Hawai‘i Island food hubs make it easy to buy fresh, local food
Hawai‘i Island food hubs are buying, selling and moving locally produced foods that feed families and star on the menus of island restaurants.
Providing a vital business connection between local farmers and long- or short-term residents, chefs and retailers, the islandʻs six food hubs work behind the scenes to offer Community Supported Agriculture boxes, weekly online markets and local commodity distribution to grocers, restaurants and resorts.
The island’s food hubs are located in Kona, Kohala and Hilo. Each has a different focus and distributes food differently but all make accessing local food easy and convenient. Some participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program/Electronic Benefit Transfer and DA BUX Double Up Food Bucks to offer a discount on qualifying purchases.
According to a news release, the hubs find buyers so the farmers and ranchers can focus on producing food while ensuring their hard labor doesn’t go to waste. This allows them to move fresh food in a timely manner, in turn, encouraging farmers to produce more food as they know it will be purchased.
Hawaiʻi Island food hubs include Adaptations in Kealakekua, Hawaiʻi ‘Ulu Cooperative in Honalo, the Kohala Food Hub in Hāwī and three hubs in Hilo: OK Farms, Ho‘ōla Farms and The Food Basket.
“Folks need to understand that buying local agricultural products is our only path to food sustainability,” emphasizes Troy Keolanui at Hilo’s OK Farms. “The learning curve is steep and hard to achieve.”
OK Farms Food Hub
The for-profit OK Farms was founded in 2002 with the mission to perpetuate sustainable ag in Hawai‘i. The Keolanui family farms nearly 1,000 acres alongside the Wailuku River and their main crops are lychee, longan, coffee, citrus, heart of palm and spices. The farm sells its produce to a variety of food hubs while also operating the OK Farms Food Hub, on-site OK Farms Store and agriculture-themed tours through their Hawaii Eco Experience.
The OK Farms Food Hub works with 60 farmers to collect fruits and veggies for island restaurants and its Community Supported Agriculture Food Box program. Weekly or twice-monthly Community Supported Agriculture subscribers sign up to receive a box of freshly harvested produce with a recipe and they have the option to change produce selections online. Boxes can be picked up at the farm and OK offers free delivery to nearby offices in downtown Hilo and home delivery for a fee.
OK’s food hub started in 2020 when the arrival of COVID-19 put a halt to agricultural tours.
“We had four empty vans and we put them to use by transporting produce and operating a food hub. Now that visitors are back and tours have resumed, OK is continuing in its food hub role,” Keolanui said.
“Our goal with the food hub is to increase the purchasing of local food here and in turn increase production of food because the demand needs to be there. It’s an idea and way of living we need to have. Living on an island, it’s critical to support our local farmers because they help us in times of need, like during the pandemic. If planes bringing tourists and fresh produce stop coming, we don’t get fresh food,” Keolanui continued.
For more information, visit: www.hawaii-eco.com.
Kohala Food Hub
The nonprofit Kohala Food Hub offers locally grown produce and value-added products from 103 producers to island restaurants and services North Kohala, Waimea and Waikōloa residents through its weekly Multi-Farm Community Supported Agriculture subscriptions and Online Marketplace. Most of the hub’s farmers are small-scale, “backyard growers that use regenerative and organic farming methods” according to Maya Parish, Kohala Food Hub director.
Community Supported Agriculture members are reserved a weekly box of pre-set produce and receive an email announcing other products that can be added if desired. Another option, the Online Marketplace, enables shoppers to pick and choose from over 200 products on Kohala Food Hub’s website.
“The online marketplace is just like shopping on Amazon but for products grown here on island,” says Parish. A Community Supported Agriculture subscription is not required.
Multi-Farm Community Supported Agriculture subscribers are privy to exclusive, seasonal produce not available on the online market and they can add products from the Online Marketplace too, including meat, eggs and baked goods. A regular or larger family subscription can be purchased and a frequency chosen of weekly or twice-monthly.
Parish says Kohala Food Hub distributed close to 33,000 pounds of food in 2022 and is expecting “an expediential increase” for 2023. In addition to its Community Supported Agriculture and Online Marketplace, the hub accepts Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program/Electronic Benefit Transfer, offers a Veggie RX free food access program for qualifying residents and plans to launch a mobile market this fall.
“The mobile market will meet residents where they are, eliminating transportation barriers,” said Parish. “It will be stocked with value-added products and produce and make using the hub super convenient.”
