“The heart and soul of Kumu Farms are the 20 hard-working farmers on Moloka‘i and 15 hard-working farmers on Maui,” explains Emanuela “Manu” Vinciguerra. “I am PR, marketing and sales,” she continues, “but on a farm you do everything. ”
“I’m washing vegetables right now as we talk,” she adds with a giggle.
Led by 30-year veteran and Master Farmer Grant Schule, Kumu Farms got its start in 1981 with 130 acres on Moloka‘i. The island is free from the devastating papaya ringspot virus, and Kumu Farms began by growing what is now their flagship crop: non-GMO, strawberry papaya.
In 2012, an opportunity to expand to Maui arose, and these days Kumu’s conventional, sustainable and Certified Organic Production practices yield 35 different crops, including 12 herb varieties, kale, beets, fennel, bananas, papayas and salad mix.
But it’s more than the daily tasks of growing, harvesting and delivering this produce that motivates this team.
“Our goal is very simple,” explains Manu. “We are a productive, organic farm that aims to feed good food to the people of Maui and Moloka‘i – and the other islands whenever possible – all while serving and connecting the community. We donate 500-600 pounds of produce to the Food Bank every single week.”
“We believe it’s a cycle,” Manu elaborates. “The more we give and the more we treat farmers fairly, the more that will come back to us all. That includes six other unstoppable workers: Etty and Daisy on Moloka‘i and Cveta, Teresa, Kazuko and me on Maui. We do the after-harvest work and serve the customers.
“Still, our farmers are our heart and soul,” she concludes. “They are family to us and together we are a team, an ‘ohana. If we didn’t have them, Kumu Farms wouldn’t exist.”
As the sultry sun begins to shine over Kauapea Farm, turtledoves coo and waves boom against nearby cliffs. Inside a cozy yurt, farmer Jillian Seals puts socks on Noble, her 2-year-old son. Sage, aged 14, Faith, 12, and Azure, 8, are already out the door.
Outside, workers harvest from two orchards, a food forest and five 4,000-square-foot plots. Herbs, edible flowers and vegetables spill from gardens that are shaped in concentric circles.A patchwork of red and green lettuce heads brightens one row.
Lychee trees drip with blossoms and a Berkshire breeding pig naps in the shade. Nearby, 25 hens and 40 chicks live in rotating coops nestled in a fallow plot that once grew ginger and turmeric. Jillian is experi- menting with growing spinach, a crop that’s difficult to grow on Kaua‘i.
Growing up on a farm in Litchfield County, Connecticut, Jillian helped her family grow fresh herbs and make value-added products. In 1999, she moved to Kaua‘i and learned about sub-tropical farming, bio-in- tensive techniques, Kaua‘i’s year-round growing seasons and compan- ion-planting tropical crops. In 2006, she established Kauapea Farm and Kaua‘i Farm Connection (KFC) with her husband Gary Seals.
KFC distributes Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares, and this week’s boxes contain leeks, bunching onions, lettuce, kale, savoy cabbage, dandelion greens, white mana taro and green beans.
Besides feeding CSA members, Kauapea Farm shares their abundance by trading work hours in the garden for vegetables, helping with school gardens, and accepting food stamps, or what is now called EBT (Elec- tronic Benefits Transfer) under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
“Kauai Farm Connection is about connecting people with fresh organic food while giving farmers a distribution outlet,” says Jillian. “I want to level the playing field and grow food that’s accessible to everyone.”
Meet Hawai‘i’s newest generation of farmers: Levi, Lilia, Kailea, Kealohi and Makoa! These 4-year-old’s love to grow and eat food from their preschool garden. Makoa’s favorite vegetables are all of them: “I LOVE carrots, lettuce, broccoli…” while Lilia has her preferences. “I LOVE broccoli too! But only when it’s wet!” “Steamed?” we ask. “No, just wet with some water,” she replies.
Their teacher, Ms. Sue, speaks cheerfully, “When children harvest greens, they carry them to the cafeteria. The chef washes them and makes a salad. The preschoolers munch it up quickly, licking lips and asking for seconds!”
