Category: Features

BANANAS IN HAWAI‘I

WRITTEN BY MIKE OPGENORTH 

KAHANU GARDEN AND PRESERVE, in Hāna, Maui, is home to Pi‘ilanihale Heiau, a National Historic Landmark and the single largest archaeological structure in the Hawaiian Islands. Plant collections at this powerful Hawaiian place are largely those of ethnobotanical origin; in other words, plants that reflect the agricultural customs, lore, and uses within a culture. Most of the ethnobotanical plants at Kahanu Garden are Pacific Island and Hawaiian heritage plants. 

Prominent among them is Kahanu Garden’s mai‘a (banana) collection, which represents varieties bred from plants that were painstakingly transported across the Pacific. The collection includes many rare varieties that are valued as food, building materials, medicine, and for use in ceremonies such as the annual welcoming of makahiki, which recognizes the rising of the Makali‘i (Pleiades) into the heavens. 

Prior to the 1778 arrival of Westerners in Hawai‘i, a wide variety of Polynesian-introduced “canoe plants” including bananas were planted in some of the most remote, and idyllic locations throughout the islands. These plantings were intended to provide food for travelers on long journeys, or even as sacred gardens reserved for a special purpose such as in times of political instability when one had to flee home for solitude in the forest. These bananas also were reserved for use as a kind of offering presented to ali‘i (ruling chief ) or as a highly regarded gift. 

Unfortunately, since that time, many of these remote indigenous crop gardens have been overgrown by invasive species. With their disappearance come the loss of unique biological material and the stories of their origin. Those losses are akin to removing pieces of the puzzle of Hawai‘i’s early history. 

In recognition of the threat of losing indigenous crop diversity, NTBG recently adopted a strategic goal to collect and curate all extant cultivars of Hawaiian canoe plants. The number of those early varieties is a fraction of what it once was, and research to verify each is ongoing. The current status of many of these rare varieties is debated, and requires much more than simply placing a few new plants in the garden. 

Meanwhile, for all the indigenous crop varieties that still exist, NTBG serves as a safe haven where they can be preserved and shared for future generations. The fact that most of East Maui is still free of the Banana Bunchy Top Virus (BBTV) is an important reason that Kahanu is a safe haven for these Hawaiian banana cultivars. 

Red dwarf or ‘Cuban red’ – Photo by Mike Opgenorth

A FEAST OF FRUIT 

Walking through Kahanu Garden’s banana collection is a feast for the senses. Standing in rows, vigorous banana plants tower over a mixture of kalo (taro), ‘awa (kava), and wauke (paper mulberry). Growing in multi-layered crop plantings alongside the bananas, the plants recreate a landscape of Hawai‘i’s ancestors where heavy bunches of fruit cascade from above in a multitudinous display of colors, shapes, and sizes. 

Consider ‘Pōpō‘ulu Huamoa,’ the variety that first greets you with its enormous sausage-shaped fruits. Beside it stands ‘Iholena ‘Ūpehupehu’ with deep salmon-purple leaves. Then, perhaps the biggest showstopper of all, a rare ‘Manini,’ the only traditional Hawaiian banana with all variegated leaves and fruit. 

Each of these varieties is unique and reveals the diversity of Hawaiian bananas while underscoring the importance of NTBG’s collections. Bananas belong to the group of plants known as Zingiberales (gingers, heliconias, and related families), and NTBG is an official conservation center for the Heliconia Society International (HSI), which strives to conserve documented living collections of these plants. 

With multiple locations in Hawai‘i, different NTBG gardens will be tasked with piloting different collections. Limahuli Garden on Kaua‘i’s North Shore preserves the main collections of kalo, while McBryde Garden is home to the ‘uala (sweet potato) collection, and Kahanu Garden is home to collections of mai‘a (bananas) and ‘ulu (breadfruit). 

By protecting all extant cultivars of canoe plants within our gardens, NTBG continues to grow as an invaluable resource for researchers, cultural practitioners, and as a place to safeguard Hawai‘i’s ethnobotanical and cultural heritage. As demonstrated by NTBG’s Breadfruit Institute and the collection at Kahanu Garden, NTBG plays a vital role in advancing solutions to global hunger.

Page 52: White Variegated ‘Ae Ae’. Photo by edible Hawaiian Islands

BANANA BLINDSPOT

Today bananas are the most widely consumed tropical fruit in the world and, as a result, don’t elicit the same sense of wonder that they did when first introduced to the United States at the World’s Fair in Philadelphia in 1876. Yet, as commonplace as bananas have become, it’s easy to forget it wasn’t always so. What is often overlooked — call it a “banana blindspot” — is how many varieties still exist and why they need protection.

Most commercially grown bananas are of the Cavendish group — varieties like Williams, Dwarf Chinese, and even Hawai‘i’s local favorite, the ‘Hawaiian Apple.’ The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates roughly 47 percent of global production is of the Cavendish group with more than 50 billion tons of bananas produced globally each year. In the United States and the European markets, Cavendish bananas virtually dominate the entire market.

So what is wrong with this picture? Imagine a single plant species represented by just one variety as the only thing growing for hundreds of miles. This type of agricultural system, driven by our demand to produce economies of scale, leaves little opportunity for diverse habitats and ecosystems to thrive. 

With genetic uniformity in such large plantations, one disease can spread like a hot spark in dry tinder, completely destroying entire farms in one fatal swoop. To cite one example, a new Fusarium wilt strain called TR4 is currently an enormous threat to Cavendish banana production as it quickly spreads throughout the world. 

When existing commercial varieties do not exhibit the resiliency to combat these types of new diseases, it is important that other banana varieties are available to preserve irreplaceable genetic diversity that can help feed the world.

How can we counter the negative impacts of large plantation agricultural system failures, the loss of major food crops, and the displacement of ecosystems? One answer can be found in Hawai‘i’s kūpuna (elders) who share an important sentiment — nānā i ke kumu (look to the source) — in addressing today’s complex problems. When considering how to preserve the irreplaceable diversity of Hawaiian canoe plants, in this case, bananas, NTBG will continue to look to the source as we document, collect, and protect the banana varieties that are an invaluable part of Hawai‘i’s cultural and botanical heritage. [eHI]

This article was originally published in the Bulletin of the National Tropical Botanical Garden, a not-for-profit, non-governmental institution. The mission of the National Tropical Botanical Garden is to enrich life through discovery, scientific research, conservation, and education by perpetuating the survival of plants, ecosystems, and cultural knowledge of tropical regions. 

Mai‘a hāpai or “pregnant banana” – Photo by Mike Opgenorth

A RECIPE FOR SUCCESS: HOW MANA UP IS HELPING HAWAII AGRICULTURAL COMPANIES

WRITTEN BY DENISE LAITINEN

LETHA THOMAS, owner of Monkeypod Jam on Kaua‘i had been trying to get meetings with O‘ahu buyers for years. Then in January 2018 her company was selected to be in Mana Up, a Hawai‘i-based business accelerator program. 

“I was able to get in front of buyers I had been trying to get a meeting with for years,” says Aletha. “Mana Up has the connections I needed. We’re getting to the point where we think we’ll double our sales [by this time next year] and part of that is due to the connections and education we learned from Mana Up.” 

“You go into it wanting more sales, but it’s also about getting more organized and making sure you are more strategic in your decisions for the future,” adds Kimo Tuyay, co-owner of Maui Nui Venison, which makes venison jerky from invasive Axis deer humanely harvested on Maui. 

These days small business owners like Aletha and Kimo can use all the help they can get when it comes to launching and scaling a business in the aloha state. Last year Hawaii ranked last nationwide for starting a business, according to a 2018 WalletHub study. Local businesses creating agricultural related products, which rely on fishing, ranching, and growing produce, face even greater challenges because their products are subject to the whims of Mother Nature and other external factors. 

Thus, business accelerator programs, typically known for helping tech companies, are a godsend for businesses developing locally made products. 

Launched in 2017, Mana Up was created with the ambitious goal of helping to create Hawai‘i’s next 100 product companies earning more than $10 million in revenue—all based in Hawaii. Mana Up does this through a 12-week accelerator program geared specifically for Hawaii-based companies by helping businesses with marketing, distribution, branding, scaling, and much more. 

Cofounders Meli James and Brittany Heyd both have extensive backgrounds in the venture capital world and bring substantial, high-level contacts and partnerships to the program. Prior to launching Mana Up, Brittany, who is a lawyer, worked in the Obama White House on public policy and was managing director of 1776, a Washington, D.C.-based global venture capital fund. 

Meli previously served as the head of new ventures at Sultan Ventures and program manager of XLR8UH, a nationally recognized startup accelerator run by the University of Hawai‘i. In addition to managing Mana Up, Meli serves as the president of the Hawai‘i Venture Capital Association. 

According to Meli, the accelerator program helps Hawai‘i companies become global companies, while at the same time bringing to the world what really makes Hawai‘i special. 

Companies that apply to Mana Up must meet certain requirements, such as having a minimum of $100,000 in annual revenue, plans to scale beyond Hawai‘i, having a Hawai‘i-based founder and company, and a deep connection to the aloha state. 

“PEOPLE STRONGLY BELIEVE IN THE ‘AINA AND THE MAGIC OF HAWAI‘I,” EXPLAINS MELI. “THEY’RE MORE CONSCIOUS ABOUT THE THINGS THEY ARE PUTTING IN THEIR BODY, AS WELL AS WHAT THEY ARE PUTTING ON THEIR BODY.”

Businesses from a range of industries, including apparel, jewelry, packaged food, alcohol, health and beauty, and more can apply to the Mana Up program. Cohorts are typically held twice a year and competition can be fierce. Of the 85 companies that applied to the first cohort held in January 2018, only 10 were chosen. 

When it comes to selecting finalists for the cohort, Meli says the Mana Up team “looks at what the company is sourcing and if they are doing it sustainably.” Equally important she says, Mana Up looks at a company’s story and connection to the islands. “Are they sharing that narrative with both visitors and residents of Hawai‘i who can learn something new?”

