Eric Winders and Reggie Knox of California Farm Links (CA Farmlinks), an organization that helps new farmers get started and supports existing farmers with transition planning, lease negotiations and conservation plans, received funding to create workshops for Hawai‘i growers called “Adding Value and Profit to Your Farm Operation.” The workshop sponsored by Maui Coffee Growers, Maui Aloha Aina, Maui County Farm Bureau, Hawai‘i Fruit Growers and Maui Farmers Union took place in Kula and Makawao last month.
The workshop began with a tour of two farms that had successfully invested in value-added production. Ali‘i Kula Lavender (AKL) has built an entire industry around its one namesake plant. In their promotion, they tout “75 unique, quality lavender products… everything from cookies to candles, soaps to sachets,” adding value to their initial crop.
Jacob Leonesio, a workshop attendee, was struck by the marketing savvy and professionalism of the farm. AKL wrote and received two grants for $100,000 and $200,000 to step up their marketing and product diversity.
(Left to right) Vincent Mina of Maui Aloha Aina and the Maui Farmers Union participated in “Adding Value and Profit to Your Farm Operation,” a workshop for Hawai‘i growers presented by Eric Winders and Reggie Knox of California Farm Links.
At Watanabe Vegetable Processing, Heidi Watanabe described her three-generation family farm and the “value-added” niche they developed by cutting up their produce for local hotels and schools, thereby lowering labor costs on the user’s end. They also plan to install photovoltaic panels in the future to defray their $5,000-a-month refrigeration bill.
Attendee Lehuahana Vandervelde noted that the Watanabes make more from cutting up their produce than from growing it. She was struck by the extensive regulation and security the Watanabe’s must adhere to due to its contract with public schools, and yet, it works for their farm.
The Market Fresh Bistro in Makawao hosted the remainder of the workshop. Chef Justin Pardo is proud that the restaurant currently obtains 85 percent of its produce and meat locally. He finds that a commitment to “local is value-added, along with organic, non-GMO, non-growth hormone and grass-fed.” Customers will pay more and search out food establishments that promise these qualities.
Vincent Mina of Maui Aloha Aina and the Maui Farmers Union grows sunflowers, radishes, wheat and beet sprouts. Due to the composted soil he makes and uses, he claims his sprouts are “nutrient dense”—full of vitamins and enzymes. In addition to nutrient density, other value-added qualities he offers include fresh, local, organic and quick refrigeration after harvest.
Hawai‘i Tropical Fruit Association President Ken Love produces 150 different value-added agricultural products on Hawai‘i Island and ships internationally, especially to Asia. He encourages growers to apply for grants and “speak from the heart.” Research what others offer and find unique extras. For instance, Love’s company added bamboo pencil holders as the packaging for a bag of local coffee beans—and raised the price.
But, he said, “You must make sure you’re making products that don’t make people sick. Other producers are at risk each time someone gets sick.”
The workshop included a number of organizations designed to help growers and entrepreneurs create value-added products.
The Maui Food Technology Center in Kahului engages in “food science”—the formulation of recipes, evaluation of the product, nutritional analyses, labeling and support to create value-added products.
Layne Belen and Lynn Alborano, inspectors at the Hawai‘i Department of Health, promised assistance to those who want to process food items or wholesale to large markets such as Whole Foods Market Maui. Their department offers classes and inspections in food safety and certified kitchen requirements.
Susan Wyche of UH Maui College announced plans for a future food science plant and program at the college for testing, preserving, packaging and marketing of products. The program would include a commercial kitchen potentially available to Maui growers.
A representative from the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) invited growers to make use of its services and cost-share programs in such improvements as soil conservation measures, renewable energy projects, irrigation and tree planting. This federal program helps farmers reduce erosion and stabilize forests, orchards, fields and embankments with funding and consultations.
Winders and Knox of CA Farmlinks provided a long list of options for financing and advice for those ready to consider value-added production. Their funding source at the U.S. Department of Agriculture requested that they extend their expertise to Hawai‘i. They stressed that value-added production is not about farming. It’s about creating something with an agricultural product that makes it more desirable—a banana becomes a new catsup flavor, a mango becomes ice cream or jelly.
For more information about CA Farmlinks services, visit californiafarmlink.org.