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Farm Friday: Small Kine Farm in Waimānalo

Since 2008, Fung Yang has been farming certified organic mushrooms—and demand is only growing.


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Fung Yang, owner of Small Kine Farm in Waimānalo, grows two different sizes of portabella mushrooms in organic compost.
Photos: Catherine Toth Fox

 

In the midday heat, Fung Yang, shirtless and wearing board shorts, struggles to remove a hydraulic hose from his Bobcat loader.

 

“You know how much it would cost to have somebody else do this?” he asks. “One hundred dollars an hour … I needed this done, like, yesterday.”

 

This is how Yang works. He rolls up his sleeves—or takes off his shirt—and gets to work.

 

That work ethic and ingenuity have helped him run, since 2008, the only portabella mushroom farm on O‘ahu. Small Kine Farm, hidden on less than an acre of land in the back of Waimānalo, supplies fresh, certified organic mushrooms to specialty grocers, local restaurants and directly to customers at farmers markets. He grows crimini mushrooms—called keiki portabella—which have a lighter flavor and crisper texture, and large portabella mushrooms—or tūtū portabella—which are at least four inches in diameter and robust in flavor.

 

Business is going so well, he’s planning to expand his operations, offer farm tours and host events starting next month.

 

Currently, he grows a few thousand pounds of mushrooms a month. And he sells everything he’s got. But Hawai‘i imports roughly 2 million pounds of button mushrooms—the same family as the portabella—a year. So he figures he’s got room to grow.

 

“My goal is to replace all imported mushrooms with local mushrooms,” he says.

 

Inside Small Kine Farm, which occupies less than an acre in rural Waimānalo.

 

Yang’s plans are to expand his mushroom-growing operation, run farm tours and host events here.

 

Yang didn’t start out as a mushroom farmer. Prior to this, he was running another business, O‘ahu Community Recycling, which offers pickup recycling services around the island. After doing some research, he discovered the bulk of the trash he was collecting was organic waste and could be repurposed as fertilizer. The waste creates a nutrient-rich, heat-pasteurized compost that makes an ideal substrate for growing mushrooms.

 

His teeny farm, located down a muddy road and behind a nursery that grows succulents, has an area where compost is collected and stored and a warehouse where he grows the mushrooms in climate-controlled chillers. He employs two full-time staffers, who do everything from moving compost to harvesting the portabellas.

 

Yang’s long-term goal is to build an automated mushroom house on a vacant plot of land next door and grow up to seven times more mushrooms using robotics. He could use the same number of employees while increasing the output.

 

And the market is there, he says.

 

Already, he supplies several restaurants, including Town, Alan Wong’s and Roy’s Restaurants. His fresh mushrooms are sold at Whole Foods Markets, Foodland, Kokua Market, Down To Earth Organic & Natural and various farmers markets on O‘ahu. And he can’t keep up.

 

“We pick mushrooms every day in Waimānalo,” says Yang, who enjoys his mushrooms grilled on the barbecue with just salt and pepper. “I cannot tell you how fresh they are.”

 

Yang grows two kinds of portabella mushrooms. These are the keiki portabella, better known as crimini mushrooms.

 

Once, a customer challenged him on his mushrooms, saying his pink-gilled portabellas weren’t portabellas at all.

 

“He said portabellas have black gills,” says Yang, who explained to the customer that most mushrooms sold in Hawai‘i have black gills because they’re not locally grown and are at least a week old. “He had never seen fresh portabella mushrooms before. Fresh mushrooms have pink gills. When you see our mushrooms, they were probably picked that day or the day before. They’re super fresh and certified organic. You can’t get better than that.”

 

Keiki portabella cost $80 for a 10-pound case; tūtū portabella are $45 for a five-pound case. For more information, visit smallkinefarm.com.

 

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.

 

READ MORE STORIES BY CATHERINE TOTH FOX

 

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