Ho‘ohanohano i nā mahi‘ai o Hawai‘i

Honoring the Farmers of Hawai‘i

By Chef Ōlelo pa‘a

Do you know how much effort, time, commitment, love and respect is put into Hawai‘i’s sustainable farming? When I pick up produce from these Hawai‘i farms, I see and feel what the farmers and the land go through. Tears roll down my face as I feel the love, passion, and occasional hardship these farmers experience. Yet, they persevere and they continue to farm the land in a nurturing way, and offer beautiful produce to nourish our people.

An effort to raise awareness towards a sustainable future is gaining momentum in Hawai‘i.

“At the moment, 85 percent of our produce is being imported to Hawai‘i” says farmer Dean Okimoto of Nalo Farms, who also serves as president of the Hawai`i Farm Bureau Federation. Dean and other concerned farmers work towards sustainable agriculture.

At a young age, Jill Mattos grew up on a cattle ranch on the Hamakua Coast and still works at a meat processing plant and slaughter house. It is rare to see a woman in this arena, but Jill loves her work. She is the general manager of Hawai‘i Beef Producers, which produces naturally grown grass-fed beef on the Big Island. The beef that is produced is sold in local grocery stores and to the public schools. Mattos supports an experimental rendering plant in Pa‘auilo that will render the inedible leftovers from slaughterhouses, grocery stores and food manufacturing plants to create biodiesel fuel.

“It is very much needed and the State of Hawai‘i has appropriated money for this rendering plant. Presently slaughter facilities dispose the waste in landfills,” she said.

Mattos, a fourth generation Portuguese, remembers her great grandparents being self- sustainable. “They had a mill that ground corn and coffee. They raised cattle and they had a garden in the backyard. They knew how important it was to be self sustainable,” she recalls.

“Take care of the soil so that the soil takes care of the crops,” says Waimea farmer Kurt Hirabara. For many years it has been a goal for Hirabara and his wife Pam to grow as much self-sustaining crops as possible.

Hawai‘i’s Big Island is becoming the center for diverse agriculture. We have 11 of the 13 main climate zones, which results in a vast assortment of crops. Eco-tourism and value-added products such as vanilla, chocolate, honey, wasabi, cinnamon, nutmeg, lavender, mushrooms and many more are creative ways for farms to be sustainable. Honopua Farm, which specializes in lavender, organic vegetables and flowers in Waimea provides popular ag tours by appointment to anyone who wants to learn more. (Email honopua@msn.com)

If you are on Hawai‘i’s Big Island and want to sample and take home some of the incredible, diverse produce being grown here, one of my favorite farmers’ market is the Waimea Hawaiian Homestead Farmers Market in Waimea, held Saturdays from 7 a.m. to noon.

As a chef, I am fortunate and joyful to use the freshest ingredients grown from our ‘āina (land). I take time to examine and adore each product and I look at each creation as a work of art. To start this year in a pono (righteous) way, it was apparent to me to pay tribute to our farmers, they are the heart of Hawai‘i.

E kahe mau ka mana iloko o nā mahi‘ai a i ka ‘āina. (May blessings and mana continue to pour onto our farmers and the lands of Hawai‘i.)