its famed North Shore. Waialua Estate Coffee and Cacao, a division of the Dole Food Company, was founded in the late 1990s on land previously cultivated in sugar and pineapple. At that time, Chairman David Murdock determined that the area’s nutrient-rich volcanic soil, abundant rainfall and plentiful sunshine would produce coffee and cacao to rank “among the world’s best.” Along with extraordinary quality and flavor, Murdock was especially interested in the healthful antioxidant benefits of the two products. To this day, they use beneficial insects for their pest management program, allowing them to grow crops pesticide-free.

Waialua Estate’s 155-acre coffee farm sits above the coastal towns of Haleiwa and Waialua at a 700-foot elevation, while the 20-acre cacao orchard is situated at sea level along the banks of the Kaukonahua River near Waialua town.

For an up-close and personal taste of the rich history and flavors of Hawai‘i grown coffee, don’t miss the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival on Hawai“i Island November 1–10, 2013, or the Ka‘ū Coffee Festival held each spring.

200 Years of Coffee in Hawaii

Hamakua Mushrooms, Big Islands, Hawaii

Mushrooming Affair: Hamakua Mushrooms on Hawai‘i Island

Story by Fern Gavelek

Hamakua Mushrooms, Big Island, HawaiiIt’s all about fungi at Hamakua Mushrooms.

Here, over 5,000 pounds of specialty and exotic mushrooms are grown weekly at a specialized facility in rural Laupahoehoe on the Big Island. The fresh fungi is used statewide by chefs and local residents alike, while isle companies are sourcing the tasty ‘shrooms to produce cookies, chips, lavosh, trail mix, butters and honey. There’s even a mushroom coffee in the works.

All the fuss has jump-started the State’s only gourmet mushroom-growing tours, complete with cooking demonstrations and tastings. Hamakua Mushrooms’ on-site boutique is stocked with mushroom value-added products as well as gifts. The 35-acre Hamakua Heritage Farm, Inc. is also offering private celebrations in its Chef House, complete with a gourmet kitchen to concoct cuisine showcasing,what else, Hamakua Mushrooms!

The mushroom mania is the brainchild of a former O‘ahu helicopter company owner, Bob Stanga, and his wife, Janice, an interior designer. They broke ground on their 16,000-square-foot fungi facility in 2000.

“I love food grown in Hawai‘i and wanted to get involved somehow,” Bob shares. “It has been exciting and challenging.”

Forage Not

Hamakua Mushrooms (HM) grows wood-decomposing mushrooms in a substrate made with eucalyptus sawdust, wheat bran, corncob and water. A “baking bread” aroma wafts though the facility, which is a series of environmentally controlled rooms. The process involves the science of mycology (fungi), which means that sterility and exacting conditions are key to success. In addition to growing edible mushrooms, HM also makes its own mushroom spawn in an on-site tissue culture lab.

To produce mushrooms, the substrate is poured into plastic bottles, cooked, sterilized and then cooled before mushroom spawn is carefully placed inside. In a 75-degree incubation room, mycelium (roots) colonize the bottles for up to four weeks. Next, a machine scrapes a layer of roots from the top to activate the mushroom growing stage. In the growing room, light, humidity and carbon dioxide are regulated to provide optimal conditions for up to 20 days. The result is “bouquets” of fresh, flavorful mushrooms that are organically grown, free of pesticides and chemicals.

HM’s bottle cultivation method is automated and it takes about five weeks to produce a mushroom. Stanga says Hamakua Mushrooms first grew fungi in bags by hand, but switched to the current growing method in 2004 to up production. “We do over 3,000 bottles daily,” he points out.

Japanese mycologist (mushroom grower) Kyozen Shoji pioneered the bottle cultivation method. Stanga learned of the method from Gourmet Mushrooms in California.

In addition to changing the growing method, HM also improved the substrate formula by incorporating wheat bran and using a denser corncob from Iowa. “Corn adds nitrogen and form to the mixture and the wheat bran is easy for the mushrooms to eat,” Stanga explains. Trees for the eucalyptus sawdust are sourced from Kamehameha Schools land adjacent to the facility.

