Articles from June 2016



Big Island Produce Shares Challenges and Successes of Keiki Cukes

KeikiCukesWith the slogan, “Crunchy Little Bites for Healthy Appetites,” Keiki Cukes is a popular, locally produced veggie hitting supermarket shelves. Since the company opened in 2012, it has tripled in size according to Big Island Produce co-owner and GM Eric Batha.

Keiki Cukes are mini-cucumbers sold in one-pound packages at statewide grocers. They can also be purchased at Costco and Sam’s Club in two-pound bags.

“We sell over a million pounds of cucumbers annually,” shares Batha. The mini-cukes are produced in grow bags filled with organic, shredded coconut husks and receive water and nutrients via a water dripper. Big Island Produce utilizes four acres of greenhouses at Waimea’s Lalamilo Farm Lots and is getting ready to break ground on another acre of greenhouse space.

Getting Started and Finding a Market Niche

BigIslandProduce1JPG“We appreciate all the support we’ve gotten here in Hawaii,” notes Batha, who grew up in Oregon helping his father, Vince, raise cattle and grow hay. The father-son partnered to open Big Island Produce after they both spent a few years in Hawai‘i looking to do something different than what they were the most familiar with—construction. Both men ran their own independent contracting companies in Oregon.

Batha says he got sound advice on growing produce from local farmers and friends farming mini-cukes in Canada, “but we learned mostly from trial and error and spent a significant amount of time Googling. The easiest part for us was the building of the facility.”

Four years ago, there weren’t any locally produced mini-cukes on the market so Big Island Produce “took the gamble” and went into production. “At first we gave them away,” he says, adding that retailers weren’t sure of the product’s marketability.

Hawai‘i Product Popularity

BigIslandProduce2“Now it’s amazing how well Keiki Cukes have been received,” he continues. “Consumers like the mini-size, especially kids. They are easy to use for single servings. We just started sending them to Maui schools.”

While Keiki Cukes is Big Island Produce’s signature product, the company is also testing Japanese cucumbers and a small amount is being sold this summer to select retailers.

Production Challenges

BigIslandProduce3Batha says it’s hard to find farm workers as “the cost of living is high in Hawai‘i.” The company averages 30 employees. “With the labor issue, we have to be conscious of our growth level.”

To sell at grocers and retailers, Keiki Cukes must be food safety certified, requiring adherence to specific requirements and diligent record keeping of the growing and packaging processes.

Regarding competing with imported cucumbers, Batha says he can’t better the price point of giant farms in Mexico. “But our product is fresh and the quality and taste is better,” he emphasizes.

“If you told me 10 years ago I’d be producing cucumbers today, I wouldn’t have believed it,” smiles Batha. ”It’s a lot of work, and not a 9-to-5 job, but it’s rewarding. We have created a demand for Keiki Cukes.”

For more information, visit www.bigislandproduce.com.

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Isle Educational Opportunities Support Agriculture

Want to be a beekeeper or try out goat and sheep production? Perhaps you dream of producing a new color of anthurium? Or maybe you want to dump the office job so you can commercially grow veggies?

What you need to know is at your fingertips as a variety of educational opportunities are available on Hawai‘i Island for prospective ranchers, farmers and horticulturists.

College Degrees in Agriculture

Tropical farming and beekeeping certificates, plus bachelor degrees in a variety of agricultural specialties, can be earned at the University of Hawaii-Hilo. Areas of concentration include livestock production, aquaculture, tropical horticulture, plus tropical plant science and agroecology.   For the 2016-2017 catalog of degrees and certificates, visit https://hilo.hawaii.edu/catalog/degrees-and-certificates-offered.html.

Hands-on Training

The Kohala Center BFRDP Cgraduates-

Graduates of the 2015-2016 cohort of Kohala Center’s Beginning Farmer-Rancher Development Program.

With a goal to encourage island food sustainability, The Kohala Center has been offering the Beginning Farmer-Rancher Development Program since 2012 and has completed five cohorts. This program seeks to “motivate and train” the next generation of farmers during a seven-month course. It covers subjects like managing soil health and fertility, crop nutrition, pest management and business planning during 70 hours of class work, hands-on field days and farm tours. The Kohala Center also has a 10-acre demonstration site to provide apprenticeship opportunities. Find info at http://kohalacenter.org/farmertraining.

Community College Ag Credentials

Ag Farm

Students learn agricultural skills through classes at UH Hawai‘i Community College-Hilo.
Credit: HCC-Hilo

Hawai‘i Community College in Hilo provides curricula preparing students for entrepreneurship or employment within the fields of agribusiness, horticulture, livestock, flowers and foliage, plus orchard crop industries. Students can earn credentials such as a certificate of achievement, a farm worker certificate of competency or an associate in applied science. Find information at https://hawaii.hawaii.edu/agriculture.

Long Distance Learning and Publications

The UH at Manoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) offers distance learning agricultural courses, plus publications and videos on topics accessible to Hawai‘i Island residents. Find agricultural courses (listed with the prefix NREM, PEPS or TPSS) at http://cms.ctahr.hawaii.edu/disted/resources/distanceedcourses.aspx. Search for publications and videos of interest at http://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/site/Info.aspx.

CTAHR’s Cooperative Extension Service has numerous programs and information covering a wealth of agricultural topics; get started at http://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/site/Extprograms.aspx. In addition, there are CTAHR-related websites dedicated to providing farmer outreach on specific commodities; they include http://hawaiicoffee.weebly.com and http://ctahrmacadamia.weebly.com.

Crop and Trade Associations

Farmer wannabes can also get information from local agricultural organizations, like the Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers, who meet monthly for informative presentations and networking. HTFG and other specific agricultural trade organizations host annual conferences with educational speakers, breakout sessions and farm tours.

Food Preservation

Master Preserver

Earn a master food preserver certificate through UH Hilo College of Continuing Education and Community Service.
Credit: CCECS

In addition to growing food, some farmers are interested in getting into the production of value-added products. The UH Hilo College of Continuing Education and Community Service (CCECS) periodically offers a master food preserver certificate program to train students in developing jams and jellies, canning, pickling and fermenting, drying, freezing and the art of charcuterie. Find info at http://bit.ly/1TZn1BS.

Non-credit Instruction

Also available through CCECS in the past or coming up in the future are non-credit courses in agriculture and food preservation. Offerings have or will include Plant Propagation, Pruning, Agroforestry for Hawai‘i’s Farm & Ranches, Beekeeping and Ecological Farm Design. For the current schedule of classes, visit http://hilo.hawaii.edu/academics/ccecs/registration/index.php.

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