Adding Value To Fresh Produce

This column is dedicated to the food growers of Kaua’i. Even backyard gardeners contribute to the well-being, economy and food security of this island. To help everyone learn to identify food grown and/or made on Kaua’i, I am sharing information from a workshop I attended called “Value-Added Innovation for Hawaii Growers: Making the Family Farm Profitable,” presented by Craig Elevitch and Ken Love.

Held at National Tropical Botanical Garden’s (NTBG) education center in Kalaheo, the free workshop was designed to help growers hone their skills at adding value to their products and services. Statewide, workshops also were held in Hilo, Kona, on Oahu and on Maui.

There were about 40 people in attendance, including Moloa’a Organica’a, Shamma Farms, Monkeypod Jam, Kaua’i Nursery & Landscaping and Moloa’a Bay Coffee.

Dr. Diane Ragone, director of the Breadfruit Institute at NTBG, was a guest presenter, and gave away free Ma’afala breadfruit trees. In conjunction with Hawaii Homegrown Food Network, the Plant a Tree of Life-Grow ‘Ulu is a program under the Ho’oulu ka ‘Ulu project designed to revitalize breadfruit in Hawaii.

“We are looking into making value-added products with breadfruit,” says Ragone, who passes around a container filled with test batches of breadfruit flour. “We partnered with Maui Brewing Company and made a breadfruit beer. A local bakery called Midnight Bear Breads makes an ‘ulu burger, and people also make chips as well as frozen and canned breadfruit.”

Attendees were given a preview edition of Love and Elevitch’s Adding Value to Locally Grown Crops in Hawai’i: A Guide for Small Farm Enterprise Innovation.

The public edition will be available in May and can be obtained from the website listed below.

“Value added refers broadly to imparting characteristics or qualities to a product that differentiate it from a generic commodity and enhance its value in the marketplace,” explains the guide. “Adding value to a product or service leads to higher financial returns with a goal of increased return on investment.”

For example, macadamia nuts in their “generic” state are enclosed inside a hard shell. Removing the shell adds value by making it easier for the consumer to eat, and commands a higher price. But deceptive labeling a problem.

“More than half of the mac nuts being sold in Hawaii are being imported from outside Hawaii,” says Elevitch, an agroforestry educator and author of eight publications. His latest book, Specialty Crops for Pacific Islands (2011), provides insights into sustainable cultivation and processing techniques for local and export markets with an emphasis on innovative production methods, post-harvest processing and marketing.

“A lot of stuff here is locally grown and produced,” says Love, “but a lot of it isn’t, it’s just repackaged under the Made in Hawaii label.”

As a passionate advocate for the innovative small farm, Love is outspoken when it comes to protecting the rights of farmers, as well as the interests of Love Family Farms in Kona, where he produces a range of value-added products including jams, jellies, dried fruits and coffee.

“If you add 51 cents of value to 49 cents of anything imported, you can put the Made In Hawaii label on it,” says Elevitch of the Made in Hawaii labeling requirements. “You can add that 51 cents of value just by repackaging it.”

Kaua’i residents have a way of identifying locally grown and made products at the farmers market by looking for the Kaua’i Grown label on value-added products such as Monkeypod Jam, in grocery stores such as Living Foods in Po’ipu and Papaya’s Natural Foods and Cafe in Kapa’a, as well as on the menus of participating restaurants. For a complete list of Kaua’i Grown members, visit KauaiGrown.org.

“Kaua’i Grown is managed by the Kaua’i County Farm Bureau and supported by the County of Kaua’i,” says Melissa McFerrin, program coordinator and executive administrator for Kaua’i County Farm Bureau. “Kaua’i Grown differs from Kaua’i Made because it focuses on agricultural products and must contain at least 51 percent locally grown ingredients.”

Love and Elevitch say locally made, certified organic and Non-GMO Project Verified labels add value to products because today’s consumers wants to know what they’re eating.

“People want to be connected to their food source, and now more than ever we are starving to know more about our food and where it comes from. These certifications help with that,” says Elevitch of consumers who are willing to pay a higher premium to support local farmers, which ultimately benefits the local economy, and here on Kaua’i, cultivates food security.

“It’s not just about money,” says Elevitch. “Customers want to be connected to something that’s valuable for the planet and community. Many of Hawaii’s growers who also add value have a bigger vision.”

One example Elevitch provides is Kaua’i Grown member Raven Liddle, owner of Second Skin Naturals.

“Raven’s vision is to grow all of her ingredients, to produce a very natural healthy product, and in the growing of the product, to restore biodiversity in the environment. She’s doing it for more reasons than to just earn a living.”

For more information, visit ValueAdded.info or call 756-9437.

Marta Lane is a Kaua’i-based food writer. For more information, visit TastingKauai.com.

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