Hamakua Mushrooms, Big Islands, HawaiiTo decide which mushrooms to grow, Bob says HM tested the market by shipping samples to chefs. Until recently, the company was producing four different mushrooms, each boasting its own culinary characteristics: the gray oyster with a mild flavor and chewy texture; the robust-flavored pioppini with signature dark brown caps and cream stems; the firm-textured and nutty flavored ali‘i (trumpet) with meaty, one-inch-in-diameter stems; and the pepeiao, a fungi strain only found in Hawai’i that has a slight flavor and chewy crunch.

According to Lani Weigert, HM’s director of marketing and customer relations, HM is dropping pepeiao from its inventory and is newly growing abalone mushrooms. Abalone is a traditional earthy mushroom with a pronounced rich and buttery flavor.

“The preferences of chefs drive our market,” explains Weigert. “What they want has a lot to do with what we grow. They like the abalone.”

Farm To Table

A stable of top Hawai‘i chefs are using Hamakua Mushrooms. Chef Roy Yamaguchi showcased the pioppini mushroom in a bisque that became a top seller in his restaurants. When Chef Alan Wong was summoned to the White House to cook for President Obama, he took the Big Island mushrooms with him. In May of 2013, Royal Hawaiian Hotel Executive Chef Jon Matsubara featured HM in a “Cooking Local” segment on NBC News’ “TODAY” show.

Hamakua Mushrooms

Casey Halpern, executive chef at Café Pesto in Hilo, says the availability of having locally grown mushrooms has been a “godsend” and enables him to take dishes requiring mushrooms to a different level.

“When we used Mainland mushrooms there were problems with quality and freshness,” Chef Halpern notes. “We use HM in our Hamakua Mushroom Risotto, Smoked Salmon Alfredo and pizza. We’re working on a mushroom poke for special occasions.” Perry Bateman, executive chef of Mama’s Fish House on Maui, says, “We use Hamakua Mushrooms as a main ingredient and part of a dish to make bisque, braised beef, salads, soup and fish entrees. Our favorite is the ali‘i mushrooms; they are very versatile and can be used raw, marinated, sautéed and grilled.”

The popularity of the mushrooms with Hawai‘i residents has also been crucial to HM’s success according to owner Janice Stanga, who expects close to $2 million in sales this year. She credits Costco’s interest in HM as pivotal to its growth. “At the very beginning, we went to Costco to buy steel racks and their Seattle office called and asked why we needed so many,” she explains. “After finding out we had a mushroom farm, Costco came out to see us and decided to carry our mushrooms.”

Prizing HM’s partnerships with chefs and the local business community, Weigert comments on the importance of collaborating with others to create value-added products, “It takes a village to raise a business, and we reach out across the island to be included in product lines,” she notes. “Value-added products are 75-95 percent revenue for a farmer, so it’s a tremendous opportunity for us that also strengthens the community.”

Get Fungi

Hamakua Mushrooms now offers tours, tastings and a boutique gift shop. If in the area, stop by for a visit or make a tour reservation by calling (808) 962-0305. Can’t make it in person? Their website offers recipe ideas and information on where to buy their mushrooms across the State.

Hamakua Mushrooms
36-221 Manowaiopae Homestead Road
Laupahoehoe, HI 96764



Pigs in Paradise: Mālama Farm Raises Them Right on Maui

By Shannon Wianecki
Photos by Kristy Copperfield

When Dave Fitch wakes up at 5:30 each morning, his two-year-old daughter clamors to help him with the chores. Dad lifts her onto the ATV loaded with buckets of fruit and grain. Together they make the rounds at what may be the prettiest pig farm in America.

Mālama Farm sits on a knoll in rural Haiku, with a view of Maui’s dramatic north shore. The light breeze carries the scent of passion fruit and Puakenikeni flowers—not the rank smells typically associated with pig farms. That’s because the pigs living here aren’t confined to pens, belly-deep in their own slop. Mālama Farm is one of the nation’s few pasture-raised piggeries and the first in Hawai‘i to offer 100 percent Berkshire pork.

