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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Chefs Pair with Specific Ranches and Farms

As shared in our last blog, Taste offers a new presentation format for seven culinary stations (out of a total of 30). Seven chefs will be paired with meat from a specific ranch and produce from a specific farm and they will be out on the Lagoon Lanai. These food “players” will be identified by signage at their culinary stations for attendees. Event chair Jeri Moniz says the purpose for the pairings is to foster more communication between food producers and the user of their products—chefs.  We checked in with more of the partnered ranchers and chefs to get their take on the challenges of providing local beef and the benefits of using it.

KK Ranch with The Feeding Leaf

Rancher Jason Moniz

Rancher Jason Moniz with Tee
Credit: Photo courtesy KK Ranch

KK Ranch is located near Kalopa/Pa‘auilo and has a herd of 700 cows on 5,200 acres on the Hamakua Coast. Rancher Jason Moniz says KK is predominately a cow-calf operation that finishes most of its animals on the Mainland through the Country Natural Beef cooperative program, meaning the cattle are fed a combination of pasture and other natural products with no added hormones or antibiotics. KK keeps and finishes some of its herd here on the Big Isle for local consumption, including 50 animals in 2013.

In the business for 26 years, Moniz says the biggest challenge for keeping local beef at home is increasing feed for cattle here on island. There aren’t many places where the weather is conducive to produce adequate forage year round. He says this not only applies to Hawai‘i, but also to the Mainland U.S.

“We’ve been working to get reasonable prices for water from the Hamakua Ditch so we can irrigate pasture,” he detailed. “A bill recently passed that cuts the price in half so hopefully, between irrigation and rainfall, we can keep the grass growing.”

Partnering with KK Ranch at Taste is a new event planning and catering partnership, The Feeding Leaf. The company’s head

Chef Scott Hiraishi

Chef Scott Hiraishi of The Feeding Leaf
Credit: Photo by Anna Pacheco

honcho in the kitchen is Chef Scott Hiraishi, who earned his culinary chops working under Chef Sam Choy and while at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai and the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa.

A life-long, Hawai‘i resident, Hiraishi has spent the last few years building relationships with Big Isle food producers and collaborating with Kamehameha Schools Land Asset Division in their farm-to-table initiatives. He says he prefers to use food grown here and will tweak the menu to use local products, rather than sourcing from afar. “I want to support the local economy,” he shares.

Chef Scott says local, pasture-raised beef is flavorful but he has been challenged to get enough. “It’s hard to keep up with the available quantity,” he explains. “A rancher only slaughters so many animals at one time, so there’s a limit to the quantity of certain cuts.”

Chef Scott is assigned skirt steak at Taste and is preparing it miso-grilled on ginger rice. He will marinade it for a day in a base of miso, ginger, sugar, vinegar and mirin (rice wine). Then he’ll grill the steak medium rare atop coals and served on ginger rice prepared with ginger, green onion and cilantro.

Aloha Monday with Ernest DeLuz Ranch

Also located on the Hamakua Coast, Ernest DeLuz Ranch is a four-generation operation named after its patriarch, Ernest DeLuz. Son Stephen serves as ranch manager and oversees a herd of 1400 breeding cows for the cow-calf operation and 300 animals that are finished on grass for local consumption.

Stephen, who studied agriculture at Hawai‘i Community College-Hilo, says the ranch uses 7,000 acres and rotates cattle among pastures. “When the weather is good, finishing cattle on grass is easy; but when it’s dry, it gets tough.” The ranch stepped up its production of grass-fed animals about 10-15 years ago to satisfy a growing demand in the local market. “Dad always did some grass-fed animals, but as popularity for the product grew, we kept more at home.”

In partnership with Kamehameha Schools, the ranch is doing some experimenting with irrigation and Leucaena, a high protein, small tree used for cattle fodder.

“The price has gone up for our weaned cows on the Mainland but we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing,” shares DeLuz. “Dad wants to continue supporting the local market and see how it goes.”

Chef Kanoa Miura

Chef Kanoa Miura of Aloha Mondays
Credit: Photo courtesy Aloha Mondays

Aloha Mondays is a unique culinary business, offering meal pickup from its Hilo kitchen while also providing catering services. Chef/owner Kanoa Miura hails from Mililani on O’ahu and got into the business while majoring in art at UH-Hilo. As a student, he worked at a restaurant cleaning fish and had friends over on his day off for “Aloha Mondays.” His college parties and love for catering “to anyone around him” grew into a passion for the culinary arts and jobs at Roy’s Waikoloa Bar & Grill and the Flying Fish in Seattle. He opened Aloha Mondays in 2005.

Miura prefers using local products for their freshness, uniqueness and effort in supporting our economy. He says the benefits of using local, pasture-raised beef are “ethical, as well as healthier and we look up to Kulana Foods as a successful business practicing more sustainably.” Chef adds, “Now and again you get a customer who is not used to the taste…but that’s the food business; you can’t make everyone happy, you just gotta go with what you believe in, stand by it and smile.”

Assigned Top Round from Ernest DeLuz Ranch, Miura is preparing Hawaiian-Style Top Round Poke on ‘Uala Chips. He will marinate the meat in a locally brewed barley wine before grilling and seasoning with classic Hawaiian-style poke ingredients. He’ll serve with Aloha Monday’s house-made sweet potato chips. Chef adds, “Top round tends to be a tougher cut so the barley wine is perfect as a marinade to tenderize the meat and add great flavor.”

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