Of the 31 companies that have participated in the three cohorts to date, 13 are food related businesses sourcing locally farmed or ranched food in their products. Ag-based companies in the cohorts include Manele Spice company, which sources Hawaiian salt from Moloka‘i, Kōhana Rum and Hawaiian Rainbow Bees, both based on O‘ahu, as well as Hawaiian Vanilla Company and Big Island Coffee Roasters, both on Hawai‘i Island. 

“They are pretty much giving you all the information you need to increase your sales from branding to advertising to online sales platforms to physical meetings with big buyers in the state of Hawai‘i,” says Dawn Kaneali’i-Kleinfelder, owner of Liko Lehua Gourmet Butters and Café. “What you do with that information is up to you.” 

Those entrepreneurs fortunate enough to be selected for Mana Up cohorts are maximizing the opportunities the program provides. 

“Manoa Chocolate has taken on a new merchandising opportunity with DFS Galleria with video and imagery instead of just being on the shelf,” says Meli, adding that more than 17,000 shoppers visit DFS’ flagship Waikīkī store daily where Manoa Chocolate has their new enhanced display. “Voyaging Foods, [from cohort 1], are now on the menu at the Kahala with their gluten free pancakes,” says Meli.

Through a partnership with Mana Up and Hawaiian Airlines, products from other past cohort participants like Big Island Coffee Roasters and Kunoa Cattle are now for sale on the Pau Hana food carts on Hawaiian Airlines flights. That partnership also enables some Mana Up companies to be featured in in-flight videos. Kunoa Cattle is featured in a short video on the Hawaiian Airlines in flight entertainment channel, giving millions of Hawaii visitors a glimpse into a day in the life on the Kaua‘i ranch. 

“With our partnership with Hawaiian Airlines we’ve been able to get these videos on the flights, which is great exposure for the companies,” says Meli.

“We could not have gotten that kind of awareness on our own,” adds Kunoa Ranch co-founder Bobby Farias. Kunoa Cattle has 4,000 acres of ranch land on Kaua‘i and O‘ahu, as well as the largest USDA-approved butchery for beef and pork on O‘ahu. 

Being in Mana Up helped the ranch do more than gain exposure. Before participating in the cohort, Bobby says there was a misalignment between what he thought customers wanted and what products their target market actually wants. “Mana Up helped us with that.”

“Whether you are selling pies or steaks or rubber slippers, business owners are consumed with business problems, they don’t have the bandwidth to deal with branding awareness. 

“I’m a rancher. My business is producing quality local beef in a sustainable way. Mana Up is forward focused on brand awareness. Connecting with them allows me to focus on what I do best.” 

For other businesses involved in Mana Up, it’s not just about marketing, but also helping to scale their manufacturing so their business can grow. 

Sheldon Cho says his Kona-based company Kaimana Jerky, which makes ahi tuna jerky, wants to do national distribution but faces challenges. 

“Working with Mana Up we get to work through our staffing and manufacturing issues,” he explains. “They help us line up all our manufacturing processes so that our products have the highest level of food safety and can be sold nationally and internationally.” 

Then there is the intangible benefit of growing your business in Hawaii. Sheldon’s father first started making fish jerky more than 20 years ago in Kona. Now Sheldon is raising his kids in the same community where he grew up. 

“I enjoy entrepreneurship and building a business,” he says, “but I also enjoy surfing and living in Hawai‘i and enjoying the beautiful place we live in. I love what Brittany and Meli are doing to help Hawai‘i have a more sustainable economy and helping local businesses survive here and thrive.” [eHI]

 

COOKING OUTSIDE THE LINES

WRITTEN BY LINDSEY KESEL

AKING A HEAP OF RAW INGREDIENTS and transforming them with fire and spice into a creation all your own can make you feel alive, daring and powerful. A few of Hawai‘i’s kitchen magicians extoll the virtues of going “off-recipe.” 

A clean plate and a request for seconds — these are the hallmarks of a win at the dinner table. And when you’ve invited guests to dine, hearing the words, “I simply must have this recipe!” is music to a home cook’s ears. But chances are, there’s much more going on behind the scenes than dutiful allegiance to a set of instructions. 

While recipes can be super useful when you’re aiming for predictability, what’s life without a little spontaneity? In food writer Philip Dundas’ book Cooking Without Recipes, he promises that risk-taking yields great rewards, challenging readers to venture beyond the shackles of scripts and see their kitchen as a playground with great potential. While there’s a certain sense of ease and security that comes with following recipes, relying on them too much can mean missed opportunities to apply your cumulative cooking skills in a creative way. For the home cooks we interviewed, the concoctions that pop out of their oven (or skillet, or crock pot) are usually one part imitation, two parts improvisation. 

SOUP OUTSIDE THE BOX 

O‘ahu’s Dabney Gough rarely follows a recipe on the nights she makes dinner for herself and her husband, usually in the Instant Pot, the plug-in rapid pressure cooker that’s gained a cult following for its convenience factor. Soups dominate her dinner table, she says, since, “They’re super healthy, inexpensive and there’s room for infinite creativity.” 

Dabney’s ideas for soups and other inventive dishes usually come from taking an ingredients-first approach. “I have a minimalist lifestyle, so I don’t like to have too many ingredients on hand,” she says. “Maybe something catches my eye at the farmer’s market, or I’ll just see what I have at home and go from there.” 

A self-proclaimed rule follower, Dabney’s culinary school background helped her to absorb the basics of cooking enough to improvise, but she still relies on the expertise of others when attempting new types of dishes. “If I’m doing a cuisine I’m not familiar with, I’ll stick to the recipe the first time just to get a feel for the ratios of spices,” she says. 

Recently she went on an Indian-food-in-the-Instant-Pot kick, inspired by a Facebook group: “It was my first time doing something like this, so I found a recipe for lemon rice with turmeric, curry leaves and cashews and it came out great.” Instant Pot Lemon Rice: 

myheartbeets.com/instant-pot-lemon-rice/

SPICED TO IMPRESS

Conscious of the toll meat production takes on the environment, Alethea Lai enjoys thinking up new vegetarian dishes for her partner and son to serve at their Puako, Big Island dinner table. 

“When I have a lot of veggies I have to go through, I’ll make a super veggie sauce using fresh tomatoes from Kawamata Farms,” she says. “It becomes harder to make food taste good when you’re limited to vegetables, so I’m working with more spices now. We like a lot more garlic and ginger than most people.” 

Though she tends to go by the book when trying something new, “I never follow recipes to a T,” Alethea insists. And while she often swaps ingredients to make her meals more local or customizes the spiciness to fit her family’s tastes, she doesn’t make a habit of skipping steps written into recipes, “… since that’s where you really build your flavor structure,” she says. 

On Taco Tuesdays, Alethea likes to hand-make the corn tortillas, letting texture be her guide: “Once you know what the dough should feel like when you roll it out, you don’t forget that,” she says. For a recent dinner-and-a-movie night with the family, she looked up the Quail in Rose Petal Sauce recipe made famous in the film Like Water for Chocolate and added some fun tweaks: “I substituted the chestnuts for macadamia nuts, and the prickly pear fruit purée for local ‘ohelo berry jam. I also made my own stock from the bones of local organic chickens and sourced the roses from an organic garden in Waimea.” Quail in Rose Petal Sauce: 

houstoniamag.com/articles/2014/2/2/recipe-quail-in-rose-petal-sauce-february-2014

CAST IRON CREATIVITY

Ha‘ikū, Maui home cook Barry Frankel had a grand old time during the 12 intense weeks he spent at a California culinary academy in his late 20s, where he felt instantly at home in the commercial kitchen. The experience helped him acquire the techniques and confidence to be able to “wing it” in his daily meal prep today, and when he’s entertaining family and friends.

“I’ll typically look at three or four recipes and then combine them or use my own knowledge to figure out what works,” Barry says, often gravitating to meals that fit with the weather patterns. “My new best friend is the cast iron skillet. I’ve been cooking up a lot of comfort foods during the colder nights — beef stew, jambalaya, sauteéd fish with curry sauce — but as we move into summer, I’ll do much more barbequing. ” He’s also a fan of mixing up his own dry rubs to try out on meat and fish after friends gift him with various exotic spices they find while traveling. 

A big part of Barry’s cooking game is the clever use of leftovers. “I took some leftover chicken soup and dumped it in my cast iron pan and threw an egg on it, scooped it out and set it onto a tortilla with some cilantro and avocado,” he says. “It was actually pretty close to this time-honored Middle Eastern dish called shakshuka. Now it’s one of my go-to meals.” 

His advice for successful improvisation? “We have this natural sensibility to eat foods that are in season at the moment,” he says. “If you combine that with what’s available locally, you’re going to have better results.” Shakshuka:

downshiftology.com/recipes/shakshuka/

FROM RECIPE-FOLLOWER TO RULE-BREAKER

Yes, recipes are essential, especially when you’re learning the ins and outs of a new dish or testing out an unfamiliar type of cuisine. But if you’ve got visions of whipping up edible masterpieces out of thin air, you might want to invest a little time and effort into reviewing some fundamental cooking truths first. After all, legendary painter Jackson Pollock mindfully studied the principles of representational art so he could go on to literally paint outside the lines and invent a new style known as abstract expression. 

If you’re more of a rule-follower by nature than a free spirit, not to worry. Becoming a better off-the-cuff cook starts with observing how heat affects food — not just learning the difference, say, between baking, simmering and sautéeing, but actually discerning how these cooking styles alter both physical structure and taste. For instance, pan-roasting and grilling are both popular “dry-heat” methods of cooking meat. But since the direct flame of a gas or charcoal grill tends to zap the flavorful fats rather quickly, roasting is often preferable for larger cuts. 

Another step on the journey to freestyle cooking success is understanding the ways in which various ingredients combine to form new flavor profiles — like how garlic and rosemary complement each other nicely, or how adding an acidic ingredient such as vinegar or citrus can help bring something bland to life. 