These children are building a love for nature and life-long healthy habits by practicing them daily. It’s part of Farm to Keiki, a program created by Tiana Kamen, a young Kaua‘i woman. “Almost a third of children in Hawai‘i are obese or overweight before kindergarten,” she says. By empowering teachers and parents to feed their children healthier foods, we can grow a healthier generation.” Kamen provides training, curriculum and a simple Farm to Keiki recipe as follows:
1. Keiki grow food in gardens. Preschoolers learn to enjoy fruits and vegetables by growing them! While they may only have small tastes, these experiences can turn into a life-long love for eating healthy foods and home gardening.
2. The garden becomes part of the classroom. Academics come to life in the garden! Math is most fun when you’re allowed to eat what you’re learning to count.
3. Children eat fresh, local and organic fruits and vegetables daily. Preschooler’s minds, bodies and food preferences are rapidly developing. They need to be well nourished to learn and grow properly. Island School is one of many preschools statewide that participate in Farm to Keiki. Interested in starting Farm to Keiki or supporting the program? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.farmtokeiki.org.
Words by Raelinn Doty Photography by Adriana Torres
Meet Doni Chong, businesswoman, philanthropist and yogurt farmer at Happy Heifer Yogurt.
How exactly does one “farm” yogurt, you might ask? It is perhaps the tiniest “crop” one can imagine. From a farming perspective this may seem unconventional, but not all farming is soil-based (as is the case with aeroponics, aquaponics and hydroponics.) This is also the case with yogurt. What Doni farms is unconventional as well— microbes, or probiotics, which later turn into the healthy bacteria that make yogurt just that: yogurt. She explains further saying:
“Probiotics are living microscopic organisms, or microorganisms, that scientific research has shown to benefit your health. Most often they are bacteria. Because there are good and bad bacteria for your body, we hope to showcase the benefits of digesting good probiotics into your body.”
Doni also explains that probiotics are fairly simple to understand: Yogurt has three helpful bacteria that aid in digestion and Kefir has 12 helpful bacteria that encourage intestinal health. “So when you consume a yogurt or Kefir product, you are getting a total body health supplement.”
With 25 years of experience in natural food processing, along with raising her children on natural foods, Doni takes special care in every aspect of Happy Heifer. She sources her milk from the only local dairy in Hawaii on the Big Island and then uses age-old methods to hand-churn the milk in small batches saying:
“The most unique thing about our yogurt is that we hand-make and hand-blend everything just like the olden days! We make everything fresh by batch and don’t rush the processing time to meet commercial demand.”
Happy Heifer also customizes their yogurt to meet their customers’ needs using soy milk, almond milk, or coconut milk. And they now occasionally offer small batches of Kefir and Kombucha, both of which contain probiotics. They will be expanding into non-edible products as well, like their new “HI drate” skin creams using all natural, locally sourced ingredients, and offering workshops on custom-blending with natural fragrance oils.
In addition to hand-farming her probiotics, Doni has an exceptionally big heart for her local community. She not only educates the public on the benefits of health and nutrition through the use of probiotics, but also shares the message of “churning the local economy.” She does this by helping women who have been previously incarcerated, were sex slaves or survivors of abuse. Doni says, “My passion is aiding domestic violence survivors since I share my own personal triumph and recovery.”
Happy Heifer Yogurt can be found at the HMSA Farmer’s Market and at their own location in a cozy and quaint plantation house nestled under 100-year-old Banyan trees on Kaneohe Bay. The house was built in 1927 by Dr. Theodore Richards who purchased the nine acres fronting the water. Happy Heifer is open every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. selling their yogurt and a small offering of a Farmer’s Breakfast. Be sure to relax on the wraparound porch that offers stunning views of the mountains and the bay.
Renegade farmer brings one more crop back to Hawai’i
Can a one-woman farm on a scant ¼ acre produce six tons of squash in one year? Yes, and Anna Peach wants nothing more than to share exactly how she’s doing it.
Last spring, after securing a plot in the Lalamilo Farm Lots, an agricultural subdivision in Kamuela, Peach founded her first farm, Squash and Awe. An artist-turned-gardener, Peach called on a year of intensive squash research, countless hours volunteering in urban gardens in New York City, and her family’s six generations of Wisconsin farming for the grit and wherewithal to accomplish her mission: make her super garden a commercial operation.
