Order Maui Nui Venison Online For Your Shelter in Place Cooking
“There’s no other resource we can call on to produce quicker”: Maui Nui Venison harvests an invasive species for the community.
Rack of venison
Photo: courtesy of Maui Nui Venison
On Maui, there is a food resource that is literally running wild: deer. As food banks see a 30% increase in need, a number that is only rising, “we can’t ask farmers to grow lettuce quicker, ranchers to overharvest cows, but we can harvest more deer,” says Jacob Muise of Maui Nui Venison. “Outside of asking our fishermen to increase their capacity and donate to our communities, there’s no other resource we can call on to produce quicker.” With the help of volunteer hunters, Maui Nui Venison has so far donated 7,000 pounds of venison to the Maui Food Bank and other community groups. “We got 40,000 deer on Maui and our efforts don’t even come close to managing the invasive species.”
Deer were originally brought to the Islands by King Kamehameha V in 1868; without natural predators they multiplied, and today, particularly on Maui, deer trample native ecosystems and leap over fences to feast on ranch land. Muise, a hunter who helps the state manage deer populations, sold the culled deer for pet food before he lit upon the idea to sell it for human consumption. It makes sense: Axis deer is delicious. In a survey by the Exotic Wildlife Association, axis deer ranked as the top game meat in taste. It’s more tender than most game meats but is still leaner and lower in saturated fats than beef. So in 2014, Muise started offering USDA-certified wild deer meat to restaurants, from Alan Wong’s to Mama’s Fish House.
In addition to donating to Maui Food Bank, Maui Nui Venison has just opened an online marketplace to deliver venison for your shelter in place needs. There are two options: a Starter Box with 4 pounds of ground venison and 2 pounds of stew meat for $99; and a Fresh Box that includes strip loins, racks, leg medallions, ground venison and stew meat, about 13 pounds total, for $240. While these packages are offered at a 25% discount from Maui Nui’s usual rates, USDA-inspected venison tends to be more expensive than more common meats like pork and beef. Culling deer for commercial sales requires a USDA inspector to follow the hunter into the field—usually in the middle of the night, which means overtime rates on top of the $90/hour inspector rate—to ensure the deer is killed quickly and brought directly to a mobile processing facility. The deer is then sent to a butcher in Portland, Oregon, to break down the carcass into more recognizable cuts because, according to Muise, the facilities in Hawai‘i don’t have the certification and capacity to handle venison. He hopes, though, as Maui Nui Venison scales up in the next few years, to be able to process all the meat on Maui.
“This is a conversation of taking a feral problem and invasive species to feed the community,” says Muise. “It’ll be an interesting couple of months. It’s very poor business planning, but it’s the right thing to do. We’re just going to pick up the pieces after.”