PINCH OF THIS, DASH OF THAT…

Before you take off the training wheels, pay attention to the ratios and proportions that work in the recipes you’re making. Then, instead of pulling out your measuring spoons, remember that a tablespoon is about the size of an ice cube and see if you can eyeball it. If a recipe calls for one-fourth of a cup of something, picture a large egg. Estimating measurements can be empowering and help guide you toward inventing dishes with a balanced flavor-profile. (A quick Google search can provide you with a list of visualizations.)

In Season 3 of Netflix’s makeover show Queer Eye, resident food expert Antoni gave viewers a handy “3-2-1 ratio” to nail a pie crust from scratch — three parts flour, two parts fat and one part liquid. Once you internalize rough guidelines like this, it’ll be a cinch to adjust ingredient amounts based on your family’s preferences. 

You can also use your senses and intuition to guide you — evaluating smell, texture, and taste as you go along for results no recipe can deliver. Finally, our panelists offered the advice that adding ingredients gradually, frequently checking for doneness to avoiding overcooking, and “seasoning to taste” are all good anchor practices for creative home cooks. 

READY TO GO ROGUE?

Ad libbing a dish is not unlike composing a symphony, with ingredients, temperature and timing as your instruments. As you embark upon adventures in “cooking outside the lines,” remember the words of fantasy writer Erin Morgenstern: “You don’t have to be a chef or even a particularly good cook to experience proper kitchen alchemy: the moment when ingredients combine to form something more delectable than the sum of their parts. Fancy ingredients or recipes not required; simple, made-up things are usually even better.” [eHI]

What’s your cooking style — recipe-follower or rule-breaker? Insightful responses from our recent Facebook poll:

Joanie: I wing it but didn’t in the beginning. I am a super-taster, so I can usually adjust by tasting it!

Linda: I like trying new recipes that look good but I don’t have the confidence to just throw things together. I like having a format that has proportions that have already been tested. 

Julia: I wing it 90% of the time… I like a lot of flavor, and I have found most recipes are boring.

Liana: When you cook often you know your flavors and what you can add take out or would work best for you. Often I will look at several recipes for the same thing and take elements I like.

Andrea: I very rarely use recipes, but it’s because I spent years following recipes, readings recipes and creating recipes as a chef/educator. That gave me the skill set to just “wing it,” even though it’s not really winging it…

Amber: Occasionally I use recipes for more authentic dishes from other places and cultures, but when I’m just cooking at home I make stuff up.

Daniel: Master the gold standard first. Be creative second.

Nia: Most of the time I follow a recipe, just because when I get home from work or the gym I don’t have the brain energy to be creative. I come from a science and lab background, so I feel very comfortable following recipes, and I’m out of my comfort zone when I try to wing it.

Victoria: I usually use the recipe for inspiration and then tweak it with what I think would add more or taste better. Not all recipes are winners, and neither are my tweaks — but this is how I build my own recipes from basic chocolate chip cookies to pasta dishes.

Natalie: I often use a recipe like a template. It gives me an idea of how to measure flavors, especially in new recipes. But I almost always change quite a bit.

Aimee: I usually cook by improvisation. What do I have on hand? How much effort do I feel like making? What sounds good tonight? The exception is when I bake; it requires more precision and I know it’s pretty easy to mess up if I don’t have the proportions and chemistry right.

HOMEMADE CHARCOAL

WRITTEN BY CORTTANY BROOKS
PHOTOGRAPHY BY KOLTON DALLAS

With just a few ingredients and a free afternoon you truly can prepare your own homemade charcoal!

Why would anyone want to make their own charcoal, you ask? For one thing, good, hardwood lump burns hotter and cleaner than briquettes do, and is much easier to light. You also know where it came from, what it contains and what was done to it en route.

WHAT YOU’LL NEED

1. Source of fire: I use a back-yard fire pit. A propane heater or even a grill could also be used.

2. Empty metal paint can: It’s a good idea to make sure the paint can is completely clean as residual paint can put off toxic fumes. Poke or drill three holes in the lid. These holes should be about an eighth of an inch in diameter.

3. Wood: Different types of wood have different uses. Hard woods, such as oak and hickory, are better for heating and blacksmithing, while soft woods, such as pine and willow are better for making gunpowder. Experiment with different types of wood to suit your purpose.

GETTING STARTED 

When building the fire, wait and make sure that it will maintain a steady heat for at least four to five hours. I like to have my fire going for an hour or two before I start cooking the charcoal. This gives me a nice steady coal bed to cook over and a nice break to enjoy some sun and a brew. 

Propane already gives a steady heat from the start, so no need to preheat. 

Once the fire situation is in order, fill the can with your choice of wood. Try to use uniform pieces, which will give a more consistent end product. If using a variety of sizes, line the can with larger pieces, and place the smaller ones in the center. It’s also helpful to use dry or seasoned wood.

Tilt the can on its corner and place it over the half-burnt logs near the center of the fire where there’s an even heat. Make sure the holes in the can are facing up.

THE WAITING GAME

At this point I like to relax a bit with another brew and enjoy the fire. This part takes a few hours. Turn the can over once or twice, making sure that the heat stays hot and even, but not blazing.

As the wood heats, steam and gasses escape through the holes in the lid. The goal is to cook out everything but the carbon. Cooking the wood while starving it of oxygen is the retort method of making charcoal.

At first, the steam escaping will appear white. As the steam darkens, keep a closer eye on it. The darker gasses show that the essential oils are burning off. These gasses are flammable and will eventually ignite, making three small torches out of the holes in the lid.

When this happens, it’s time to take it off the fire.

PLEASE NOTE: DO NOT take off the lid at this point! Simply place the extremely hot can in a safe, cool place with the holes facing down. Introducing oxygen to the coal at this point would cause it to burn up immediately, leaving you with ashes.

Wait at least a few hours for everything to cool completely before revealing your homemade charcoal. And lastly, enjoy! [eHI]

FOOD ON FIRE

WRITTEN BY REBECCA REMILLARD 

PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF edible HAWAIIAN ISLANDS AT THE BARN, MAUI HAWAI‘I

FIRE, THE DESTROYER, the purifier; get close to it for warmth, for illumination; feel the fire of passion, feel power; find hope in its flames and knowledge. It may be that fire signifies so much for us because it is one of the things that makes us who we are. Humans are the only beings to have controlled fire and with it, we cook. 

Perhaps it was serendipity, a hominid banging rocks together and creating a spark that caught, or maybe it was inspiration from a wildfire, cautiously transferred then constrained in a small pit in a cave somewhere. It must have been pure experimentation to throw a hunk of meat on the open flames, but then for the first time in history we watched the fat begin to drip and sizzle and an aroma wafted unlike any before. We were cooking. 

Every human culture cooks. Every other Netflix show is about traveling for, cooking with or trying new food. We spend more time planning, shopping for, and cooking meals than we do eating them. To discuss cooking, or the act of putting food to fire, is to open discussions of history, chemistry, geography and human physiology. There is more to cooking than meets the mouth. 

THE ROOT OF THE FLAME 

The harnessing of fire was an immense turning point in our human evolution. When exactly the first controlled fire burned is still heavily debated, as the evidence mostly went up in flames. Some argue that it was as long as 1.5 million years ago but most scholars can agree upon at least 400,000 years ago. At that point, we were still the Homo erectus version of ourselves but it didn’t take us long to discern that besides the truly major advantages of warmth and protection, fire could also cook food. 

Before this point, our diet consisted mostly of seeds, flowers, fruits and – at times – raw meat. The heat of fire, however, chemically and physically transforms food and its advent transformed not only how humans eat, but possibly humans themselves. While cooking meat causes it to lose calories due to fat melting out, it also kills parasites, making it less likely to cause food poisoning, and also reduces the amount of energy it takes to chew and digest. Meat became a staple of the early human diet. 

Then there is the somewhat controversial theory, first hypothesized by Frederich Engels in 1876 and expanded on by Richard Wrangham in 2009, that the ability to cook with fire gave Homo erectus such a sudden surplus of nutrients and energy that, over time, it allowed human brain size to increase. This view suggests that cooking with fire transformed us from our ape-like ancestors to the backyard barbecuing Homo sapiens we are now. 

PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF edible HAWAIIAN ISLANDS AT THE BARN, MAUI HAWAI‘I

THE ELEMENTAL ELEMENT

“There’s something very primal and raw about cooking with live fire. The flavor, the texture is all very natural,” says Noah Hester, chef and owner of Fox BBQ in Kamuela on Hawai‘i Island. He prepares southern-style barbecue in a 28-foot-long custom trailer wood fire smoker and grill. Chef Noah says he’s always been excited by cooking with fire, “You have to harness and control this uncontrollable thing. At the same time, restaurant cooking involves fire. Every cook in the world has that desire [to harness].” 

It has been merely 150 years since the gas range became common in household kitchens. Before that, kitchen fires burned almost consistently because, before matches, getting a fire started was much more of a process. Now, with the appearance of electric stovetops and microwaves (if we can really even call this cooking), the closest many Americans get to cooking with live fire is the backyard barbecue, and even then, most are gas or charcoal. Gone are the days where the knowledge of how to start a fire and maintain a desired temperature was necessary to cook anything. Perhaps it is this disconnect that has us seeking out experiences of food being cooked in a more age-old way. 

Chef Noah reflects on the Outstanding in the Field dinner he participated in, held in a pasture used for raising lambs in North Kohala. The objective was to cook a five-course meal for 250 people using only natural fire. He remembers it was a rainy, chilly day, “And as guests arrived they walked past this open fire pit being worked with shovels and branches. There were big chunks of lamb being cooked on stones surrounding the fire pit, so the smell was incredible. The fire pit all of a sudden became this gathering place where people started talking to each other and mingling. It really helped bring everyone together over common warmth and the promise of delicious meat. It set the pace for the dinner, and conversations that had started around the fire continued on through the event. I think seeing and smelling the food cooking over this fire and then tasting the finished product really made it that much better.” 