Six farmers had tried and failed on her parcel, so her first order of business was hand-building its dry, depleted dust into a moist, nutrient-rich soil. Peach bucks tradition by using a no-till method she calls ‘lasagna gardening’: layers upon layers of cardboard, newspaper, fish and vegetable food scraps—all collected for free from local businesses—with garden green waste.
“I soil-build for the worms and microbes, I plant for the bees,” she sums.
Supporting her one-person model, this method requires no machinery, but it does require her to walk her fields—an act key to fostering an intimacy with her farm.
Her next renegade act was planting only heirloom varieties. Onlookers shook their head, saying she couldn’t make it without GMO seed because of pickle worm. “That made me want to find the solution, then share it.”
Peach trialed 45 varieties of squash in search of the strongest, tastiest contenders to take to market. While a portion of her farm is dedicated to growing near-extinct heirloom varieties to seed, she’s focused-in on five workhorse varieties that have proved hardy and pest-resilient, including Kikuza and Black Kabocha.
And chefs love them. In a bold move, she secured clientele in advance of her harvest using fruit from her trial plants for initial sales calls into the kitchen of the island’s finest restaurants. Within a hundred days of her initial planting, Peach was making commercial deliveries. Fast forward one year, Squash and Awe is moving 1,000 pounds to market every month. Recently, the Hawai‘i Prince Resort featured a month-long specialty squash menu starring her produce.
The success of her guerrilla farm, as she calls it, is catching national attention. The president of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds travelled from Missouri to visit her quarter-acre operation. The visit resulted in an invitation for Peach to speak at the National Heirloom Expo this September, an event she calls “the SuperBowl of sustainable farming.”
In the meantime, Peach is busy preparing a quarter-acre expansion and experimenting with varieties of eggplants, a companion planting she’s found to do well with the squash. She continues to grow as much as she can, with excess poundage being stored, donated to local food banks, or composted. It’s endless work, as she puts it, “bringing one more crop back to Hawai‘i.”
Robert Kanna encountered his first shellfish growing up on Kaua‘i’s west side. “My dad would go diving and we’d play in the tide pools and salt ponds,”recalls Kanna. His interest in sea creatures piqued, Kanna attended Oregon State University where he earned a degree in fisheries science.
After returning to Hawai‘i, a stint at O‘ahu’s Oceanic Institute led Kanna to a job in aquaculture on Kaua‘i’s west side where he started farming Pacific white shrimp, sold as Kauai Shrimp.
Today Kanna is the farm manager for Sunrise Capital, owners of Kauai Shrimp. With 40 one-acre and 8 half-acre ponds dotting the hot, dry Mānā coastal plain on Kaua‘i’s west side, the farm now raises Kauai Clams.
Mercenaria mercenaria, known as littleneck clams or simply hard clams, occur naturally along North America’s eastern seaboard. The farm starts with 4 mm clam “seeds” from Florida and New Jersey which are shipped to Kaua‘i planted in upwellers and later cages. Salt water pumped from 500-foot deep wells passes continuously over the clams for 11 months, providing them with oxygen and phytoplankton until they’re big enough for market.
Kanna’s crew currently harvests only about 125 pounds a week, which is quickly bought up by local chefs and two Kaua‘i grocers: Ishihara Market in Waimea and both Foodland stores on the island. Outside of Kaua‘i the only place you’ll find these clams is Mama’s Fish House on Maui.
What are Kauai Clams like? Above all, they’re fresh—reaching market just a day or two after being harvested. Kanna’s favorite way to eat them is raw: “No shoyu, no lemon, no nothing,” he says—just straight from the shell. “The flavor is amazing.”
How a Maui group set out to grow future farmers one salad at a time, and wound up inspiring a “localicious” movement across the State.
It all started with a salad. And the potential impact of a humble dollar. Literally.
In the fall of 2011, members of Maui County Farm Bureau’s “Grown on Maui” committee were pondering the fact that a typical principal farm operator in Hawai‘i is around 60 years old. “We realized we needed to do something to foster up-and-coming farmers,” says committee member Charlene Ka‘uhane. “Maui County’s Office of Economic Development is a strong supporter of our programs, but we’d maxed out on our existing funding, and realized we needed to explore other avenues.”
