Hawai‘i Island Food Hubs Make Getting Fresh, Local Food Easy
HAWAI‘I ISLAND—Looking for a consistent supply of freshly harvested fruit and veggies? Wondering how to support our local farmers and improve our island food security? Contact your local food hub.
Hawai‘i Island food hubs are buying, selling and moving locally produced foods that feed our 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 CSA (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 SNAP/EBT (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program/Electronic Benefit Transfer) and DA BUX Double Up Food Bucks to offer a discount on qualifying SNAP purchases.
Moving fresh food in a timely manner, the hubs find buyers so the farmers and ranchers can focus on producing food while being ensured their hard labor will not go to waste. That in turn, encourages 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 CSA Food Box program . Weekly or twice-monthly CSA 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.
According to Kea Keolanui, OK’s food hub started in 2020 when the arrival of COVID put a halt to their ag tours. “We had four empty vans and we put them to use by transporting produce and operating a food hub,” she explains. Now that visitors are back and tours have resumed, OK is continuing in its food hub role.
“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,” Keolanui continues. “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.”
Jill Dorsey of Hilo signed up for OK’s Farm Box program during COVID to help support local farms that lost their ability to supply food to chefs due to restaurant shutdowns. “After having joined, OK Farms helped us realize the importance and impact of local farming,” she details. “Beyond the excellent quality of the food, we choose to continue with the CSA to support local farms. It is an ono and pono choice for us.” For info, www.hawaii-eco.com.
Kohala Food Hub
The non-profit Kohala Food Hub (KFH) offers locally grown produce and value-added products from 103 producers to island restaurants and services North Kohala, Waimea and Waikoloa residents through its weekly Multi-Farm CSA 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.
CSA 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 KFH’s website.
“The online marketplace is just like shopping on Amazon but for products grown here on island,” says Parish. A CSA subscription is not required.
Multi-Farm CSA 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 KFH distributed close to 33,000 pounds of food in 2022 and is expecting “an expediential increase” for 2023. In addition to its CSA and Online Marketplace, the hub accepts SNAP/EBT, 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,” notes Parish. “It will be stocked with value-added products and produce and make using the hub super convenient.”
Sandy Eisenberg, a nearly full-time resident of the Mauna Kea Resort, likes to shop from KFH’s Online Marketplace. “I don’t have to order every week and the portions are about right for a couple,” she notes. “I can adjust my order when family members are here on island and it’s convenient to pick up my order at the Kawaihae Market.” For info, 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 CSA 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 CSA offers island-wide users a variety of options: weekly or twice-monthly subscriptions, pick up locations and payment plans, including SNAP/EBT. Subscribers receive an automated email detailing each week’s pre-selected produce box and they 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.
Lindsey Isola of Kailua-Kona has been a Fresh Feast subscriber for almost two years. She and her husband moved here from California, where they used a CSA “to eat fresh, nutrient foods and support local farmers.” The fitness and wellness coordinator at the Four Seasons Resort Hualālai Spa easily picks up her Fresh Feast box at work where a drop-off location services Four Seasons employees. Full- and part-time Hualālai Resort residents get Fresh Feast home delivery for a nominal fee and Adaptations allows part-time residents to put their subscription on hold when not in town.
“When I started using Fresh Feast, there were unfamiliar produce items and things missing like the fresh apples I got in California,” recalls Isola. “But then I changed my way of thinking, telling myself ‘here’s new foods to try that I otherwise wouldn’t have chosen—like lilikoi (passionfruit), starfruit and dragon fruit.’ Now I love the variation and especially like to use the Tokyo turnips rather than potatoes—they have an earthy sweetness that reminds me of celery root or kohlrabi. I love the Okinawan sweet potatoes, all the greens, heirloom carrots and tomatoes. These are cool offerings that get you excited!” For info, 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 SNAP/EBT 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 SNAP/EBT 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 info, www.hoolafarms.org.
The Food Basket DA BOX CSA
In addition to providing food assistance to those in need, the non-profit Food Basket DA BOX program is a CSA 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 CSA in the state to accept SNAP/EBT benefits and to provide a discounted rate to SNAP 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 SNAP 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 info, phone the hotline, 808-796-3091 or visit www.hawaiifoodbasket.org/da-box.
Hawai‘i ‘Ulu Cooperative
While it doesn’t offer CSA subscriptions, the for-profit Hawai‘i ‘Ulu Cooperative (HUC) is considered a food hub as it connects numerous local farmers with consumers, but in a different way.
“HUC has aggregated over 1.5M pounds of local crops since established in 2016,” according to HUC manager Dana Shapiro. She adds that co-op farmers steward 6,000 ‘ulu (breadfruit) trees and expect to harvest 1M 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.
“Food hubs are the cog in the wheel of our local food system,” says Rachel Kaiama, destination manager of the Island of Hawaiʻi Vistitors Bureau. “They are the engine improving our local food security.” 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.