HAWAI‘I ISLAND—A new collaboration between the Mauna Kea Resort and the Kohala Food Hub (KFH) is stepping up the use of food grown by Kohala farmers.

The Hāwī-based KFH aggregates and markets food for small and mid-scale farmers who use regenerative and organic management practices. The fresh food is sold to island resorts, restaurants and residents who purchase a weekly Multi-Farm CSA subscription or buy food through KFH’s Online Marketplace.

“I think there’s a special bond between Mauna Kea Resort and the Kohala community due to our proximity and that a large number of Kohala residents work at the resort, says Maya Parish, director of KFH. 

And while the Mauna Kea Resort—with its Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and Westin Hapuna Beach Resort—is already a leader in local food procurement, the push to buy more from KFH came about during a March 2023 gathering of the North Kohala Community Development Plan’s Agricultural Subcommittee meeting. 

During the meeting, Parish first discussed a shared vision of stimulating more local food production with Mauna Kea Resort VP of Operations Craig Anderson and Executive Chef Peter Abarcar Jr. With the idea to increase the resort’s Kohala-based food purchasing, subsequent meetings detailed the specifics of local purchasing, including the resort’s needs, products it currently sources from the Continental U.S. and those the resort would like to replace with local ones.

“On the food hub’s end, our goals are to create consistent standing resort orders that our farmers can count on and plant out for,” details Parish. “This will stimulate more regional food production, increasing revenue for our farmers and providing consistent quality and volume that the resort can depend on.” 

In addition, another identified goal includes providing an example to other reseorts in the Kona and Kohala Districts to also “join more deeply” in supporting locally based farmers with their significant collective purchasing power.

“We were always heavy into purchasing local but it seemed after COVID, we had to do everything in our power to strengthen food security and the way we can do that is though our dollars,” notes Todd Oldham, Mauna Kea Resort food and beverage director. “When we buy local products, the money stays here and helps someone keep their land and expand to grow more food.” 

Oldham, a former chef who grew up with an agricultural background in Pennsylvania, shares a resort mission is to increase the use of local food. “It’s not just a verbal think; we do strategy sessions on how to increase local food usage, what steps we need to take and the initiatives needed.”

With the collaboration starting in August, Mauna Kea Resort is currently purchasing around 450 pounds of produce weekly from KFH, initially using what farmers already had growing—grapefruit, dragon fruit, navel oranges, starfruit, bananas, green leaf and romaine lettuces. Now KFH is asking its farmer network to plant out crops specifically to supply the resort’s stated needs—carrots, eggplant, broccoli, cabbage and green beans— while negotiating price points that work for all. 

“Challenges include meeting price points for fresh produce that is offered by distributors and farmers based in the continental U.S. that operate at a larger scale,” details Parish. “They aren’t having to pay the high prices here for energy, water, inputs, labor and fuel.”

KFH is also tasked with building up enough redundancy and reliability within its island-wide producer network to fulfill resort orders as farmers can experience crop loss due to weather, pests, the high cost of housing and lack of workforce.

Chef Peter Abarcar Jr. says a challenge of buying local is educating his culinary staff on the benefits of using new products. “Sometimes the cookie cutter tomato or unblemished banana is necessary, but fresh, local food tastes better and is better for you,” he emphasizes, pointing out food traveling from the Mainland can be chemically altered to increase its longevity. “Local food has a better shelf life, better carbon footprint and helps our local economy.”

Chef Abarcar, who hails from Hawai‘i Island, claims using local products is a learning curve for his international chefs, but once they are open to it, they find there’s something special in using products grown within our host community. He recalls well-known Hawai‘i Chef Alan Wong saying, “ I love to bring in ammunition to the kitchen, in the form of local products, to challenge the mind.” 

Citing the example of introducing locally grown pipinola to staff, Chef Abarcar relays how he tells staff all the ways the squash can be cooked and used, and while it excites them, he admits “sometimes using something new can be daunting.”  

“I encourage them to use local tree tomatoes, surinam cherries, ‘ulu (breadfruit), hōi‘o (fern shoots) and local proteins,” continues Abarcar. “My personal goal, and that of the resort, is to replace food shipped in from outside of the Hawaiian Islands, as much as possible, with locally grown.”

And while Chef acknowledges some products, like large quantities of russet potatoes, will need to be shipped in, he wants to keep encouraging chefs to use local products so farmers can grow them. 

“We have got to be able to survive on what we can grow here and diversification of crops is how we do it,” Abarcar concludes.

Douglass Adams, director of Hawai‘i Countyʻs Department of Research and Development, says the strengthened partnerships between local agricultural producers and the visitor industry is one of the many positive outcomes of county-wide and regional food system planning proccesses. 

“We commend the commitment and dedication of the farmers, chefs and resort leadership that enables these collaborations to flourish,” notes Adams. “We recognize the unique and important role that food hubs on our island play in streamlining marketing and distribution for farmers, providing local products for resorts and restaurants, and increasing food access in our communities.” 

To reach Hawai‘i Islandʻs six food hubs, contact the following:

Kohala Food Hub: www.kohalafoodhub.com

Adaptations Inc: https://adaptationsaloha.com

Hawai‘i ʻUlu Cooperative: https://eatbreadfruit.com

Hoʻōla Farms: www.hoolafarms.org

OK Farms Food Hub: www.hawaii-eco.com

Hawaiʻi Food Basket Da Box CSA: www.daboxbigisland.org

Sponsored by the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority (HTA), this Island of Hawai‘i Visitor Bureau (IHVB) communication initiative was created to mālama ku‘u home and in support of our Hawai‘i Island residents, farmers and hospitality industry employees. @hawaii_island_dmap @hawaiihta