From this conversation, the Farm Bureau’s “Localicious, Dine Out Maui” promotion was born. Participating restaurants create a salad made with locally grown ingredients and designate these items with the Grown on Maui logo. For every salad sold, a dollar is donated to the Bureau’s Growing Future Farmers fund, administered by the Hawai‘i Agricultural Foundation. Since its inception, the campaign has raised an impressive $13,000. “That’s a lot of salads,” Charlene chuckles.
Proceeds from Localicious, Dine Out Maui are distributed in the form of grants and scholarships for new farmers and ranchers to start or enhance agricultural businesses in Maui County. “Scholarship recipients are graduates of the University of Hawai‘i Maui College’s agricultural program who wish to complete four-year studies at UH Hilo or Oregon State University,” Charlene reports.
Existing farmers may apply for grants to expand their businesses. “Smaller farmers need just a little help, not a huge amount of money,” says committee member Chef Chris Schobel, formerly of Hula Grill. “Who knows, a scholarship or grant recipient could be the person who comes up with something really significant, all because we’re selling salads.”
But growing future farmers isn’t just about raising money. The Grown on Maui Committee has hosted several meetings with chefs and farmers so each can understand the other’s needs. “When we first began our meetings, we really didn’t know each other,” says committee member Eric Faivre, executive chef at the Grand Wailea. “They didn’t know what we needed, and we didn’t know what they grew. So we made lists of ten items we always use, like Romaine lettuce, and ten specialty items we’d like to have, like baby carrots and artichokes.”
“Sourcing ingredients is harder than it looks,” says Tylun Pang, committee member and executive chef at the Fairmont Kea Lani’s Ko Restaurant. “This program has opened up some amazing doors. It’s given me a greater respect for what our farmers deal with every day. We now have a relationship, and it’s no longer about buying veggies in a box.”
Committee chairman Darren Strand, president of Maui Gold Pineapple Company, also applauds the collaboration. “The farmers said, ‘I wish I could sell more,’ and the chefs said, ‘I wish I could buy more.’ This program helps farmers sell more products, identifies restaurants willing to support ag, and creates a funding source to educate the next generation of farmers.”
Chef Schobel adds another campaign benefit, the opportunity for restaurant servers and guests to interact about the importance of the island’s ag industry: “Guests feel positive about eating something delicious that’s grown on Maui and making a donation for a worthy cause.”
Committee member Scott McGill, executive chef of TS Restaurants group, which owns Hula Grill and Duke’s Beach House, specifically trains his staff members on the program. “We take them on farm visits, and we’ve had Dave Horsman from Ho‘opono Farms come into our restaurants to meet everyone,” he says. “I’m excited about the program, which makes our staff excited, which makes our guests excited.”
During the month of March, the Localicious campaign expands to encompass all Hawaiian Islands, not just Maui. “When we discovered how successful the Maui County Farm Bureau’s Localicious program has been, we saw an opportunity to create a statewide initiative,” says Denise Hayashi Yamaguchi, executive director of the Hawai‘i Ag Foundation.
Restaurants participating in Localicious Hawai‘i have designated an item on their menu (not necessarily a salad) that’s made with locally grown, caught or raised products, and a portion of the proceeds goes towards statewide ag education. Localicious Hawai‘i is chaired by renowned chef Alan Wong, who has restaurants on both O‘ahu and Maui.
“Restaurants raising at least $500 during the month of March can adopt a local school where the Foundation’s Ag in the Classroom program will be implemented,” says Denise. “The Foundation will partner with public school teachers to introduce an innovative national agricultural program in the classroom beginning in fall 2014. Our goal for this year’s Localicious Hawai‘i campaign is 60 participating restaurants generating $50,000 in donations, and we plan to make it an annual event.”
And it all began with a simple salad
“Growing future farmers is critical to the perpetuation of Hawai‘i’s agricultural industry,” says Charlene Ka‘uhane, “and ag education is fundamental to ensuring its continued viability. We want our keiki to know where their food comes from, understand ag’s importance in our communities, and see farming as a genuine career opportunity.”
“Localicious is a perfect example of how giving now pays off in the future,” says Chef Schobel.
To find out which Hawai‘i restaurants are participating in the Localicious Hawai‘i campaign during the month of March, visit www.localicioushawaii.com.