UP IN SMOKE 

A steady trickle of smoke streams from the chimney of Linae Cruz’s log cabin trailer, accompanied by an aroma of burning kiawe, ribs, pork shoulder and brisket she’s been told can be smelled a mile away. Smokey Ranch BBQ offers Texas-style, pit-smoked meat and fixings in Waimanalo on O‘ahu. God’s Country sure smells heavenly with Linae cooking in it. 

“Most of the flavor of smoke is actually perceived through our smell,” she says. We understand how important the olfactory nerves are to our sense of flavor only in instances where we have a head cold or our nose is stuffed. Food just doesn’t taste the same. It takes a trifecta of information sent from our taste buds to the brain; physical and visual stimulation, such as how the food feels and looks, combines with our sense of smell to equal flavor in food. Moreover, our tongue can identify only sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami (savory) flavors, so when something tastes smoky to us, it is because it smells smoky to us. 

“I think it’s important to note that smoke shouldn’t be considered an ingredient to a recipe. The ultimate goal is that perfect smoke ring when you cut into the meat. It’s kind of like cutting through a tree trunk. If done correctly, you’ll see a distinct array of rings with the outer layer sealing in the juices and flavors,” says Linae. 

She feels that cooking food in this way will never go out of style or become outdated because it’s ingrained in our ancestral DNA. “I believe the smell of burning wood is associated with feasts and happy moments,” she says. “When we come together as people, food is an important element. We celebrate, we converse, we contemplate the world over food.” 

PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF edible HAWAIIAN ISLANDS AT THE BARN, MAUI HAWAI‘I

ISLE OF FUEGO

One of the most diverse components of human cultures around the world is how we put food to fire. Chef Leo Antunez is an Uruguayan now living on Kaua`i with his own catering business. He remembers growing up with a country life, a fire pit inside his house, and discovering a passion for cooking as a child.

The parrilla is a South American barbecue but Chef Leo has adapted it to the flora and fauna of Kaua`i, burning guava and ironwood, grilling local meats and vegetables as often as possible. “A traditional parrilla starts with the gathering of wood, finding the best location, checking out the weather and the direction of the winds,” he explains. Once the fire is burning strong, a metal grill is set above the flames for half an hour to sanitize and prepare it for cooking. The grill is then removed, the fire itself is transferred to the side, and the grill is replaced on top of the hot coals. On goes the lamb, chicken, pork, vegetables, or, traditionally in Uruguay, the organs of the cow, known as chinchulines, served as an appetizer paired with homemade bread, wine and cheese.

The parrillero’s job is then to shovel more hot coals from the fire to under the parrilla, being sure to place them in a circle in order to evenly distribute the heat. This part requires attention, patience and “let[ting] the fire do its thing.” The process is repeated until the food is cooked to perfection. 

“Manning the parrilla requires a lot of dedication and love,” says Chef Leo, “I am in love with fire, I really care for it. It can tell stories, the wood has different stories to tell. Fire used to be the T.V. of the people.” 

AL FRESCO ONLY 

Two invasive species, the Axis Deer and the Kiawe tree are a perfect match, just add fire. Chef Yeshua Goodman grew up cooking over fire while camping at La Perouse and in Hana on Maui. He now runs Kiawe Outdoor, holding open-flame cooking events on the island and beyond with menus centered around sustainably caught and invasive species. “If we can’t do it sustainably for the next generation then it goes against everything that Hawaiian culture is about,” he says. 

The process of hunting a deer or catching a fish with a single line, of opting to eat canoe crops, utilizing an imu, or pounding kalo: these things are far from the easiest way to make a meal, rather, they exemplify cooking with deep intention. 

“Cooking with open fire is universal, it really strikes a cord. For millennia, it was the only way to prepare a meal; somewhere in the last century we got away from it in favor of convenience and indoor cooking,” Chef Yeshua says. “The challenge of it is part of the beauty. Tell me I can’t pull off Michelin level food in a field and I’ll set out to do just that. But we do more than just cook with fire, we’re about the whole experience. When you cook over fire, surrounded by your friends and family on the side of a volcano in Maui, watching the sunset and sipping on great wine, the experience is unlike anything else.” 

So while the origins of cooking with fire began with a human need for sustenance, it is now perhaps more of a wistful act, a social experience and open-air therapy. Fire demands we remain present and as we work with a powerful force of nature. Chef Yeshua knows firsthand, “There’s magic in the flames and it brings us back to a special place where the earth and the smoke season the food.” [eHI]

PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF edible HAWAIIAN ISLANDS AT THE BARN, MAUI HAWAI‘I

“Many Hands”: Cultivating Food Security in the Kaua`i Food Forest

Photo ID: Paul Marshall

WRITTEN BY REBECCA REMILLARD
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF KAUAI FOOD FOREST GROUP

IN THE BEGINNING, we were hunters, gatherers, and scavengers. It worked well enough that we kept at it for 200,000 years. Then came the era of agriculture. Humans started extensively planting food in the ground only around 7,000 years ago. And perhaps we have now entered a different epoch entirely, one where only a few farm while most get their food from a grocery store. 

It is easy to forget that we live on a tiny chain of islands in the middle of the Pacific with the great abundance of perishables in our local Costcos, Safeways and Foodlands. Our fruit bowls overflow with apples from Chile, grapes from Mexico, bananas from Costa Rica. It is haunting to consider what would happen if the Matson ships stopped sailing. How many of us really know how to till the soil at a subsistence level?

A WALK THROUGH THE FOREST

Just past a row of red ti plants, on a road right off Kuhio Highway in Kilauea, grows the Kaua`i Food Forest. Paul Massey and his dog Sage, both undeniably high-spirited, meet me at the entrance and immediately he is concerned about my legs. I have grown gardens, little herb boxes and potted tomatoes, but, like most of us, I have never worked in or even walked through a food forest. I have naively forgotten about the natural occurrence of mosquitos attracted to the moist soil and worn shorts and Locals. Paul lends me a pair of beige work pants and we’re off, Sage leading our pack. 

The Food Forest is not manicured rows of spinach and kale, restrained patches of zucchini and trimmed cucumber plants, nor does it strive to be. At first glance it is a plot of tropical woodland, disorderly with random growth. Then Paul, who plays the role of Food Forest Manager, begins to explain the intentionality of each of the two hundred edible and medicinal plant species that grow in the forest. 

“We’ve created plant guilds that serve a common purpose,” he says (plant guild: think symbiotic relationship), gesturing to three plants which are huge components of the forest. Various colors of Coleus, Sissoo spinach which can act like a living mulch under fruit trees, and comfrey, improving the soil by cycling nutrients and keeping weeds out of beds. “This is a prime example of an agricultural system known as multistory agroforestry: a combination of plants that occupy different positions in the vertical space, from tall canopy trees, understory trees beneath them, shrubs, vines, ground covers, and root crops. Each one of these vertical layers produces a valuable part of the total production of the system, which includes food we eat, soil building organic matter, and habitat for the micro and macro-organisms that really make the ecosystem resilient to the extremes of climate change, like the floods Kaua`i experienced last year, and sustainable in the long term.” 

If it wasn’t already clear, Paul knows what he’s talking about. A certified arborist and resident of Kaua`i for the last 20 years, he has studied at the National Tropical Botanical Garden on island and the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew in the U.K. He is also the host of In The Garden On The Farm, a weekly radio show (Wednesdays, noon-1pm) on KKCR where he is able to both share and learn. 

We walk past a black pepper plant, a pink powder puff, mountain apple, blackberry jam fruit, wing beans, lima beans and a tropical yam growing underground. We stop before an Egyptian Pea tree, growing double overhead and flowering yellow. 

“This is called chop-and-drop,” Paul says, using a machete to cut off low branches of the tree then placing them at the base of a neighbor plant and stepping on them. “The leaf becomes bug food, bug poop becomes plant food, plant food becomes food.” It is living mulch, one plant feeding another. 

A four-year-old cacao tree grows nearby. Paul cuts off a pod and splits it, offering me half. We eat the pulp off the seeds then spit them out wherever — they just might grow. “Cultivating the forest is about compromise,” he says, “When we choose to plant many plants close, for example, it’s an exchange. Protection from strong wind is perhaps more important than full sun.” There are nitrogen fixing trees growing, some plants that supply shade and cool the ground, others that crowd out weeds, more still cycle out nutrients from the soil, a few prevent erosion, and of course there are those that provide food. Suddenly the food forest no longer appears to be growing in chaos but in deliberate harmony. 

T FOOD BECOMES FOOD.”
Left to Right: Paul Massey, Hunter Beaudreau, Jangee Westphal, Casey Piscura

“THE LEAF BECOMES BUG FOOD,BUG POOP BECOMES PLANT FOOD,PLANT FOOD BECOMES FOOD.”

THE LONG GAME

Photo ID: Paul Marshall

This is not just farming, it is permaculture, a sustainable agriculture. The idea is to cultivate the land with all people, including future people, in mind. Paul emphasizes that this is a long-term project, investing energy into the plot for long-term abundance. He believes it is one of the most rewarding aspects of the food forest, the years of commitment it requires. Several of the trees he has planted will take a decade or more to bear fruit. This is a patient person’s game.

Before this specific land had ever been tilled, it was almost certainly the innards of a dense forest. And because Polynesian settlers tended to subsist along the coast and lowlands until the point of resource diminishment, the uplands may not have been touched for a great deal of time. In 1863, the land was sold to Charles Titcomb by Kamehameha IV and it grew sugarcane from 1880 to 1971 then guava from 1977-2006. The parcel was then purchased by Bill and Joan Porter and cleared, then rested as two acres of mowed grass for five years. Now christened Wai Koa, the land became the site of the Kalihiwai Community Garden in 2009, when the future food forests’ nonprofit Regenerations first got involved to assist in the design.

“The garden design, which initially included both vegetable plots and a mixed fruit and bamboo orchard, was conceived at a two-week permaculture design course that I helped to produce. A local nonprofit, Mālama Kaua`i, had secured the lease for the land where the garden and the forest were eventually developed,” says Paul, “The idea of larger scale plantings never left my mind and I continued advocating for its creation throughout the community.” After years and a series of community discussions, a large-scale planting was at last achieved in December 2012 and the food forest was born.

