Farm Friday: Visiting Sweet Land Farm in Waialua
A look inside the only certified commercial goat dairy farm on O‘ahu.
One of the more than 60 goats Emma Bello raises on her dairy goat farm, Sweet Land Farm, in Waialua. And they all have their own personalities.
Photos: Catherine Toth Fox
Emma Bello knows the name of every goat at her Waialua farm.
She knows their personalities, too.
Rain is shy and cautious. Buttercup is mellow. And Chanel, that girl loves attention.
“Every single goat is different,” says Bello, as Eugenia, a pushy, white Saanen-Nubian tries to bite my pen as I take notes. (She’s a biter.) “Some are shier. Some like to lick. One of my dairy girls always scratches herself against me. This other one always steps up to the gate like she’s the gatekeeper. Some are more vocal than others. They all grow up together, so they have their little cliques. It’s like high school in here.”
Bello and her first goat, Max, a 3-year-old purebred Saanen, the largest of the dairy-goat breeds.
This pen holds 27 female dairy goats, all 8 months old. Each one has a name—and Bello knows them all.
Bello, 25, runs Sweet Land Farm, the only certified goat dairy on O‘ahu, which sprawls across 86 acres of old pineapple land in Waialua. Right now, she has more than 60 goats of various breeds, including Alpine, La Mancha, Kiko and Nubian. While most are dairy goats, she does raise a few for meat. (Those, she doesn’t name.)
Bello produces handmade farmstead goat cheese—called chèvre—aged feta, and goat-milk products here. She sells her various flavors of spreadable chèvre—sun-dried tomato, roasted garlic, olive and, the most popular, green onion—at two farmers markets on O‘ahu. In a few weeks, her spreads will be sold at Whole Foods Markets in Kāhala and Kailua. Right now, chefs Alan Wong and Ed Kenney buy her chèvre—plain—for their restaurants.
The spreadable chèvre that Bello makes and sells. A 4-ounce container cost $5, 8 ounces for $10. Right now, she sells them at two farmers markets on O‘ahu. But soon, they will be at Whole Foods in Kāhala and Kailua, too.
Soon, she plans to add tomme (a type of cheese), caramel sauce, cheesecake and ice cream to her product list, once the commercial kitchen inside the creamery is finished.
Not that she doesn’t already have a busy enough schedule caring for her goats, from milking them twice a day—6 a.m. and 6 p.m.—to caring for newborn kids, the four-legged kind.
But she would like to ramp up her milk production. Right now, Bello milks about 30 goats in her high-tech milking parlor, which can milk up to 16 goats in just a couple of minutes. She’d like to be milking 300. (On average, each goat produces between one and two gallons of milk a day.)
Inside the milking parlor at Sweet Land Farm. It takes just a few minutes to milk 16 goats here. Each goat, on average, produces between one and two gallons of milk a day.
So why goats?
Bello, who grew up in Wahiawā, remembers visiting her aunt’s cow dairy in Tillamook, Ore. as a kid on summer breaks. Her aunt also had Nigerian dwarves, a miniature dairy goat breed that became popular pets because of their size and gentle demeanor.
“They were so adorable,” she says. “I never thought about [raising] goats then, but I thought they were pretty cool.”
When she was a student in the culinary program at Leeward Community College a few years ago, Bello got a summer job working at the Surfing Goat Dairy in Kula, Maui. That’s when it became clear: “I loved goats,” she says. “I realized I didn’t want to be in a kitchen all day. I knew I wanted to pursue this.”
She earned more experience at Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery in Sebastopol, Calif., an award-winning goat dairy farm and creamery that specializes in artisanal goat cheese, yogurt and kefir (a fermented milk drink). It was from this farm—and Kaua‘i Kunana Dairy—that she got her first goats.
Bello’s 86-acre farm is located in Waialua, next to a cabbage farm and Hawaiian Earth Products.
Her parents, Eric and Mary Bello, run a successful architectural woodwork company called Bello’s Millwork. But they both have agricultural backgrounds. (Both majored in poultry science in college and worked at chicken farms. Mary is part of the Petersons’ Upland Farm family.) So, when Bello expressed an interest in farming, they were happy to support her dream.
Her parents and her brother, Austin, all help out at the farm. Her mom makes the caramel sauce. Her dad wants to build a cave in the ground to age cheese. Her brother has plans to farm the land, including growing silage for feed. They’re also talking about a retail store, a café and, of course, farm tours.
“This is really my dream come true,” she says.
Sweet Land Farm, 65-1031 A Kaukonahua Road in Waialua. Find this farm’s products at the Wahiawā Farmers Market (4:30 to 6 p.m. Thursdays) at the Wahiawā Hongwanji Mission parking lot, the Mililani Farmers Market (8 to 11 a.m. Sundays) at Mililani High School, and soon at Whole Foods in Kailua and Kāhala. Visit its Facebook page for more information.
This is the first of an occasional feature called Farm Friday, which 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.