Here, over 5,000 pounds of specialty and exotic mushrooms are grown weekly at a specialized facility in rural Laupahoehoe on the Big Island. The fresh fungi is used statewide by chefs and local residents alike, while isle companies are sourcing the tasty ‘shrooms to produce cookies, chips, lavosh, trail mix, butters and honey. There’s even a mushroom coffee in the works.
All the fuss has jump-started the State’s only gourmet mushroom-growing tours, complete with cooking demonstrations and tastings. Hamakua Mushrooms’ on-site boutique is stocked with mushroom value-added products as well as gifts. The 35-acre Hamakua Heritage Farm, Inc. is also offering private celebrations in its Chef House, complete with a gourmet kitchen to concoct cuisine showcasing,what else, Hamakua Mushrooms!
The mushroom mania is the brainchild of a former O‘ahu helicopter company owner, Bob Stanga, and his wife, Janice, an interior designer. They broke ground on their 16,000-square-foot fungi facility in 2000.
“I love food grown in Hawai‘i and wanted to get involved somehow,” Bob shares. “It has been exciting and challenging.”
Hamakua Mushrooms (HM) grows wood-decomposing mushrooms in a substrate made with eucalyptus sawdust, wheat bran, corncob and water. A “baking bread” aroma wafts though the facility, which is a series of environmentally controlled rooms. The process involves the science of mycology (fungi), which means that sterility and exacting conditions are key to success. In addition to growing edible mushrooms, HM also makes its own mushroom spawn in an on-site tissue culture lab.
To produce mushrooms, the substrate is poured into plastic bottles, cooked, sterilized and then cooled before mushroom spawn is carefully placed inside. In a 75-degree incubation room, mycelium (roots) colonize the bottles for up to four weeks. Next, a machine scrapes a layer of roots from the top to activate the mushroom growing stage. In the growing room, light, humidity and carbon dioxide are regulated to provide optimal conditions for up to 20 days. The result is “bouquets” of fresh, flavorful mushrooms that are organically grown, free of pesticides and chemicals.
HM’s bottle cultivation method is automated and it takes about five weeks to produce a mushroom. Stanga says Hamakua Mushrooms first grew fungi in bags by hand, but switched to the current growing method in 2004 to up production. “We do over 3,000 bottles daily,” he points out.
Japanese mycologist (mushroom grower) Kyozen Shoji pioneered the bottle cultivation method. Stanga learned of the method from Gourmet Mushrooms in California.
In addition to changing the growing method, HM also improved the substrate formula by incorporating wheat bran and using a denser corncob from Iowa. “Corn adds nitrogen and form to the mixture and the wheat bran is easy for the mushrooms to eat,” Stanga explains. Trees for the eucalyptus sawdust are sourced from Kamehameha Schools land adjacent to the facility.
To decide which mushrooms to grow, Bob says HM tested the market by shipping samples to chefs. Until recently, the company was producing four different mushrooms, each boasting its own culinary characteristics: the gray oyster with a mild flavor and chewy texture; the robust-flavored pioppini with signature dark brown caps and cream stems; the firm-textured and nutty flavored ali‘i (trumpet) with meaty, one-inch-in-diameter stems; and the pepeiao, a fungi strain only found in Hawai’i that has a slight flavor and chewy crunch.
According to Lani Weigert, HM’s director of marketing and customer relations, HM is dropping pepeiao from its inventory and is newly growing abalone mushrooms. Abalone is a traditional earthy mushroom with a pronounced rich and buttery flavor.
“The preferences of chefs drive our market,” explains Weigert. “What they want has a lot to do with what we grow. They like the abalone.”
Farm To Table
A stable of top Hawai‘i chefs are using Hamakua Mushrooms. Chef Roy Yamaguchi showcased the pioppini mushroom in a bisque that became a top seller in his restaurants. When Chef Alan Wong was summoned to the White House to cook for President Obama, he took the Big Island mushrooms with him. In May of 2013, Royal Hawaiian Hotel Executive Chef Jon Matsubara featured HM in a “Cooking Local” segment on NBC News’ “TODAY” show.
Casey Halpern, executive chef at Café Pesto in Hilo, says the availability of having locally grown mushrooms has been a “godsend” and enables him to take dishes requiring mushrooms to a different level.
