Farm Friday: This Warehouse in Kaka‘ako is Growing a Tiny Vegetable Garden Indoors
Growing high-end microgreens and shoots in a warehouse in this urban center.
Kerry Kakazu, owner of MetroGrow Hawai‘i in Kaka‘ako, stands in front of one of his indoor hydroponic units growing Salanova sweet crisp lettuce. This is the first urban farm of this type in Hawai‘i.
Photos: Catherine Toth Fox
The small second-story warehouse space in Kaka‘ako is crammed with floor-to-ceiling racks. On these shelves are plastic tubs on which sit neat rows of green plants growing hydroponically under multicolored LED lights.
And, no, these aren’t marijuana plants.
These are specialty lettuces, microgreens and other crops, all grown in what’s considered the first urban indoor farm in Hawai‘i.
Kerry Kakazu started MetroGrow Hawai‘i in 2014, converting a 400-square-foot space in a small warehouse in Kaka‘ako into a vertically integrated aeroponic and hydroponic operation. It’s a one-man farm, with Kakazu doing everything from research to harvesting to delivering crops to nearby restaurants on his bike.
Using hydroponic growing methods and LED lights, Kakazu is able to produce a variety of specialty greens, including this butter lettuce.
This is micro sorrel, a perennial herb.
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-event 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 help with anxiety.
His most popular crop lately is the ice plant, or glacier lettuce, which tastes a bit like salty sea asparagus. And, lately, he’s been experimenting with other crops, such as cold-weather mâche, miner’s lettuce and wasabi.
The popular ice plant, growing under red and blue LED lights.
Kakazu does everything here, from research to harvesting to delivering his products to restaurants.
Another popular crop with chefs are these corn shoots, grown in the dark to maintain their yellow color.
Kakazu is experimenting with other crops, such as the medicinal gotu kola.
“I really enjoy the technical part (of this kind of farming),” says Kakazu, who has 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.”
Demand for his specialty products is growing, and Kakazu is already looking for a bigger space for his urban operation and hiring interns to help out.
“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. The biggest hurdle [for all kinds of farming] will be price competition. Large Mainland and foreign farms can often still sell for less than local producers because of their economies of scale and efficient distribution chains. It will take education and awareness of the higher quality of the local produce to show that the local product is still a good value at a higher price.”
Farm Friday is an occasional feature that highlights Hawai‘i’s vibrant and diverse agricultural industry. Every month we will visit farms, talk to food producers and discuss issues that affect the community from which our food comes.