For more information, visit: www.kohalafoodhub.com.
The state’s oldest food hub, Adaptations in Kona operates as both a certified organic farm and a food hub with statewide distribution to Community Supported Agriculture subscribers, restaurants and grocers. The for-profit company carries an average of 450 local food products that vary seasonally, sourcing from 180 small and medium-sized farms on Hawai‘i Island and Maui. Owner Tane Datta and daughter Saffron also offer a line of crafted botanicals.
“Our marketing and distribution operations connect growers of all scales with consumers of all scales,” notes Adaptations co-owner Maureen Datta. “Our primary goal is to retain and expand the acres of land in food production by serving family farmers, gardeners and backyard growers with aggregation, distribution to market and education about quality control and packaging.”
Adaptations’ Fresh Feast Community Supported Agriculture offers island-wide users a variety of options: weekly or twice-monthly subscriptions, pick-up locations and payment plans, including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program/Electronic Benefit Transfer.
Subscribers receive an automated email detailing each week’s pre-selected produce box and can remove and replace contents via their online “cart,” or add additional items like pizza dough found on the Fresh Feast webstore. There’s a producer profile and description for every webstore item and recipes are shared via the automated email.
For more information, visit: https://adaptationsaloha.com.
Ho‘ōla Farms was founded in 2015 as Ho‘ōla Veterans Services with the mission to support military vets and their families entering agriculture. In addition to Ho‘ōla’s Groundwork to Grow ag and business training, the non-profit operates an agribusiness incubator kitchen with storage rental and the Hawai‘i Farm-to-Car online farmer’s market.
Hawai‘i Farm-to-Car customers shop a weekly virtual market of local produce, meats, eggs, cheese and value-added products. Weekly curbside pickup is at distribution sites in Kea‘au and Pepe‘eko. The program accepts Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program/Electronic Benefit Transfer and DA BUX. No subscription is required to participate.
Over the last three years, the market has seen increased sales of $145,000 from 54 producers in 2021, to $275,000 from 82 producers in 2022, reaching over 800 unique customers and $40,000 in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program/Electronic Benefit Transfer sales.
“Our goal is to support the development of local farmers and producers, increasing our local economy and community resilience, and decreasing our reliance on imported food,” says Emily Emmons, executive director of Hoʻōla Farms.
For more information, visit: www.hoolafarms.org.
The Food Basket DA BOX Community Supported Agriculture
In addition to providing food assistance to those in need, the non-profit Food Basket DA BOX program is a Community Supported Agriculture with island-wide distribution. In 2022, DA BOX worked with 55 different farmers to distribute 7-8 fresh produce items to 693 weekly and twice-monthly subscribers.
DA BOX began in 2014 as the first Community Supported Agriculture in the state to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits and to provide a discounted rate to those customers. According to Chelsea Takahashi, the Food Basketʻs director of Healthy Food Access Initiatives, DA BOX offers a buy one, get one free model or matches each bag purchased with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits with a free bag. DA BOXES are conveniently distributed at the hub’s Hilo warehouse and at multiple pickup points around the island.
For more information, phone the hotline, at 808-796-3091 or visit www.hawaiifoodbasket.org/da-box.
Hawai‘i ‘Ulu Cooperative
While it doesn’t offer Community Supported Agriculture subscriptions, the for-profit Hawai‘i ‘Ulu Cooperative is considered a food hub as it connects numerous local farmers with consumers, but in a different way.
“HUC has aggregated over 1.5 million pounds of local crops since established in 2016,” according to Hawai‘i ‘Ulu Cooperative manager Dana Shapiro. She adds that co-op farmers steward 6,000 ‘ulu (breadfruit) trees and expect to harvest 1 million pounds of ‘ulu per year by 2030.
The 150-member cooperative focuses on starch or staple crops—‘ulu, kalo, sweet potato and kabocha squash—and manufactures them with little processing. Examples are frozen and partially cooked, recipe-ready pieces of the staple crops and prepared hummus, mousse and flours. The co-op serves as a wholesaler, selling these products to island food hubs, grocers, restaurants, schools and other institutions and is an approved DA BUX vendor at participating stores. Residents wishing to purchase products can find where they are sold using the product locator on the co-op’s home page, https://eatbreadfruit.com.
The Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority’s Destination Management Action Plan (DMAP) for Hawaiʻi Island, supports and promotes agritourism initiatives to connect local producers with visitors and encourages the visitor industry to buy local produce, products and goods.