It is a fact that the Hawaiian islands are overly dependent on food imports. It is a service to the community to provide a venue where people can find inspiration and education on how to establish and maintain a food producing system of their own, increasing their food security. For this reason, the food forest always has been and forever will be entwined in the community of Kilauea, of Kaua`i, and of Hawai`i. It intends to serve as an educational demo site where visitors can become proficient in subtropical agroforestry techniques through hands-on experience and even take home cuttings or seeds to start their own baby food forest.

Photo ID: Paul Marshall

“[THE FOOD FOREST] IS A LIVING, BREATHING ORGANISM”

“It is a living, breathing organism that demonstrates our evolving techniques arrived at through experimentation and a keen observation of the interrelationships of the plants and soil,” Paul says. “The food forest is also a living seed bank, generating an ever-increasing diversity and quantity of planting material for establishing these elegant food and soil building systems in backyards and farms around the island.”

GET YOUR HANDS DIRTY

While visitors can explore the food forest any day of the year, weekly workdays are held every Saturday from 9am-5pm where all are welcome to cultivate the land, get their hands dirty and learn through experience. Green thumbs and novices alike can interact with the food forest, and, “both figuratively and literally, enjoy the fruits of our efforts,” Paul says referring to the weekly group meal, made with food harvested from the forest. Possible menu items include: wild chicken stew, giant yams, curried coconut soup, and almost certainly pickled vegetables.

At this point, the forest represents thousands of people’s work. Passionate community members and volunteers, the nonprofits of Regenerations, Mālama Kaua`i and Sanctuary of LUBOF, Paul and his right hand men from the beginning, Marshall Paul and Rob Cruz, and all of those who have donated seeds and cuttings; it takes a village to grow a forest.

On our way back to where we began, Paul hands me a rollinia fruit, a relative of the soursop. It is pale yellow and delicate, bruising easily. He tells me it is ready, to eat it soon. We stop briefly so he can pick himself some edible hibiscus, or lau pele; this will be Paul’s dinner tonight, he will steam them. He plucks the leaves tenderly, like this plant is an old friend. After so much time and energy spent in the food forest, perhaps it is. “I’m in love with this place and what it keeps revealing to us,” he says. [eHI]

GOOD THINGS COME IN THREES

WRITTEN BY LINDSEY KESEL
IMAGES COURTESY OF FORK & SALAD

The trio behind Three’s Bar & Grill and Fork & Salad in Maui grew their passion project into a booming enterprise against all odds. Through it all, they’ve learned that cultivating a business founded in friendship means never giving up.

After their lives intersected in the kitchen of Longhi’s Wailea, a popular Italian seafood restaurant in Kihei, Maui, Travis Morrin, Cody Christopher and Jaron Blosser became thick-as-thieves surf buddies with another serious hobby in common — a deep-seated love of cooking. During “board meetings” in the water, they often daydreamed about what a future fixated on food might look like. They itched to create something that would let them surf and cook as much as they wanted, and in 2009, the friends decided to go all in on building their dream business with a commitment to not only make great food, but also to do right by their customers and collaborators. 

A SHORT TRIP FROM CATERERS TO RESTAURATEURS

Before they could talk themselves out of it, the foodie friends powered forward with Three’s Catering — the name, a nod to the idea that each partner brings unique strengths to the table that perfectly complement the whole. Three’s offered Maui clients an eclectic combination of cooking styles — Hawaiian, Southwestern and Pacific Rim — and service was just as essential as fresh ingredients and inventive dishes. Their new venture garnered such positive response that after just a few months of catering events, in 2010 the budding entrepreneurs were able to rent a brick-and-mortar space at Kalama Village in Kihei for their first restaurant, Three’s Bar & Grill.

THE LUCKY BREAK THAT LED TO A BIG BOOM

In 2013, Travis, Cody and Jaron’s little catering experiment hit a big break when they won the bid to cater all of the Pacific Whale Foundation’s snorkel charters, a gig that would help keep them afloat through all the challenges that lie ahead. Then the friends took a gamble and introduced one of the first-ever food trucks on Maui — before it became a hot trend — and were stoked to see how much people loved casual, cost-effective food truck weddings. With some stability, the guys felt confident enough to move forward with a fun new concept they’d been tossing around — a farm-to-table, fast-casual restaurant they called Fork & Salad that would make eating healthy and eating local convenient and affordable. In July of 2016, Fork & Salad debuted in Kihei touting over 50 local ingredients and won the “Friend of Agriculture” award given by the Maui County Farm Bureau. Shortly after, Three’s Bar & Grill was featured in an episode of Food Network’s hit show “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.” In June of 2018, they opened a second Fork & Salad location in Kahului, Maui. 

In all likelihood, the eager chefs’ headfirst dive into restaurant ownership should have been nothing more than a flash in the pan, especially since none of the three had any real business experience. (Deciding to break into the food industry during the worst part of the recession didn’t help, either.) But something about their formula worked. Building three successful local eateries from the ground up and growing a handful of staff to a team of over 100 wasn’t easy, but the co-owners put everything they had into the business with no shortage of elbow grease and grit. 

“Being naive was the best thing we had on our side,” says 39-year-old Cody. “If we’d started out with smart business sense and looked at all the numbers, that would have talked us out of it quicker than anything. We necessarily didn’t care; we just wanted to open a restaurant with our best friends.” 

Photo caption: Fork & Salad, Kahului, Maui, HI

THE BUILDER

Growing up in Beaumont, Texas, Cody’s family was big into barbecue, and he was constantly immersed in the Cajun and Creole styles of cooking. He recalls the particular night his infatuation with the world of food began, around age 10:

“My Uncle Chip was getting married and the reception was held at this fine-dining French restaurant in Houston. It was a 15-course meal and the chef came out and introduced himself, then brought me back into the kitchen and let me ask questions. Those swinging doors, the yelling, the fast pace of it all, and the smells

of all the different spices — I knew right then I wanted to be a part of it.” 

After graduating from the culinary program at the Art Institute of Houston, Cody worked at a two Michelin Star restaurant in Oslo, Norway, then spent time in California surfing and learning from experienced culinary experts to become what he calls “a well-rounded chef” — as adept at baking as he is at grilling. 

The first three years of running a restaurant were an uphill battle, Cody says, but he and his cohorts were able to weather the obstacles largely because they were all willing to do whatever needed to be done. “You’ve got to wear a lot of hats, and the cooking is the easy part…” he says. “If it meant washing dishes, if it meant climbing under our building and fixing a busted pipe because we couldn’t afford a plumber, we just did it.” With help from countless YouTube videos, Cody’s been able handle a lot of building, carpentry and welding for their spaces. 

In year two of being open, Three’s Bar & Grill succumbed to a kitchen fire that forced them to shut down for 41 days. “At 6 am that day I got a call from the chef and I knew the whole kitchen must be on fire. There was no time to panic; it was step one — the Pacific Whale boats are going out this morning we need to make sure that those are stocked, and step two — we need a place to cook tomorrow morning. So I’m making calls to use our neighbor’s kitchen, Jaron’s talking to the general contractor about the rebuild, and Travis is making sure the catering keeps rolling.” When a crooked accountant made off with $30,000 of their hard-earned profits later that year, no one would have blamed them for throwing in the towel. But the partners used the adversity as fuel to hustle even harder. “If anything, the fire and the theft were wake up calls that it was time to stop ‘winging it’ and get serious,” says Cody. “From then on we were focused on knowing our business inside and out.” 

THE VISIONARY

A native of Maui, 31-year-old Travis Morrin was always around the hospitality industry, since his dad held the general manager position at a local hotel. He has fond memories of watching a French cooking show with his mom almost every afternoon and remembers how therapeutic it felt to watch people work with their hands as they transformed ingredients from one state to another. “It’s really an art form in a sense; you have to balance a lot of elements: texture, flavor, appearance, the whole nine yards,” he says.

At 20 years old, Travis attended the culinary arts program at the University of Hawaii Maui College, and he was still in school when the opportunity came to open up Three’s Bar & Grill. “I actually don’t remember a lot of it because it was so difficult,” he says. “We were making like $300 every two weeks and a lot of people thought we were crazy.”

Their scheme worked, Travis believes, because of how well each partner complements the other two. “It’s easy to knock down one person, but it’s a little harder to knock down three,” he says. “Jaron is very good with numbers and he brings us down to earth in terms of what we can actually do and how we can be smart about it. I’m the creative, entrepreneurial guy and Cody is an incredible chef and a tremendous builder.” Always one to pitch new concepts for expansion, Travis says they’ve always stuck to the law of “majority rules” when deciding what direction to move in next, making sure to put the partnership first.

Once a week, Travis holds meetings with the upper management teams, providing an open floor to discuss ideas and issues and check in on the numbers. “The regular face-to-face interaction really helped turn our business around because we were finally setting some short-term goals to pair with our long-term vision,” he says. “They continually inch us forward and keep us growing in a healthy, sustainable direction.”

THE NUMBERS GUY

Growing up in Durango, Colorado, Jaron Blosser’s family sushi outings every Friday night were his first taste of how food could command an audience. “I would order a simple roll — just rice, nori and crab — and I would be hooked because of the flavors and presentation. We would go to Benihana and I remember wanting to be one of those chefs doing all the tricks.”

Right out of high school, Jaron attended Scottsdale Culinary Institute, then earned his chops as a cook under accomplished chefs in Durango, Seattle, and Olympia, Washington, in the niches of Japanese, Pacific Rim and French cuisine. As far as what makes a great meal, he answers: “You need good ingredients and a balance of flavors, textures and temperatures, but what truly makes a difference is passion in the process and in the details. Some of my favorite dishes had very few ingredients, but it was the character of who prepared it, or the way it was served, that made it meaningful for me.”

