Educating Growers At The Fair

April 13 was a busy day for Kaua’i County Farm Bureau. Besides the ongoing Saturday Kaua’i Community Market, it hosted its 18th annual Garden Fair at Kaua’i Community College. In addition, farm bureau members distributed information about a proposed food hub at the Lihu’e Community Plan Update meeting held at Lihu’e Civic Center.

At the Garden Fair, vendors set up under wide tarps, and despite thunderstorms, Kaua’i’s backyard gardeners and commercial farmers came to buy prime plants from nurseries including Orchid Alley, Kaua’i Nursery and Landscaping, Lawai Valley Nursery and Growing Greens Nursery.

Food vendors included The Right Slice, Hanalei Taro & Juice Co., JC’s Puerto Rican Kitchen, Annatta’s Authentic Thai, Midnight Bear Breads & Sandwiches and Granny Feelgood’s Kettle Corn. Farm products were available from Monkeypod Jam, Salty Wahine Gourmet Hawaiian Sea Salts and Moloa’a Bay Coffee.

USDA agencies distributed information on farm worker housing, Wiki Wiki Worm Ranch shared the benefits of vermi-compost or worm castings, and Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers Association displayed exotic fruit and handed out recipes.

One-hour classes were presented by Kaua’i’s agricultural leaders, and topics included home composting for the garden, how to control fruit flies, landscaping with orchids, backyard aquaponics, and bees and honey. Tropical fruit farmer Jerry Ornellas, president of Kaua’i County Farm Bureau, discussed how to plant and care for tropical fruit trees.

After speaking about hardening off nursery trees – how big to dig the hole, the soil web, wind protection and feeding – Ornellas holds up a large longan branch to demonstrate how to prune a tree.

“These young longan are on what’s called a panicle,” Ornellas says and cuts off a secondary branch that is clustered with immature fruit. “The fruit is the size of a pea,” he continues and snips off the lower 4 inches. The audience lets out a collective gasp.

“Oh! That’s like $4 worth of fruit right there. What are you doing?” Ornellas mocks, evoking laughter. “We’re getting our fruit sized up,” he explains. “If you want to improve the quality of your fruit, do some pruning.”

Before the workshop, Ornellas attended the Lihu’e Community Plan Update meeting. The farm bureau set up a mini farmers market with Kaua’i Grown and Kaua’i Made products and handed out fliers for the proposed Pi’ikoi Food Hub.

If all goes according to plan, the food hub will be inside the former Big Save and stimulate food security and self-sufficiency. Its distance from Oahu and Kaua’i’s small population leaves our island vulnerable to natural disasters and global events, which could disrupt shipping and, consequently, our food supply.

Plans for the food hub include a retail space for 100 percent locally grown products, including meat and produce, as well as Kaua’i Grown and Kaua’i Made products. There even are plans for weekly CSA (community supported agriculture) boxes. Ultimately, customers will be able to buy local chicken, grass-fed beef, pork and lamb as well as eggs, vegetables and fruit in one central location that’s open every day.

Pi’ikoi Food Hub will enable farmers and ranchers to drop off their products, ensuring proper handling of produce, which is essential to meet food-safety requirements. The food hub’s commercial kitchen will give farmers an outlet, insulating them from food-safety certification regulations, which can be cost-prohibitive for small farmers. The commercial kitchen also would give new businesses a place to make farm-fresh products.

According to a feasibility study conducted by the Kaua’i Economic Development Board, 100 percent of Kaua’i’s livestock producers saw value in providing beef, pork, lamb and poultry to the local market. Kaua’i doesn’t have adequate processing and cooling facilities, but if the food hub happens, it would provide the necessary services to fill the demand by restaurants, schools, hotels, hospitals and retailers.

The farm bureau is hoping our local Legislature will earmark money to develop a business plan that includes designing the facility as well as a commercial formula that enables participants to pay rent collectively to the County of Kaua’i.

If you would like to voice your support, send an email titled, “I Support the Pi’ikoi Food Hub” to George Costa, director of the Office of Economic Development, at gcosta@kauai.gov.

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

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