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 PROBIOTIC FARMER
Counter Culture Food + Ferment
Rob Barreca harvests green onions in Waialua. The co-owner of Counter Culture Food + Ferments got free use of 5 acres of farmland by winning second place in the Mahi‘ai Match-Up Agricultural Business Plan Contest sponsored by Kamehameha Schools.
Rob Barreca pulls up in a beater Toyota topped with surf racks. He’s on his iPhone, Facetiming his partner, Daniel Leas, who’s harvesting dry beans at a nearby plot of land in Waialua.
“Should I pick ’em?” Leas asks Barreca.
“I’d wait until the majority of beans are dry,” he replies.
He owns Counter Culture Food + Ferments, a seed-to-countertop fermented foods company based in Waialua that started in 2013, and operates it with Leas. Barreca, a graduate of the GoFarm Hawai‘i Program, turns local produce into probiotic, fermented goods that include kim chee, sauerkraut and tempeh sold at farmers markets, at the Waimānalo Market Co-op and in CSA boxes. Last year, he won second place in the annual Mahi‘ai Match-Up Agricultural Business Plan Contest sponsored by Kamehameha Schools and the Pauahi Foundation. He was awarded $15,000 and the free use of a 5-acre parcel in Waialua for five years to grow the ingredients they ferment.
He only received the parcel this year and haven’t been able to grow anything yet. But he is leasing a half-acre plot nearby, where they are growing onions, beans, tomatoes, flint corn (a variant of maize), fennel, cabbage, kohlrabi and cassava. The plan was never to sell fresh produce but to use what he grows for fermented foods.
“I’ve always been interested in the culinary side of [farming],” says Barreca, 34, a web designer who originally moved to Hawai‘i in 2007 to be part of a crowd-funded internet startup. “It’s fun to make something interesting out of what you grow.”
The goal is to get the farm running, then expand the fermented offerings and maybe start a ferment-of-the-month club for regular customers.
Barreca credits his year with the GoFarm program for helping him navigate this career change. The intensive program is offered on O‘ahu and Maui through community colleges and on Hawai‘i Island through The Kohala Center. It gives prospective farmers the chance to see if they have what it takes to become commercial food producers.
Not only did he gain practical, hands-on experience, he met Bost and other budding farmers, which led him to launch Farm Link Hawai‘i, a web platform created to connect small farms with buyers. These farmers post their available crops with prices every week on the site and wholesale customers such as restaurants and small stores can order and have the products delivered.
“Being an ex-tech guy, this made sense,” he says. “The internet is great at solving issues like these.”