Malama FarmDave and Lehua Fitch’s farming adventure started with the kind of naïve back-to-the-land impulse that doesn’t often translate into long-term success. Inspired by “Omnivore’s Dilemma,” “Food Inc.,” and their travels through rural New Zealand, they decided to tackle small-scale agriculture to prove that it’s still possible in the United States. Neither had farming experience: he’s a furniture maker and she’s a software executive. So the young entrepreneurs started with a blank slate, balancing each decision against what would be best for the animals, the land, the community and their family. And in less than two years, they brought their first litter of top-quality hogs to market. In their own small way, the Fitches are transforming the meat industry—one piglet at a time.

To understand what’s special about Mālama Farm, it helps to understand what’s not special at most commercial pig farms. The majority of piggeries in the U.S. are large warehouses where animals are confined for life to individual stalls, pumped full of antibiotics and growth hormones, and deprived any opportunity to exhibit natural pig behavior. In the worst scenarios, they can’t sit or turn in their pens. Many go berserk and injure themselves. At these cheap meat factories, sewage is a constant problem; overflowing refuse ponds can poison the groundwater.

“How pigs are raised is an unspoken tragedy,” says Lehua. “It’s really horrifying when you know how sweet, gentle and smart they are.”

Confronted with dirty details of industrial farming, the Fitches decided to put their money where their mouth is. They bought property on Maui and researched livestock they could raise themselves. They chose pigs because of the animals’ intelligence and importance to Hawaiian culture. Next they opted for a heritage breed with a ready market: Berkshire, or Kurobuta as it’s known in Japan. Chefs covet Berkshires for their clean flavor and well-marbled fat. The slow-growing hogs have dark hides that protect them from Hawai‘i’s tropical sun. Plus, they have good personalities, says Dave. “We wanted animals we’d enjoy working with.”

Lehua and Dave’s light-hearted approach to husbandry is evident in their pigs’ names. The boar is Hef, after Hugh Hefner. The sows in his harem: Candi, Trixie, Lola and Bubbles.

Malama FarmOut To Pasture

The Fitches prepared for their pigs’ arrival in 2010 by planting nutrient-rich grasses across their five-acre farm. “People told us pigs don’t eat grass,” says Lehua incredulously. “They do!” She and Dave also planted ‘ulu (breadfruit), macadamia nut, banana, papaya, avocado and citrus tree to supplement the pigs’ (and their own) diet. Each dawn, the Fitchs’ daughter pitches these treats out to the ranging herd. Chocolate brown piglets kick up dust as they scamper through the grass like warthogs on the Serengeti. They snuffle and grunt for their share of breakfast, snouts down, corkscrew tails in the air.

On special occasions, the spoiled swine enjoy a beer or two. Dave is negotiating with Maui Brewing Company to get brewer’s grain, a by-product of the beer-making process that pigs find extra tasty. He and Lehua aren’t above scrambling eggs for their herd, either. “You can make a pig do amazing things with scrambled eggs,” laughs Dave.

Each week, Dave rotates Hef and the ladies to a new 50 x 50 grazing area, by shifting the electric fence line and sliding the mobile shade huts he built onto fresh ground. 300-gallon horse troughs serve as ready-made wallows: portable pig spas where hot swine can cool down. Once the herd vacates an area, Dave turns his cleanup crew of chickens loose to peck away any fly larvae. Pig manure is no problem here; it serves its natural function as fertilizer.

Malama FarmSows are bred only once or twice a year, compared to industrial farms where they’re continually impregnated. Mālama Farm’s large, healthy litters have drawn the admiration of other Berkshire breeders. Dave fashioned farrowing huts—where the sows can go to birth and nurse piglets—with the animals’ comfort and safety in mind. Mama pigs are so massive they can accidentally crush their babies. Dave’s A-frame design allows piglets a little wiggle room; they can safely retreat into corners too tight for mom. Littermates stay together for their entire lives, which prevents anxiety.

The Fitches castrate males, but that’s about the extent of their veterinary needs. Because of the pigs’ clean food and living environment, vaccinations and antibiotics aren’t necessary. When it’s time for the trip to the slaughterhouse, the pigs climb into a trailer that Dave designed to mimic their shade huts—same wood floor, same color walls—so the animals don’t experience any trauma during transport. This contributes to the quality of the final product: less adrenaline in the meat.