“YOU’VE GOT TO WEAR A LOT OF HATS, AND THE COOKING IS THE EASY PART… IF IT MEANT WASHING DISHES, IF IT MEANT CLIMBING UNDER OUR BUILDING AND FIXING A BUSTED PIPE BECAUSE WE COULDN’T AFFORD A PLUMBER, WE JUST DID IT.” – THREE’S CO-OWNER CODY CHRISTOPHER

THREESBARANDGRILL.COM

FORKANDSALADMAUI.COM

Ever the pragmatist, Jaron says the most stressful part of running a restaurant is the less glamorous stuff — like negotiating the lease with the landlord, talking job scope with the contractor and collaborating with the architect. “The entire future of the restaurant depends on the proper execution of these things, and if we make a mistake, there’s no going back,” he says. 

These days, 37-year-old Jaron supervises much of the business’s financial aspects and building projects, or as he sees it, “I mainly solve problems all day as needed!” His biggest takeaway from years of putting out a steady stream of fires? “Just because something appears to be bad, it might end up being a really valuable lesson,” he says. 

SPREADING THE NICHE OF ALOHA

Now that they’ve made a big splash in the Maui market, the brain trust behind Three’s is expanding to the mainland to show people “the niche of aloha” with a third Fork & Salad opening in Orange County, California, this spring. The guys have also partnered with FranSmart, a powerhouse in franchise development, to expand their brand even farther across the country and even the world. At the end of the day, their biggest motivator for continued growth is not money, or even love of food, but rather a sense of duty to their extended ohana:

“I’m sure that there are better restaurants out there, but this is our little slice of what we’ve carved out in this world,” says Cody. “We have the responsibility to make sure that our people have a place to come and work so they can take care of their own families. And as long as we do the right thing by our team and our customers and give back to the community, we’ll keep moving forward.”

[eHI]

GROWING THE FUTURE OF FOOD IN O‘AHU

WRITTEN BY SARAH BURCHARD
IMAGES BY BARRY FRANKEL PHOTOGRAPHY

ONE WOMAN’S HARD WORK AND VISION dedicated to the community feeds small business, farmers and a growing number of families.

In oversized sunglasses and a flowy, long sundress, Pamela Boyar, owner and director of FarmLovers Markets, glides in and out of booths at the Kaka’ako Farmers Market. Between taking phone calls and discussing projects with vendors, she greets regular customers with a kiss on the cheek and a smile that balances warmth with business. 

As Hawai’i works toward feeding itself and relying less on imports, farmers markets continue to grow – there are over twenty-five plus markets on O’ahu alone. With more sustainable farms emerging and residents shifting to eating local, Boyar works passionately to connect farmers to customers.

EXPERIENCING THE MARKET FOR YOURSELF

The smell of Maui Mokka coffee wafts into the street, beckoning customers to the Saturday Kaka’ako Farmers Market (Ala Moana & Ward Ave.). A local band, Hui Malama, plays hits like “Island Style,” and bandmates banter with shoppers snuggled under nearby café tents enjoying steaming breakfast burritos, spicy shrimp musubi, and lilikoi -dragon fruit slushies. 

Ma’o Organic Farms’ interns hawk “Sassy Salad, a mixture of spicey greens.” Ashley Watts from Local I’a cracks open a cooler to reveal the fresh fish catch of the day. Bryan Mesa of De La Mesa Farms located in Hawaii Kai & Waimanalo lovingly snips microgreens for a customer. Davanh from Lovan Terrafarm in Waialua, O’ahu helps me select a perfectly ripe Rapoza mango.

I bump into my friend Kara, who treks across town every Saturday to enjoy the Kaka’ako Market’s conviviality. We agree: This isn’t just where we come for weekly groceries. It’s our community. 

The market’s local vibe also attracts other regulars. “It’s tailored for a local crowd and we welcome visitors,” customer Howard Miller explains. “There are more vendors selling just-picked produce, local meats, etc. Kaka’ako has more of a ‘market feel’ and less of a carnival feel .” 

Boyar strives to create this connection between residents and vendors. “I take a lot of time curating the markets with the right fit of vendors,” she says.

Expanding the availability of locally grown, healthy foods to residents, supporting family farms, and stoking neighborhood economies by increasing foot traffic around the island are some of the driving forces behind Boyar and her markets. 

“The passion of helping other people from a conscious place is so rewarding, and I base my business on that,” she says. 

For Boyar, this is not some fun-in-the-sun gig. She is elevating Hawai’i’s well-being – a role she takes seriously. Running a network of farmers markets is complex, as Boyar balances securing venues, paying rent, staffing, ensuring safety and efficiency, marketing, running a legal business, and managing over 100 vendors. 

But Boyar is no stranger to the hustle. She thrives off it. She is the past president of O’ahu Chapter of Hawaii Farmers Union, a current member of Les Dames d’Escoffier International Hawai’i and an active advocate championing for farmers across the state.

After adopting a raw foods diet in her 20s, Boyar started her first business, making and delivering fresh juices in her native Los Angeles, CA to customers such as Cher and Don Henley. After outgrowing her door-to-door business, she launched an organic produce company in Los Angeles as well. 

“In 1986 I was the first organic forager that picked up at the local farms and delivered directly to the restaurants on the same day,” she remembers. 

Thanks to Boyar, the Santa Monica Farmers Market grew, and chefs such as Nancy Silverton and Wolfgang Puck started featuring local farms on their menus. 

“Pamela was on farms and at the farmers market at the beginning of the farm-to-table movement, advocating fiercely for the value in terms of flavor and quality of life for farmers,” shares Laura Avery, retired program manager for the Santa Monica Farmers Market. “For her, ‘farm-to-table’ was a mission, not a slogan. Pamela was a familiar sight in the early days of the Santa Monica Farmers Market, in a short skirt and cowboy boots, working diligently to connect farmers with chefs and produce buyers.” 

Growing up in the ’50s and ’60s, when local produce still arrived at your door, sparked Boyar’s passion for farm-fresh ingredients. “We had a produce man that would come twice a week named Mr. Powell,” she reflects. “I loved that man. He was the typical 6’4” skinny farmer with overalls. You would think that a straw would be coming out of his mouth. He had the best produce.” For Boyar, these interactions ignited a lifelong respect for farmers.

Boyar continued connecting farmers with restaurants after moving to Austin, Texas, but she soon identified a missing piece: community. Not just a community linking consumers and food through trucks and restaurants, but a place to offer nourishment, laughter, music and meaningful human interactions.

With farmers markets, Boyar could introduce her customers to a healthier lifestyle and see the effects. She started two farmers markets in Austin, Texas – including the Sunset Valley market, which garnered national acclaim. 

Boyar next followed her spiritual path to O’ahu. Here, she has developed one of Hawai’i’s most impactful chains of farmers markets.

When Boyar arrived in Hawai’i in 2006, farmers markets were rare. She attended all of them weekly to support and get to know the farmers. 

Boyar immersed herself in the scene for three years, when the Chamber of Commerce asked her to develop her own farmers market in Hale’iwa in 2009. What started with 25 vendors grew to 65, eventually attracting international recognition and over 2,500 attendees weekly from across the island. 

Since then, Boyar has opened locations in Kailua, Pearlridge, Hale’iwa in Waimea Valley and Kaka’ako. She prioritizes the growth of her vendors alongside her markets’ – even when it means declining vendors. “I don’t want them to come and not be successful … it’s a waste of their time and money,” she explains. 

Behind Boyar’s dynamic, boss-lady exterior, her heart beats for family farms and small businesses. As former president of the Oahu Farmers Union, she frequented Hawai’i’s Capitol to facilitate the success of bills and funding that benefited family farms. She continues to petition the federal government for more funding for them. 

“The work I do is helping them get loans, helping them get land so that they can be successful in their endeavors,” she says.

Boyar focuses her attention on Hawai’i. “We’re so far away from everything, I think our energies need to be right here right now,” she says. “I feel diversified ag is so important for Hawai’i right now, and that’s what all these new farmers coming up want to grow. The plantation-style agriculture is done, and we are here to create food sustainability in these islands in the next few years. I want to be a big part of that. I can do that through the markets.” 

Boyar’s 2019 mission is to realize the potential of all FarmLovers markets. She strives to amplify customer attendance, offerings, exposure, vendor profits and food security. Strategies to boost vendor success include free business training. Social media maven Melissa Chang and tech evangelist Russ Sumida already taught a class on increasing visibility via social media, while international entrepreneur and business adviser Paul Arinaga taught a class on creating viable business plans. 

In Kaka’ako, Boyar intends to increase the number of vendors at the Saturday market from 60 to 80 and is adding a second sunset market in the same location, on Wednesdays from 3:00 P.M. to 7:00 p.m., starting March 20, 2019. 

To increase exposure, FarmLovers Markets has adopted a new logo – a heart-shaped beet – and will host several events, including chef demos, Easter egg hunts, and a coffee festival spearheaded by local coffee expert Shawn Steiman PhD. 

The symbol of the “heartbeet” is fitting for FarmLovers Markets, a system that pumps life into our communities by promoting personal, financial and social well-being. Boyar intends to nurture this life force for years to come. [eHI]

Food Security: What Happens When The Boat Stops

WRITTEN BY JON LETMAN

MORE THAN ANY YEAR in recent memory, 2018 underscored the need for Hawai‘i’s 1.4 million residents to be better prepared for sudden or prolonged disruptions to imported food.

From record flooding in April to ongoing volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and wildfires over the summer, Hawai‘i’s annus horribilis continued with hurricanes and near misses. Again and again, Hawai‘i has been reminded that while its vulnerability to natural and man-made disasters is not unique, Hawai‘i’s location makes those vulnerabilities more challenging to overcome.

If you live in Hawai‘i, you’re probably familiar with the Hawai‘i Emergency Management Agency’s preparedness guidelines that recommend stocking at least two weeks’ worth of non-perishable food, water, and other critical supplies. It wasn’t always like this.

REVIVING A CONSERVATION ETHIC

Prior to Western contact in 1778, Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) built a culture anchored in self-sufficiency. That conservation ethic of being prepared for scarcity is reflected in the Hawaiian proverb, E ‘ai i kekahi, e kāpī i kekahi (eat some, salt some).

