Why Grow Food? Ranchers, Farmers Tell Their Stories in Videos

A new video detailing the reasons why eight Hawai‘i Island food producers work to feed our island and choose an agrarian way of life was shared at the 2016 Taste.

Screened on several monitors throughout the event, the footage offered interviews filmed on location at Palani Ranch in Kailua-Kona, Double D Ranch in Laupahoehoe, KK Ranch in Laupahoehoe, Kuahiwi Ranch in Na‘alehu, Parker Ranch in Waimea, Hawaiian Hogs in Waimea, plus Best Farms and Robb Farms at Lalamilo Farmlots in Waimea.

For ease in online viewing, the video was split into seven, shorter segments; each one is about 1.5 to 2 minutes long. We share a sneak preview for each video; find their links below and tune in!

Palani Ranch

According to Palani’s president Britt Craven, the Kailua-Kona Ranch has been in operation for six generations as a cow-calf operation (calves are sold for finishing on the Mainland) while providing 100 head annually for local consumption.

Craven says Palani’s ranching family “loves what they do and the land” that’s entrusted in their care from previous generations.

“It’s about cattle ranching and that tradition, that heritage, of carrying it forward,” he emphasizes. “We’re stoked how the public has embraced locally produced proteins and vegetables and hope that continues…”

 

Double D Ranch

Joanna Nobriga feels its important for her children to be raised on a ranch as she says “they become better people knowing the amount of hard work they have to do on a day-to-day basis… just to maintain what we have on the ranch.”

She and husband Darcy raise cattle, sheep, hogs and hearts of palm in Laupahoehoe, plus goats in Puako. A fourth generation operation, Nobriga admits there’s always work to do and she and her husband can never leave the ranch to take a vacation together.

However, she prefers the ranch setting. “Where else can we go and have a beautiful office like this?” she asks.

 

KK Ranch

Jason Moniz and his family ranch 750 mother cows and their calves on 5,200 acres of leasehold land on the northeast slopes of Mauna Kea near Honoka‘a. Moniz says it was “hard work” to get the pasture to the condition it is today.

KK Ranch markets calves different ways for finishing on the Mainland and keeps 30-40 head “home” annually for finishing locally. Moniz says his family got into ranching for a “second income,” as he had the background and education for it. In addition, it was something the family could do together.

“It’s a lot of hard work, but I find it enjoyable having the family close…especially the days we spend together on the ranch,” he shares.

 

Kuahiwi Ranch

Siblings Michelle and Guy Galimba, who grew up in the dairy industry, oversee 1,600 cattle on 9,000 acres in Na‘alehu. The animals are predominately sold to the local market, providing 900 head a year for island consumption. In operation since 1993, Kuahiwi sprawls on former sugar cane land.

“We’re raising our kids in the industry,” notes Michelle. “When you buy local beef you’re supporting local working families who take care of the land.” Guy adds, “Every day is different and can be frustrating, but I love what I do.”

 

Parker Ranch

Jason Van Tassell came to work in 2014 on a new grass-finishing beef program at the sprawling Waimea ranch in partnership with Ulupono Initiative. He says the program allows the ranch “to use good quality forage on the ranch” to finish animals locally. Sold as the Paniolo Cattle Company brand, the grass-finished beef has received good feedback, he says.

Brought up around horses and cattle all his life, Van Tassell cherishes watching cattle in the pasture and all facets of ranching, saying it’s not just a livelihood, but a life choice.

He adds, “I am really satisfied when I see an animal reach its full potential and end up in a restaurant or supermarket with our label on it. When I walk past that meat, I’m proud of what that product looks like.”

 

Hawaiian Hogs

A second-generation hog farmer in Waimea, Lloyd Case has 600 pigs, including 300 feral hogs. His son has shown an interest in taking over the farm someday and he hopes that happens.

“I call it a labor of love,” he grins. “We don’t really get rich and it’s one of the hardest jobs you’ll ever do. But it’s in my blood.”

Case’s typical workday begins at 2 a.m. He picks up the discarded food waste from local hotels, cooks it and feeds it to the pigs. Then he checks all his feral traps and brings the captured animals to the farm, getting home around 5:30 p.m. Other jobs include de-worming the feral pigs and caring for them until they are sold to local restaurants who appreciate their “wild” flavor.

Explaining the importance of food sustainability, Case notes the Big Island produces superior quality food—beef, pork and vegetables. “We take care of our animals, that’s one thing that makes a difference…we are proud of what we do and what we raise.”

 

Best Farms and Robb Farms

Located in Waimea’s Lalamilo Farmlots, these operations produce a variety of produce. Best Farms grows lettuce, cabbage, persimmons, melons and green onions while Robb, a certified organic farm, offers lettuce, broccoli, beets, fennel and sweet onions.

A third generation farmer, Earl Yamamoto of Best Farms said it takes “years” to create good, arable land and due to varied terrain and rocks, all the land can’t readily be utilized. Chris Robb of Robb Farms feels the scarcity of good farm and water resources makes farming a challenge.

“The beauty of Lalamilo (Farmlots) is the state had the foresight to utilize the upper Hamakua Ditch to allow us to farm in arid Waimea,” details Robb. He says the convenience of the on-site cooperative allows growers to load shipping containers for transport to nearby Kawaihae Harbor. “We can get our produce to the other islands in 24 hours.”

Regardless of the challenges, Robb finds the positive feedback from consumers gratifying, along with supplying the basic needs for people. “We have accomplished something…we employ people and keep money circulating here in our economy.”

Yamamoto gets satisfaction in watching things grow. “For me, it’s like raising kids or pets. You get a seed and every day you watch it grow until ready for harvest. Every day and every crop is different.