“When we used Mainland mushrooms there were problems with quality and freshness,” Chef Halpern notes. “We use HM in our Hamakua Mushroom Risotto, Smoked Salmon Alfredo and pizza. We’re working on a mushroom poke for special occasions.” Perry Bateman, executive chef of Mama’s Fish House on Maui, says, “We use Hamakua Mushrooms as a main ingredient and part of a dish to make bisque, braised beef, salads, soup and fish entrees. Our favorite is the ali‘i mushrooms; they are very versatile and can be used raw, marinated, sautéed and grilled.”
The popularity of the mushrooms with Hawai‘i residents has also been crucial to HM’s success according to owner Janice Stanga, who expects close to $2 million in sales this year. She credits Costco’s interest in HM as pivotal to its growth. “At the very beginning, we went to Costco to buy steel racks and their Seattle office called and asked why we needed so many,” she explains. “After finding out we had a mushroom farm, Costco came out to see us and decided to carry our mushrooms.”
Prizing HM’s partnerships with chefs and the local business community, Weigert comments on the importance of collaborating with others to create value-added products, “It takes a village to raise a business, and we reach out across the island to be included in product lines,” she notes. “Value-added products are 75-95 percent revenue for a farmer, so it’s a tremendous opportunity for us that also strengthens the community.”
Hamakua Mushrooms now offers tours, tastings and a boutique gift shop. If in the area, stop by for a visit or make a tour reservation by calling (808) 962-0305. Can’t make it in person? Their website offers recipe ideas and information on where to buy their mushrooms across the State.
Hamakua Mushrooms 36-221 Manowaiopae Homestead Road Laupahoehoe, HI 96764 fungaljungal.com
When Dave Fitch wakes up at 5:30 each morning, his two-year-old daughter clamors to help him with the chores. Dad lifts her onto the ATV loaded with buckets of fruit and grain. Together they make the rounds at what may be the prettiest pig farm in America.
Mālama Farm sits on a knoll in rural Haiku, with a view of Maui’s dramatic north shore. The light breeze carries the scent of passion fruit and Puakenikeni flowers—not the rank smells typically associated with pig farms. That’s because the pigs living here aren’t confined to pens, belly-deep in their own slop. Mālama Farm is one of the nation’s few pasture-raised piggeries and the first in Hawai‘i to offer 100 percent Berkshire pork.
Dave and Lehua Fitch’s farming adventure started with the kind of naïve back-to-the-land impulse that doesn’t often translate into long-term success. Inspired by “Omnivore’s Dilemma,” “Food Inc.,” and their travels through rural New Zealand, they decided to tackle small-scale agriculture to prove that it’s still possible in the United States. Neither had farming experience: he’s a furniture maker and she’s a software executive. So the young entrepreneurs started with a blank slate, balancing each decision against what would be best for the animals, the land, the community and their family. And in less than two years, they brought their first litter of top-quality hogs to market. In their own small way, the Fitches are transforming the meat industry—one piglet at a time.
To understand what’s special about Mālama Farm, it helps to understand what’s not special at most commercial pig farms. The majority of piggeries in the U.S. are large warehouses where animals are confined for life to individual stalls, pumped full of antibiotics and growth hormones, and deprived any opportunity to exhibit natural pig behavior. In the worst scenarios, they can’t sit or turn in their pens. Many go berserk and injure themselves. At these cheap meat factories, sewage is a constant problem; overflowing refuse ponds can poison the groundwater.
“How pigs are raised is an unspoken tragedy,” says Lehua. “It’s really horrifying when you know how sweet, gentle and smart they are.”
Confronted with dirty details of industrial farming, the Fitches decided to put their money where their mouth is. They bought property on Maui and researched livestock they could raise themselves. They chose pigs because of the animals’ intelligence and importance to Hawaiian culture. Next they opted for a heritage breed with a ready market: Berkshire, or Kurobuta as it’s known in Japan. Chefs covet Berkshires for their clean flavor and well-marbled fat. The slow-growing hogs have dark hides that protect them from Hawai‘i’s tropical sun. Plus, they have good personalities, says Dave. “We wanted animals we’d enjoy working with.”
Lehua and Dave’s light-hearted approach to husbandry is evident in their pigs’ names. The boar is Hef, after Hugh Hefner. The sows in his harem: Candi, Trixie, Lola and Bubbles.