Even if Hawai‘i can’t return to that degree of self-sufficiency, few would question the need to achieve greater food autonomy. It may be instructive to look back to the recent past, using the sugar plantation-era as a model of preparedness.

Alberta de Jetley, publisher of the Lanai Times newspaper has lived her whole life on Moloka‘i, Maui, and Lāna‘i. She remembers when people lived closer to the earth and grew more of their own food. Today, however, she says that’s just not a realistic proposition with limited land available for farming on Lāna‘i.

De Jetley believes that in the event of a major food crisis, community-organized kitchens, combined with hunting and fishing, would keep people fed, at least temporarily. But de Jetley ran her own 18-acre farm for a dozen years, and she thinks very few of Lāna‘i’s 3,400-plus residents are in a position to grown their own food, heavily reliant as they are on weekly barge deliveries.

Lāna‘i is almost wholly owned by tech billionaire Larry Ellison who is building Sensei Farms, equipped with hydroponic greenhouse facilities reportedly costing $15 million. Considering Lāna‘i’s high cost of living, the farm could offer local residents some relief.

Not far from Ellison’s operation, David Embrey owns Kumu Ola Farms, a two-acre organic aquaponic vegetable farm- one of just four farms operating on Lāna‘i. When the weekly barge that serves the island was halted last summer due to passing hurricanes, Embrey was able to help feed the island’s people. When facing emergency food shortages, he suggests focusing on a handful of crops.

“There are certain vegetables that I have on my farm, that if a hurricane came here, wiped out the whole [thing], we won’t get a barge for two months. We can survive just off my little farm. I can probably feed three thousand people.”

If someone wanted to grow just a few highly versatile, nutrition-packed crops that could feed a family during a food shortage, Embrey recommends the kalamungay (Moringa oleifera) tree, ong choy (water spinach), sweet potato, taro and cabbage. All of these vegetables can be prepared as soups and stews which is the key to feeding people, Embrey says. “Any time you have a disaster, you’re looking at soups.”

MORE MOUTHS TO FEED

In the event of a crisis, it’s not just local residents who would face empty shelves. Hawai‘i’s tourism numbers have risen sharply from 7 million arrivals in 2010 to over 9 million in 2017, with more than 10 million expected in 2019.

With over 80,000 hotel, timeshare and other tourist-targeted units across Hawai‘i, the question arises: What responsibility do lodging providers have to feed their guests in times of crisis and food shortage?

Both the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority and Hawai‘i Lodging & Tourism Association were contacted for this story, but neither responded to requests for comment.

LESSONS FROM THE LAND OF ‘INIKI

When Hurricane ‘Iniki struck Kaua‘i on September 11, 1992, JoAnn Yukimura was mayor. She recalls that in the early 1990s, many on Kaua‘i were already used to “living in the woods” and were a bit more self-reliant than people in urban communities. After ‘Iniki, Yukimura remembers neighbors coming together, sharing and helping each other.

In the quarter of a century since ‘Iniki, Hawai‘i’s population has only swelled, resulting in greater reliance on imported food. With only a 7–14 day supply of imported food, what will people do when the barges stop and the shelves go bare?

One person who has given this scenario careful consideration is planning consultant Juan Wilson of Hanapēpē, Kaua‘i. Living off the grid since 2014, Wilson draws water from four sources: a ditch that feeds his taro fields, rooftop-collected rainwater, a 500 gallon well-fed tank, and county water. “I never think about buying bottled water,” Wilson says, “It would never even occur to me.”

On just three-quarters of an acre, Wilson and his wife Linda grow kalo (taro), cassava, and ‘ulu (breadfruit), all of which produce nutritious starchy food that can be stored frozen. They also grow their own citrus, papaya, pineapple, avocados and bananas.

Together with chickens for eggs and bees for honey, macadamia nuts, and cacao, Wilson reckons he’s prepared for almost anything. So are his neighbors who hunt, fish, and grow food. Wilson explains, “…the local people in my valley are related to each other and pull together to get things done. They generally don’t look to the government for advice or help.”

But Wilson argues that preparedness is more than just having a pantry full of Spam or growing your own vegetables. He thinks it’s time to re-examine how Hawai‘i’s land is zoned.

“One big problem in the expanding, small-plot suburbia of Kaua‘i is you must have a car and be in debt,” Wilson says. “You aren’t permitted to do the things needed to have your own food, water, energy, and a livelihood.”

READY OR NOT

Wilson admits that being well-prepared comes at a cost—both financially and in the time required to plan and build home infrastructure and maintain crops. It took him about a decade to reach the point where he has created a softer landing in case of a sudden catastrophe or crisis. If that sounds alarmist, think back to the morning of January 13, 2018 when cell phones across Hawai‘i lit up with the message:

BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII.

SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.

False alarms notwithstanding, in a crisis or perceived crisis, well-stocked stores can be stripped bare, gas stations pumped dry and a jungle order can descend quickly. Mayhem is not limited to post-Katrina New Orleans or economic collapse in Caracas, Venezuela.

A FOOD DESERT IN THE PACIFIC?

Megan Fox, executive director of Mālama Kaua‘i, a nonprofit that advocates for a more sustainable island, says it’s useful to create your own local resources to reduce reliance on imported food. “As we start seeing more frequent weather and transportation disruptions, more people are starting to pay attention,” she says.

Fox adds that when possible food disruptions are predicted — as in the case of a hurricane — it can be helpful to be in contact with farmers who may be rushing to harvest and sell fresh produce quickly to avoid a loss.

Another Kaua‘i resident, disaster preparedness consultant Bart Abbott, says that while local diversified agriculture can buffer Hawai‘i against imported food shortages, crops like taro can be decimated by a natural disaster, especially if they’re being grown in flood plains.

Abbott urges people to learn how to preserve their own food. Whether canned, dried, pickled, or fermented, he suggests starting with nutritious foods you already eat — things like kimchi or preserved root crops such as taro, sweet potato, and other foods that can be stored for a long time.

A crisis needn’t be apocalyptic to interrupt food imports. Abbot points to climate disruptions and economic malaise as factors that could lead to imported foods becoming unavailable or unaffordable for extended periods. Those in lower income brackets would most likely be the first to feel the pinch. Ironically, they are the people who can least afford to prepare for food shortages.

According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, nearly 10 percent of Hawai‘i’s population lives below the poverty line, with rates much higher in specific communities. The Hawai‘i Food Bank reports it provides food assistance to one in five island residents.

Abbott suggests a greater emphasis on family and community farms and making more land available for small farmers. If imported food disruptions become common, he imagines it could lead to people reducing their normal 5-day work week to three or four days, allowing them time to tend their own food gardens.

Empty Produce Shelf:
Photography by Denise Laitinen

THE CAN AND THE CAN NOTS

Denise Laitinen lives in Puna on Hawai‘i Island where she has over a dozen years’ experience volunteering with disaster preparedness groups. Laitinen has seen empty grocery store shelves caused by something as simple as a delay in barges.

“At any given time, any supermarket on the Big Island only has a 20 day supply of food on hand,” Laitinen says. “Add to that the fact that every airport in the state is in a tsunami inundation zone.” Because imported items are largely routed through the port of Honolulu, the whole state is, to a degree, dependent on one port.

Laitinen says that while kama‘aina know how food-insecure Hawai‘i is, newcomers don’t fully appreciate Hawai‘i’s geographic isolation. “That reality doesn’t fully set in until you are actually faced with no power for two weeks,” Laitinen says. “You think that you will respond to a disaster in a certain way, but then when that disaster happens, things may not go the way you had planned.”

She recalls tropical storm Iselle in 2014 when Big Island residents were trapped in their homes, main roads were blocked, and keeping ice frozen became a major concern, not only for food, but medicine as well. Fortunately Hilo had power and although people were eager to help for the first few days, as Laitinen points out, enthusiasm can flag as the weeks drag into months.

Last May, after the Kīlauea volcano began erupting, over 500 people in shelters instantly needed to be fed. In response, affected residents created ‘Pu ‘uhonu o Puna, a hub to help the community. As roads were cut off and stores became empty, some residents were forced to flee their homes to avoid becoming isolated by lava flows. Others, Laitinen says, were already growing and raising their own food and had no reason to escape.

So if you have food trees, crops, a few goats or chickens and a reliable water source, will you be ok? What about the rest of the state? Juan Wilson in Hanapēpē says even people living in urban and suburban communities can take steps to cushion the blow of a major food disruption.

First, he urges people to collect as much energy and water from their roof as possible. Invest in a Berkey or similar filtration system, at least to get you through a few weeks without county water. Next, grow food in raised beds in your yard or even some potted leafy greens in an edible lanai garden. Even better, connect with a community garden. Wilson also urges people to live in a community where they aren’t dependent on cars to get around.

Wilson suggests people “energy up” as much as their property and finances will allow, even if it is minimal. You don’t need a mega-expensive system to improve your ability to weather an extended power outage. Even a $125 wet cell battery, $100 panel, $75 inverter and a couple of light bulbs will improve your ability to weather a disruption. Start small and build up as you see fit. “It’s a huge difference if you have lights or don’t,” he says, in case things really hit the fan.

Empty supermarket shelves, Wilson believes, could lead to serious unrest, possibly riots. Being prepared, he says, is finding ways to be independent of those things that, if they come down, will be life threatening.

“You’ll have what happens the day after Thanksgiving — Black Friday,” Wilson says. “That’s the problem — that is the future.” [eHI]

River: Wailuku River Photography by Hokuao Pellegrino August 2018

GROCERY STORES IN HAWAII

WRITTEN BY DENISE LAITINEN

WHAT IS A GROCERY STORE? How does it differ from a market? How have supermarkets evolved over the decades in Hawaii? And how will people get groceries in times of disaster?

Look up market in the dictionary and you’ll find, “a regular gathering of people for the purchase and sale of provisions, livestock, and other commodities.” Grocery store is defined in more simplistic terms as, “a grocer’s store or business.”

