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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]