Out To Pasture
The Fitches prepared for their pigs’ arrival in 2010 by planting nutrient-rich grasses across their five-acre farm. “People told us pigs don’t eat grass,” says Lehua incredulously. “They do!” She and Dave also planted ‘ulu (breadfruit), macadamia nut, banana, papaya, avocado and citrus tree to supplement the pigs’ (and their own) diet. Each dawn, the Fitchs’ daughter pitches these treats out to the ranging herd. Chocolate brown piglets kick up dust as they scamper through the grass like warthogs on the Serengeti. They snuffle and grunt for their share of breakfast, snouts down, corkscrew tails in the air.
On special occasions, the spoiled swine enjoy a beer or two. Dave is negotiating with Maui Brewing Company to get brewer’s grain, a by-product of the beer-making process that pigs find extra tasty. He and Lehua aren’t above scrambling eggs for their herd, either. “You can make a pig do amazing things with scrambled eggs,” laughs Dave.
Each week, Dave rotates Hef and the ladies to a new 50 x 50 grazing area, by shifting the electric fence line and sliding the mobile shade huts he built onto fresh ground. 300-gallon horse troughs serve as ready-made wallows: portable pig spas where hot swine can cool down. Once the herd vacates an area, Dave turns his cleanup crew of chickens loose to peck away any fly larvae. Pig manure is no problem here; it serves its natural function as fertilizer.
Sows are bred only once or twice a year, compared to industrial farms where they’re continually impregnated. Mālama Farm’s large, healthy litters have drawn the admiration of other Berkshire breeders. Dave fashioned farrowing huts—where the sows can go to birth and nurse piglets—with the animals’ comfort and safety in mind. Mama pigs are so massive they can accidentally crush their babies. Dave’s A-frame design allows piglets a little wiggle room; they can safely retreat into corners too tight for mom. Littermates stay together for their entire lives, which prevents anxiety.
The Fitches castrate males, but that’s about the extent of their veterinary needs. Because of the pigs’ clean food and living environment, vaccinations and antibiotics aren’t necessary. When it’s time for the trip to the slaughterhouse, the pigs climb into a trailer that Dave designed to mimic their shade huts—same wood floor, same color walls—so the animals don’t experience any trauma during transport. This contributes to the quality of the final product: less adrenaline in the meat.
The unrelenting nature of farming is not for everyone, but it’s so rewarding, Lehua says. Now pregnant with a second girl, she hopes the new baby will take to farm life as keenly as big sister has.
Proof Is In The, er, Pudding
The true proof of success came with the Fitches’ first harvest. They were nervous. How would they feel sending their pigs to market? How would the pork taste? Would the chefs like it? They slaughtered the first pig themselves, under their avocado tree. “It was profound for us,” says Lehua. “We cried while we ate it, we respected the whole process.”
They weren’t the only ones. Ed Kenney of Town restaurant in Honolulu and Neil Murphy of Merriman’s were quick to place orders for Mālama Farm pigs—and now the waiting list is long. Gerard Reversade of Gerard’s in Lahaina was especially happy to get his hands on a whole hog. His uncle was a charcutier in France’s Loire Valley; his family has a long tradition of snout-to-tail cooking. The classically trained French chef cherishes every part of the animal, transforming the head, feet and blood into confit, pate and black pudding. He seasons his rillettes—succulent mounds of shredded pork—with just a pinch of salt and pepper. “The pork retains its full taste,” says Reversade. “It’s really delicious.” When he shared some of his family recipes with the Fitches, their daughter sampled her first headcheese.
Chris Kulis of Capische in Wailea says Mālama Farm pork is pricey, but worth it. “The superior feed that the pigs eat comes through in the moisture and the quality of the fat; it blows mainland competitors away,” he says. “I use less aromatics [with Mālama Farm pork], I don’t have to do as much to make it taste good.” Thanks to Mālama Farm, he’s served mouthwatering local sausages, pancetta, bacon and soppressata at his restaurant, and is eagerly anticipating his first prosciutto, which takes a full year to cure.
The practices Dave and Lehua employ at Mālama Farm benefit everyone involved. “We make sure we give the pigs the best life possible,” says Lehua. “We know they are going out to nourish people.”
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