Farmers from around West Hawaii descended on a small warehouse Thursday morning in Kealakekua dropping off Big Island-grown produce including poha berries, rambutan, turnips, loquat, edible fuschia, rose and nasturtium flowers, turmeric and bananas.
All the fresh produce is harvested by 30 to 40 farmers — small one-product operations to 18-acre full-fledged farming operations — and twice each week dropped off at Adaptations Inc.’s warehouse or picked up by the company for distribution, said Maureen Datta, owner of Adaptations Inc.
Adaptations works with more than 150 Hawaii Island farmers, including its own Adaptations certified organic 7.5-acre farm in Honaunau, to ensure a continuous supply of locally grown items for residents and businesses.
From the 1,600-square-foot building, tucked below Mamalahoa Highway, Adaptations, which has become a local “food hub,” distributes the goods to some 65 families, 13 natural foods stores and 60 restaurants. Some produce is transported to 10 establishments on Oahu, two on Kauai, four on Maui and two on Lanai, she said. Adaptations also provides fresh produce to Kona Pacific Public Charter School and ships to the mainland frozen night-blooming cereus to be processed into a medicinal product.
“It’s the security in knowing that you’re getting local produce. You can go to a local farmers market but they may not have enough supply,” Datta said about what draws people and businesses to the company’s locally sourced offerings. “This is just a way to secure it in advance and know that it will be there to enjoy.”
The concept for Adaptations Inc. began around 1984, when Maureen’s later-to-be-husband, Tane, developed a relationship to provide locally grown produce to Hawaii Regional Cuisine pioneer and former Mauna Lani chef Peter Merriman, who in 1988 opened his flagship restaurant Merriman’s Waimea featuring locally grown items. At the time, Honaunau-based Adaptations, Sun Bear Produce Inc., Island Herbs and Kuhuku were involved.
By 1992, the four farms were supplying about five Hawaii Island restaurants up to twice a week, prompting the Dattas to take the business to the next level with incorporation, she said. In the following years, Datta said, demand for locally grown produce grew among residents who wanted fresh vegetables and fruit for their own kitchens.
Looking for a way to meet the need, the Dattas in 1996 turned to community supported agriculture. The CSA approach, she said, helped support more farmers, promoted food security for Hawaii Island and was in line with the business’ mission to “engage in ecologically sound community and land development based on organic farming, alternative energy and complementary medicine.”
Community supported agriculture originated in Japan in the early 1970s, came to the United States in 1985, and has experienced rapid growth and evolution since then, Datta said. By supporting a network of family farms directly, CSAs help secure the agricultural integrity of the island while lowering the carbon footprint because the offerings are locally sourced rather than imported to the island.
“Traditionally, farmers had to come up with money for seed and labor,” she explained. “So, neighbors would agree to put in a certain amount of ‘seed money’ to have a ‘share’ in the harvest.”
By members paying in advance, the neighbors reflect the risk farmers take to plant, tend and harvest crops, Datta said. The advance payments help farmers stabilize their financial situation, offer crop flexibility and allow them to concentrate on growing their crops.
“It expects that the consumer is sharing in the risk. Farming isn’t always easy and there are setbacks,” she said about the assistance the CSA model provides farmers in the case of delays in harvest, such as is currently happening with tomatoes along the Hamakua Coast because of recent storms. “It gives some flexibility.”
For about the first decade, Adaptations Inc.’s Fresh Feast CSA program intentionally kept the number of people it provided “shares” of the harvest under the CSA model to just five to 10 families, Datta said. That was because of limitations in managing the system.
About two years ago, the company switched to a computer- and Web-based system, increasing the business’ ability to take on more members. Adaptations Inc. Community Supported Agriculture now delivers “shares” or “feasts” to 65 customers who pick up a box of fresh produce Tuesdays and Fridays at predetermined times and locations in West Hawaii.
“We’ve probably more than doubled in the last year alone,” she said.
The customers, referred to as families, choose from one of three produce options offered by Adaptations each costing between $22 and $35.
The $22 “Basic Feast” features head lettuce, tomatoes and a selection of four to six vegetables and fruits such as broccoli, cucumbers, sweet corn, avocado, dragon fruit, papaya and banana. The $35 “Gourmet Feast” adds to the “Basic Feast” three to four items considered exotic and not commonly found in standard home use. A $25 “Custom Feast” allows the member the option to exchange and select the items that come in the “Basic Feast.”
Though ready to accept more members into the CSA, Datta said the CSA needs more farmers to meet the demand. Interested farmers, especially those growing vegetables such as green and yellow beans, tomatoes, carrots, cabbage and eggplant, are encouraged to contact Adaptations via email to email@example.com or call the office at 324-6600.
“The supply side has always been the restraining factor in our growth,” she said. “But, we are still taking on new families.”
For more information including how to get involved in the CSA, visit the company’s website at adaptations-aloha.com.