Story by Celeste Rogers Karau
In 2008, the Kaua`i County alongside the Farm Bureau launched the Kaua`i Grown program in an effort to take the guess work out of identifying local agricultural products.
“Before we started the program, people used to tell me they wanted to buy local, but didn’t know how to find or identify island grown products,” said Melissa McFerrin, Executive Administrator of the Kaua`i County Farm Bureau.
Since federal law only requires country of origin labeling for food products, there is often no way for a consumer to distinguish a Kaua`i grown avocado from a Florida avocado. The Kaua`i Grown program sets out to differentiate these products and highlights the consumer and community benefits of buying local agricultural products.
According to the State Department of Agriculture, Hawaii spends 3.13 billion dollars on imported food each year. Jerry Ornellas, a Kapa`a orchard farmer and the President of the Kaua`i Farm Bureau asks residents to consider the profound economic benefit of replacing just 10% of those imports with locally grown food.
“We are addicted to imported food,” Ornellas says. “Unfortunately there is no 12-Step program to break us of it. It is a collective problem that is going to take some creative solutions, but the benefits are so obvious!”
Ornellas believes limiting our dependence on imports requires increases in both demand and supply of locally grown products and policies and programs, like Kaua`i Grown, to support those increases.
The program participants include not only farmers and ranchers, but also retailers, restaurants, and value-added manufactures who utilize more than 51% Kaua`i grown ingredients. In addition to use of its logo, the program offers customized marketing materials to participants and an individual page on the Kaua`igrown.org web directory.
Krissi and Ron Miller, owners of Hukilau Lanai located in Kapa`a’s Kaua`i Coast Resort, see the value of participating in local sourcing of their restaurant’s ingredients.
“Our customers -tourists and locals alike- seek us out because they want a meal with a sense of place,” Ron Miller said.
Their commitment to purchasing local whenever possible is second only to their commitment to quality. “First and foremost: We love food!” He continued. “We buy local because it is fresh and therefore tastes better.”
Providing a locally sourced dining experience means that the Hukilau Lanai maintains more than 40 different supplier relationships, instead of purchasing their ingredients from just a few larger mixed-source purveyors. Often they can’t get as large or consistent a supply of certain ingredients. The ever-changing menu accommodates for this challenge by offering variety. Each night, they offer six different fish entrees caught from Hawaiian waters. Sometimes, the restaurant faces the opposite challenge: like when a whole Kaua`i pig comes into the kitchen. After the laborious butchery process, the entire animal is used thanks to a variety of Charcuterie offerings.
Living Foods Market located in the Kukui’ula Shops, boasts a similarly lengthy list of local suppliers to meet the demands of its retail and café customers. As a participant in the Kaua`i Grown program, they purchase up to two-thirds of their produce from the island and offer a variety of locally sourced fish, pork, beef, lamb and value added products daily.
Executive Chef, Michael Simpson, points out the biodiversity that this type of purchasing supports. In order to offer customers local avocados, he must contract with growers who plant a range of cultivars. This practice allows Living Foods Market to offer local avocados 10 months out of the year.
The Kaua`i Grown program supplies Living Foods and other retail participants with promotional materials specific to the local products they sell. A quick glance through the cheese offerings and a customer’s eye is caught by a shiny green laminated card with the Kaua`i Grown logo, a photo of the Kunana Dairy owners holding their goats, and a brief biography of the Kilauea dairy. By putting a face and story to the products, “Locals can attach a friend to their purchases and tourists can learn more about our island,” Simpson says. “ Kaua`i Grown makes it personal.”
Like Kunana Dairy, Monkeypod Jam fits into the Kaua`i Grown category under the value-added manufacturer category. Owner, Aletha Thomas, uses only Kaua`i grown produce in her products. In just one week, she purchased 60 pounds of limes, 80 pounds of tomatoes, 300 pounds of pineapple, 300 pounds of mangos, 44 pounds of lilikoi, and 100 pounds of papaya from Kaua`i farmers.
Purchasing only local fruit means that her production changes with the seasons. To accommodate for this, she has created a wide range of recipes including Lychee Jam, Cara Cara Marmalade, Mountain Apple Pepper Jelly, and dozens more.
Sourcing fruit demands constant networking with farmers.
“Sometimes I will buy a quality product without knowing how I am going to use it,” Thomas says. “I rely on the farmers for supply and they rely on me for demand, so I don’t want to fall short on my end of the bargain. Ultimately, it’s all about cultivating relationships.”
Beet Salad with Kunana Goat Cheese from Living Foods
6 cups beets, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 cup Kunana goat cheese
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parley
Steam the beets until tender and cool completely. Toss with olive oil and vinegar. Top with crumbled goat cheese and garnish with parsley.
Warabi and Tomato Salad from Hukilau Lanai
*Warabi, a tender shoot of fiddlehead fern, can be found at Glenna Ueunten’s stand at the Monday Farmer’s Market in Kmart parking lot and at the Friday Farmer’s Market at Vidinha Stadium
8 ounces warabi
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 cups simmering water
3 ounces red onion
1/2 ounce minced ginger
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1/2 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons chile pepper water
1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds
1 tablespoon honey
1 each juice of lime, about a tablespoon
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon cilantro leaves, chopped
8 ounces diced tomatoes, about two small tomatoes
1. Cut warabi on a thin bias about 2-inches long. Mix with two teaspoons of salt. Pour hot water over the cut warabi and steep in hot water for 10 minutes. Drain and rinse the fern. Combine with the rest of the ingredients Mix well. Can serve right away but it is better to marinate for a few hours to let the flavors come together.