The unrelenting nature of farming is not for everyone, but it’s so rewarding, Lehua says. Now pregnant with a second girl, she hopes the new baby will take to farm life as keenly as big sister has.

Malama FarmProof Is In The, er, Pudding

The true proof of success came with the Fitches’ first harvest. They were nervous. How would they feel sending their pigs to market? How would the pork taste? Would the chefs like it? They slaughtered the first pig themselves, under their avocado tree. “It was profound for us,” says Lehua. “We cried while we ate it, we respected the whole process.”

They weren’t the only ones. Ed Kenney of Town restaurant in Honolulu and Neil Murphy of Merriman’s were quick to place orders for Mālama Farm pigs—and now the waiting list is long. Gerard Reversade of Gerard’s in Lahaina was especially happy to get his hands on a whole hog. His uncle was a charcutier in France’s Loire Valley; his family has a long tradition of snout-to-tail cooking. The classically trained French chef cherishes every part of the animal, transforming the head, feet and blood into confit, pate and black pudding. He seasons his rillettes—succulent mounds of shredded pork—with just a pinch of salt and pepper. “The pork retains its full taste,” says Reversade. “It’s really delicious.” When he shared some of his family recipes with the Fitches, their daughter sampled her first headcheese.

Chris Kulis of Capische in Wailea says Mālama Farm pork is pricey, but worth it. “The superior feed that the pigs eat comes through in the moisture and the quality of the fat; it blows mainland competitors away,” he says. “I use less aromatics [with Mālama Farm pork], I don’t have to do as much to make it taste good.” Thanks to Mālama Farm, he’s served mouthwatering local sausages, pancetta, bacon and soppressata at his restaurant, and is eagerly anticipating his first prosciutto, which takes a full year to cure.

The practices Dave and Lehua employ at Mālama Farm benefit everyone involved. “We make sure we give the pigs the best life possible,” says Lehua. “We know they are going out to nourish people.”

Malama Farm

Seeds of Hope: A Film About Farming in Hawai‘i

By Jon Letman

It’s a well-known fact that Hawai`i imports nearly 90% of its food. Owing to geographic isolation and a heavy reliance on these imports, people in the islands are keenly aware of what could happen to the state’s food supply if transportation lines were disrupted. Greater recognition of this vulnerability has fueled a movement of people who aren’t just talking about breaking Hawai`i’s import addiction, but are paving the way to a stronger, healthier, more food-secure tomorrow.

Now their story is being told in a feature length documentary called Seeds of Hope (Nā Kupu Mana`olana). Several years ago board members of the Hawai`i Rural Development Council (HRDC), a nonprofit that supports the economic and social welfare of rural communities, decided that the best way to raise awareness of the need for greater self-sufficiency was to make a film.

The 87-minute documentary was written and directed by Hawai`i Island–based filmmaker (and former HRDC member) Danny Miller. He describes Seeds as a vision of how 21st century Hawai`i is answering the challenges of food security by drawing upon its own traditions, historical understanding of the land, and people who recognize the need to cooperate with nature in order to survive.

In 2009, Miller began three years of speaking with dozens of farmers, ranchers, gardeners, educators and local food advocates across the state. He says he was moved by how many people in Hawai`i already “get it” and are making the shift toward food sovereignty.

A more sustainable food future for Hawai`i, Miller says, is rooted in its past. He points to the Hawaiian land management system based on ahupua`a land divisions that fed a pre-contact population comparable or greater than today.

HRDC Chair Alan Murakami says the making of Seeds helped him appreciate how Hawai`i’s resource base already contributes to sustaining small communities by growing their own crops, hunting and fishing. He hopes the film will advance the discussion of food security.

“We’ve got basically no warehousing except for those containers on the ocean between California and Hawai`i. If something happens to that pipeline, we’re out of food,” Murakami says.

For Seeds co-executive producer Kevin Chang, one of the most poignant moments in the film is when Moloka`i activist Walter Ritte describes paddling away from the island until he can look back and see the physical limits to available resources.