Hawaii residents, like people throughout the country, tend not to spend a lot of time thinking about their local grocery store. They wonder what’s on sale, what food staple they need to pick up on their way home from work, and what they need in order to prepare family meals for the week.

Depending on where you live in Hawaii, your definition of a grocery store can have vastly different iterations ranging from a large Costco style store with a cornucopia of produce to a locally owned shop.

Ask people about supermarkets and the names of several large national chains are usually the first to be mentioned. Yet it has been the local family-owned stores, often times started by immigrants to Hawaii, that have supplied island families with food for generations. These small stores, woven into the fabric of island communities, supported local sports teams, civic clubs, and other organizations. The past year has seen the closing or sale of several of these stores, some nearly 100 years old.

GENERAL STORES ROOTED IN COMMUNITY

Hawaii’s earliest grocery stores were general stores, carrying a little bit of everything. Take, for instance, Oshima’s on the Big Island. Founded by Kanesaburo Oshima who immigrated to Hawaii in 1907, Oshima’s opened its doors in 1926 on Mamalahoa Highway in Kainaliu, the heart of the Big Island’s coffee belt. The market was known for its diverse array of groceries from freshly caught fish to beer, plus a little of everything else, including a pharmacy. Oshima’s so epitomized the feel of old Hawaii that when Disney’s Aulani Resort on Oahu built a historic general store on the premises, they modeled it after Oshima’s. The store was owned and operated by the Oshima family until it closed in 2018 after 92 years in business.

Nearby in Holualoa, the Keauhou General Store also closed in 2018, after serving the community for 99 years. For decades the store sold everything from bread to bicycles, providing groceries and sundries to the families that worked on nearby coffee plantations. In more recent years, it had charmed legions of visitors, while still providing necessities for local residents.

In April 2018, Ishihara Market, a Kauai favorite in Waimea known for its fresh poke, announced it was being sold to Kalama Beach Company, part of the Sullivan Family of Companies, which also owns the Foodland chain of supermarkets. That store will remain open and retain its original name.

The recent spate of grocery store closings/sales caps nearly two decades of grocery store consolidation in the industry in Hawaii.

The past 20 years have seen some chains close, be sold, and merge. Founded in 1926 on Kauai by two brothers, Saburo and Furutaro Kawakami and their wives, Big Save Markets went on to become one of the largest and oldest retailers on that island with six locations. In 2011, Times Supermarkets bought Big Save with five of the original Big Save stores still in operation today.

Times Supermarket has also gone through its share of changes. One of the largest supermarket chains in the state, it too was founded by two brothers, Albert and Wallace Teruya, whose parents immigrated to Hawaii from Okinawa. Launched in 1949 with a single store on Oahu, Times Supermarkets has grown to 17 Times supermarkets on Oahu, Maui, and Kauai, the five Big Save Stores on Kauai, plus Shima’s Supermarket and Fujioka’s Wine Times, both on Oahu. In 2002 the locally owned Times chain was bought by PAQ Inc., a California-based firm.

Maui has also seen its share of local, family-owned grocery stores fall by the wayside in the past 15-20 years. In 2005, Ooka’s, Maui’s last big locally owned grocery store closed its doors in downtown Wailuku after 64 years, leaving the community without a grocery store until Safeway built a store nearby. That same year, Ah Fook’s Supermarket, a Kahului landmark since 1917, burned to the ground. Other family run grocery stores like Azeka Market in Kihei and Nagasako Supermarket in Lahaina preceded their closings.

While many of Hawaii’s mom and pop style grocery stores are now gone, replaced by larger chains, such as Safeway, Costco, and Whole Foods, there are still many independent grocery stores and multi-generational supermarket stores that continue to flourish.

Indeed, natural food stores, such as Down to Earth, which operates five stores on Oahu and one on Maui, Mana Foods in Paia, Maui, and Papaya’s Natural Foods in Kapa’a, Kauai have been operating for decades. In fact, Down to Earth, which started as a small store front in Wailuku in 1977, recently opened a new location in Kaka‘ako on Oahu, is expanding their Pearlridge location, and plans to move their Kailua store to a larger space, occupying the former Macy’s building in that community.

Locally owned supermarket chains also continue to hold their own. Foodland is the largest locally owned supermarket chain with more than 30 supermarkets on four islands, plus a chain of smaller stores called Malama Market, with three locations on the Big Island in Pahoa, Ocean View, and Honoka‘a and two markets on Oahu, in Haleiwa and Kapolei. Foodland, which was founded in 1948 by Maurice Sullivan, an Irish immigrant stationed on Oahu during World War II, and Malama Market are independently managed and operated but are part of the Sullivan Family of Companies that encompasses 150 businesses across 11 states.

Perhaps the oldest family-run supermarket chain in the state is KTA Super Stores on the Big Island. Founded in 1916 in Hilo by husband and wife Koichi & Taniyo Taniguchi, the original 500-square-foot store has grown to seven supermarkets across the island.

Ask independent grocery store owners the secret of their longevity and they point to their community involvement.

“I think the organization has always had a deep connection to the community,” says KTA President and Chief Operating Officer Toby Taniguchi, great-grandson of founders Koichi and Taniyo Taniguchi. The Japanese have a saying, “okage sama de” meaning, “we are what we are because of you.

“It’s because of our community, our business partners, and our store associates that we are able to exist. We’re very grateful and humbled to be afforded the opportunity to serve the community and we’ve never taken that for granted.”

“My great grandfather, grandfather, and my dad all felt that the store has an obligation to participate in and support the communities that we reside in. The communities are what support the stores and therefore the stores must support the communities.”

Russell Ruderman, owner of Island Naturals, a chain of three health food stores on the Big Island in Hilo, Kona, and Pahoa, says it is only natural for

locally owned stores to have a deeper commitment to the community.

“I think any locally owned business is going to stick it out because it’s easy for a chain to close a store, whereas if you are locally owned it’s all we have,” explains Russell. “Secondly, our ties to the community are much deeper than a mainland chain.”

Friendly Market Center, Molokai, Maui County. October 2018

Laura Orr, owner of Harvest Market in Hanalei, Kauai, echoes the sentiments of Russell and Toby, referring to Harvest Market is an “old school natural food store” where close to half their produce is grown on Kauai. “We’re community oriented and focused on customer service. We’re not like Foodland or other large supermarkets and I like to keep it that way.”

At the other end of the state on the Big Island, “about 60% of our produce is locally grown,” adds Russell. “In our kitchens we are using a lot of produce that is all local and 20 percent of peripheral items, like eggs and juices, are local.”

At KTA in Hilo, Toby says roughly 50 percent of the entire produce department is locally grown, with that number climbing to 98 percent when it comes to leafy greens and 20 percent of the their fruits and vegetables locally sourced.

In an effort to support local farmers and food producers, KTA launched its own line of food products, called Mountain Apple Brand®, in 1992. Today, the brand includes more than 200 products from 50 vendors all grown, processed, or manufactured on the Big Island.

With the growing popularity of farm to table cooking and organic foods, it’s encouraging to see so many local food markets committed to selling a large percentage of locally grown food.

And yet, as the world’s most remote island chain, these stores play a critical role in Hawaii’s food security when it comes to natural disasters.

“There’s no large warehousing of food in the islands that I’m aware of that would last more than two weeks,” says Russell. He should know. In addition to being the owner of Island Naturals, Russell is also the State Senator for District 2 on the Big Island, representing the district of Puna and the town of Pahala in Ka’u, an area encompassing roughly 500 square miles (as a point of comparison, the entire island of Oahu is 597 square miles.)

Island Naturals, Hilo, Hawaii Island

WHEN DISASTER STRIKES

Hawaii saw its fair share of disasters in 2018 with historic floods impacting Kauai and Oahu and the Kilauea lava eruption on the Big Island destroying 700 homes, covering major roadways and inundating entire subdivisions. Locally owned grocery stores became a lifeline in hard-hit rural communities providing fresh produce and a smile to customers even as their own staff were being impacted by disaster.

“We stayed open for the sake of our employees and our community,” says Russell.

When a lava flow threatened Pahoa in 2014 forcing other markets to close, Island Naturals stayed open. “Back then we made arrangements to bring in generators. We also got assurances from HELCO and our suppliers that we could maintain power if lava crossed Highway 130 and our suppliers told us they would continue delivering. When we got those assurances we made the commitment to stay open.”

Misakai’s Grocery, Molokai, Maui County. October 2018

It was a tougher challenge in 2018. At least six employees at the Pahoa natural food store lost their homes to lava and 15 employees had to evacuate their homes and relocate. Numerous daily earthquakes occurred for months forcing Pahoa Island Naturals staff to place masking tape across the front of shelves holding glass bottles to prevent them from falling on the ground.

There were days when the air quality in Pahoa was so bad from toxic, volcanic gases being emitted in nearby Leilani Estates that the store had to close and send employees home. Even mail service was cancelled on some occasions due to the poor air quality.

“The stress was palatable. You could see it on people’s faces,” notes Russell. “Our business was down 40-50 percent with the 2018 lava threat but we never considered closing.” Despite the downturn in business, Island Naturals worked with its vendors and donated food and beverages to organizations such as Pu‘uhonou o Puna, Sacred Heart Church, and World Central Kitchen. “We were able to weather the storm and our commitment to our communities is very strong.”

Laura says it was Harvest Market’s commitment to community that helped them deal with the historic floods that devastated the region last April.

“The floods were devastating for everybody,” says Laura. “It was unbelievable. I had three to four employees that were stranded in Haena.”

She notes that while the store did have to close for a couple days they did not have problems with deliveries coming into Hanalei. That enabled them to make sandwiches and snacks for all the volunteers that were helping to take food out to residents stranded in Haena. They went above and beyond during the flooding to serve the community and are still recovering months later.

Given the state’s geographic isolation and reliance on food being imported into Hawaii, it’s a good thing that many of Hawaii’s grocery stores are committed to serving their communities. Because in Hawaii, it’s a matter of when, not if, disaster will strike. [eHI]

Kai Store, Hilo, Hawaii Island