A New Crop of Farmers Are Growing Fresh Local Food Through Innovative Methods
A new crop of farmers looks to grow fresh local food by trying new agricultural methods. The result? Mushrooms, goat cheese, microgreens and more.
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THE MUSHROOM FARMER
Small Kine Farm
Left: While running a recycling company, Fung Yang realized he could use the organic waste from the trash he was collecting as fertilizer for mushrooms. Right: Certified organic portabella mushrooms from Small Kine Farm.
Fung Yang was running O‘ahu Community Recycling—picking up green waste around the island and recycling it—when he had an idea. Turns out the bulk of the trash he was collecting was organic waste which could be turned into fertilizer. And that waste creates a nutrient-rich, heat-pasteurized compost ideal for growing mushrooms.
In 2008, Yang leased less than an acre of land in the back of Waimānalo and started Small Kine Farm, the first certified organic portabella mushroom farm on O‘ahu. His crimini mushrooms, which he calls keiki portabella, have a lighter flavor and crisper texture. The larger ones—or tūtū portabella—are at least four inches in diameter and robust in flavor. He grows a few thousand pounds of mushrooms a month, supplying specialty grocers, local restaurants such as Alan Wong’s and Town, and farmers markets. Keiki portabella cost $80 for a 10-pound case; tūtū portabella are $45 for a five-pound case.
This summer, he started running tours and hosting farm dinners.
Business is going so well, he’s planning to expand his operations on some vacant land next door. But his goal has never changed: to replace all imported mushrooms with locally grown ones. (Hawai‘i brings in roughly 2 million pounds of button mushrooms a year.)
“When you see our mushrooms, they were probably picked that day or the day before,” says Yang, 47. “They’re super fresh and certified organic. You can’t get better than that.”
THE HIGH-TECH FARMER
Greens growing hydroponically at MetroGrow Hawai‘i.
Kerry Kakazu left his job at the UH Cancer Center to grow specialty greens in an indoor, vertical aeroponic farm in Kaka‘ako.
Kerry Kakazu, 58, wanted a lifestyle change.
So, in 2014, he leased a 400-square-foot space in a small warehouse in Kaka‘ako and converted it into a vertically integrated aeroponic and hydroponic operation. MetroGrow Hawai‘i is a one-man farm, with Kakazu doing everything from research to harvesting to delivering crops to nearby restaurants on his bike.
“I really enjoy the technical part [of this kind of farming],” says Kakazu, who previously worked as a special projects manager at the University of Hawai‘i Cancer Center and holds degrees in biology and plant physiology. “I’m a techie nerd, so I enjoy trying to optimize everything … But it’s still a biological system. You think you can control it, but no.”
His small, second-story warehouse space is crammed with floor-to-ceiling racks. On these shelves sit plastic tubs filled with neat rows of specialty lettuces, microgreens and other crops growing hydroponically under multicolored LED lights.
Demand for his specialty products is growing, and Kakazu is already looking for a bigger space for his urban operation, refining his business plan, talking with investors and hiring interns to help out.
Right now, he regularly supplies greens to Stage Restaurant, Tango Contemporary Café, Vino Italian Tapas and Wine Bar, Yohei Sushi and Teppanyaki Ginza Onodera. Chef Ed Kenney has used his green onions and micro scallions in his restaurants, and chef Chris Kajioka has ordered pea tendrils, chervil, microgreens and micro sorrel for some pop-up events. Kakazu is now working with a local herbology store to grow medicinal plants such as gotu kola, which has been used to treat varicose veins, heal wounds and ease anxiety.
His most popular crop lately is the ice plant, or glacier lettuce, which tastes a bit like salty sea asparagus. And he’s been experimenting with other crops, such as cold-weather mâche, miner’s lettuce and wasabi.
“I believe that there will be a need for urban, indoor farming to supplement traditional growing,” Kakazu says. “If renewable-energy sources can be utilized, it can be a practical adjunct to more traditional farming. It will also conserve water, reduce pesticide usage, pollute less and prevent soil degradation. It can only help better Hawai‘i’s food production self-sufficiency.”