“In a lot of ways people on the continent aren’t able to appreciate that perspective, but there’s a lot to learn about what a small system like Hawai`i is doing to deal with these issues. People say the Earth is an island … it’s just that you can’t see it until you actually look at an island on the Earth.”

Like her fellow HRDC board members, Seeds co-executive producer Mona Bernardino hopes the film drives home the point that everyone in Hawai`i needs to support the farmers by buying locally grown produce. The filmmakers hope the movie forces people in Hawai`i to consider what kind of agriculture they want to support.

Seeds brings together a diversity of voices from small family-owned farms and organic farmers to multi-national biotech giants like Monsanto and even a Hawaiian professor who led the production of GMO papayas. In doing so, the film raises questions about whether remaining agricultural lands, infrastructure and vital resources like water should be used strictly for growing food to feed people here or for producing experimental genetically engineered seeds for export and other crops for biofuels or other nonfood items.

“That balance is going to be critical to whether we achieve greater food security,” Murakami says.

Seeds of Hope is proof that talk of food security is not merely pie-in-the-sky. The more than 45 people Miller interviewed for the film—the farmers, ranchers, teachers and community leaders—are the real deal and they’re creating Hawai`i’s food future.

They are people like Kamuela Enos, a director at MA`O Organic Farms in Wai`anae. Enos says Seeds speaks to more than simple questions of sustainability but also examines the depth and complexity of Hawai`i’s community-based food systems. He believes the film can spark discussions about environmental and social justice and sovereignty—both cultural and community—and about revitalizing indigenous agricultural models.

On Kaua`i, lifelong farmer Jerry Ornellas says Seeds of Hope imparts a wealth of knowledge from people who aren’t just what he calls “Google experts” but from people who live and breathe agriculture. He says the film has broad appeal because its topics are universal and, in an increasingly urbanized world, “people everywhere are in interested where there food is coming from.”

During a recent visit to the East Coast, Ornellas noticed that people in large urban areas had the same interest in local food and farming as people in Hawai`i. A major difference, he says, is that in Hawai`i everyone can grow food year-round, even if it’s just something small in a backyard garden or on a lānai. “If nothing else, gardening teaches you what farmers have to deal with,” he says.

Director Danny Miller sees plenty of reason for optimism. “It’s happening now. This shift, away from imported food dependence to a future where we have control over our own food sources, is coming—and it will come—from the people. It’s really a grassroots movement, in every way.” Making this move will mean Hawai`i is better off economically, environmentally and socially, says Miller. “I believe the people will lead and, eventually, the government will follow.

Big Island farmer and educator Nancy Redfeather also appears in the film. She says support by State agencies like the Department of Education is imperative to the success of transitioning to a more sustainable food model. Redfeather, director of the Hawai`i Public Seed Initiative (a project of the Kohala Center), says the State has a key role in making sure land and water are available for small farmers and that it invests financial resources in the education of future farmers.

Besides maintaining higher standards of land stewardship, Redfeather says it’s critical to have children in school seed-to-table garden programs beginning in kindergarten and continuing through high school and college.

Redfeather believes part of the solution may be to, instead of having one 1,300-acre farm, strive for 1,300 one-acre farms which is closer to the traditional Hawaiian model.

“When Captain Cook sailed into Kealakekua Bay, his botanist recorded looking up on a hillside of green, small gardens where the Hawaiians grew food for what is thought to have been 100,000 people that might have lived on the Kona Coast of Hawai`i Island.”

Watching a film like Seeds of Hope is important, Redfeather says. “Sometimes when you know the story, it influences your behavior.” She hopes the film will inspire the government to support a farming renaissance that is rising from the community. “This is an opportunity now. It’s not something that needs to be created—it’s already there.”

“We don’t have to gather more research,” says Redfeather. “We just need to act and that takes will, intention, direction and focus. It seems like we should be able to do it. This is really a time to act.”

Learn more about Seeds of Hope (Nā Kupu Mana`olana)at and watch it on PBS Hawai`i in September 2013.

Seeds of Hope: A Film About Farming