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Local Meat Producers Cater to Market Preferences

Ranchers and meat producers work closely with chefs to meet their needs. Whether the goal is to achieve a certain flavor, texture or cut, local meat providers are catering to chefs in a variety of ways.

Many Chefs Prefer Feral Pork

Lloyd Case at Hawaiian Hogs in Waimea

Lloyd Case at Hawaiian Hogs in Waimea
Photo Courtesy Lloyd Case

Lloyd Case provides both feral and commercial swine for restaurants with his Waimea business, Hawaiian Hogs, Inc. He traps feral hogs of various sizes and also raises commercial hogs. Hawaiian Hogs donates several hogs every year for Mealani’s Taste of the Hawaiian Range.

In livestock farming for almost 40 years, Case deals with around 600 hogs on his farm, saying he gets a variety of requests from chefs concerning size of animal and flavor and texture of meat. In addition, he notes Hawaiians prefer the feral animal for luʻaus, and says many chefs prefer it too. Case says these chefs got acquainted with feral pork after assigned the meat at Taste.

“The meat of the feral hog has a different taste as the animal digests a more varied diet in the wild,” details Case. “It’s really a better eating animal and is chemical free.”

Case prefers to catch feral hogs when smaller—about 80 pounds—as they are easier to handle. He gets requests for all sizes though and also traps older hogs.

“Some people want to cook the pig on a spit so then size is key,” Case shares. “We also get requests for an older, bigger animal to make sausages, laulau or kalua pig. The meat of these animals tends to have a good texture and taste for these culinary uses.”

According to Case, some chefs request hogs fed a diet rich in macadamia nuts and fruit. The meat of animals on this specialty diet is especially juicy and flavorful.

“Regarding our commercial swine, we have found that hogs are happier and contented when raised on the ground; so that’s what we do,” adds Case. “When animals are stress free, the meat is softer and makes for better eating.”

Selling Beef Cuts

Rancher Michelle Galimba of Kuahiwi Ranch in Na'alehu

Rancher Michelle Galimba of Kuahiwi Ranch in Na’alehu
Photo courtesy Michelle Galimba

Chefs often buy certain beef cuts from ranches or the isle’s processing plants—Hawaii Beef Producers in Pa‘auilo or Kulana Foods in Hilo. Michelle Galimba of Kuahiwi Ranch in Na‘alehu has been working with chefs for about four years and has gotten to know the grass-fed beef preferences of chefs. Some want certain cuts, while others—like Chef Justin Wu at the Whole Ox on O‘ahu—wants the whole carcass. “Justin wants the carcass broken down only into quarters so he can cut it to his liking,” explain Galimba. “Most chefs want it broken down more.”

Galimba says she working with the new management at Volcano House to use the whole animal rather than certain cuts. Ranchers get more value for their animals when there is no waste.

“When I first started selling our beef, there were certain cuts I wasn’t familiar with,” Galimba adds. “Now I’m looking at other cuts differently as chefs are willing to use them.” Case in point is what Hawaii Beef Producers refers to as “flap meat” or “skirt steak,” another example is the flat iron steak.

The consumer preference for teriyaki beef—thinly sliced beef marinated in teriyaki sauce—is a godsend for ranchers who need to market the large primal cut at the animal’s rump, called the round. Galimba says the round is a lean, large cut and can be chewy. Top round steak is the beef cut with the fewest calories and the least amount of fat.

“Here in Hawai‘i, teri beef is part of our diet and so grocers will thinly slice round so people can make it,” shares Galimba. “It’s also on a lot of menus.”

Marketing Meat Sustainably

HBPJill Mattos of Hawaii Beef Producers says she is “constantly” working with chefs and resorts to fill orders for select and certain cuts. For example, a Kohala Coast hotel recently asked for a “109 rib” or rib primal to make several prime rib dinners.

“We might get a request for a steamship round because the client wants to put it on a huli huli machine (spit),” she adds. “A chef may need a bunch of rib eye steaks for a special dinner.” Mattos, who is fourth generation in the grass-fed beef industry and also a rancher, says Hawaii Beef Producers also gets requests for shoulder clods from the Maui Cattle Company

With a goal to be sustainable and use all animal cuts, Mattos will call clients “if she has an abundance of an item” and ask if they want to use it by offering a special. Meat is also branded and sold as Hawaii Big Island Beef at JJ’s Country Meat Market in Honokaʻa.

Producing Consistent Quality Beef

Kulana FoodsFulfilling the need to provide chefs with a consistent quality of product is the goal of Tom Asano, sales manager for Kulana Foods. Asano says Kulana works with over a dozen ranches to source grass-fed beef. “These ranchers produce consistent quality beef because they know the importance of providing their animals with quality pasture to bring them to market,” shares Asano. “They tell me they are farming grass.”

Asano says some chefs are also requesting dry-aged, grass-fed beef: a 21-day process that results in a tender product with a concentrated flavor. Executive Chef Hubert Des Marais of The Fairmont Orchid, Hawaii uses dry-aged grass-fed beef and he’ll be leading the Grass-Fed Beef Cooking 101 class prior to this year’s Taste, 3 p.m. October 4. http://www.tasteofthehawaiianrange.com/event/Mealani-Event.html

“With the recent trend of farm-to-table cuisine, we see more chefs asking for not only grass-fed beef, but also Hawaiian wild boar, island lamb and island goats,” adds Asano. “More chefs are looking to locally source quality meat for their guests and are featuring those meats at the center of the plate.”

For more info on the dry-aging of beef, visit the previous Taste It blog, Things to Know About Purchasing Beef.

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