Creating a Sustainable Future for Kauai

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Kauai is an isolated island and 85- 90% of food is imported. These are problems that degrade the island’s economic and environmental sustainability (1). By focusing more on “eating local”, consumers could create a demand that farmers in the area could respond to. The way food is grown, distributed, and eaten affects the environmental, social, spiritual, and economic well being of the surrounding local communities. The implementation of a sustainable, local food system not only creates a healthier population, but can be economically beneficial for both the farmer and the consumer (3). Food networks such as Community Supported Agriculture and Farmer’s Markets are great alternatives to consuming imported foods on Kauai.

Consumers in Kauai prefer to eat local, however availability and convenience are two major factors affecting sustainability on Kauai. “Food Production at an economic level depends as much on demand creating markets as it does on production creating the supply. Farmers have to be responsive to what consumers demand” (3).  In order for local to work, especially when competing with larger or industrial-scale producers, it has to control costs, and among the most obvious costs incurred in our food system are in the supply and distribution chain. This includes merchants, transporters, processors, packagers, and advertisers who thrive at the expense of both producers and consumers (4).

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Carolyn Ornellas, founder of Da Food Chain is working hard to meet local demands and make organic produce more accessible to the population of Kauai. By offering convenient 24-7 online shopping and home delivery (without a fee), of organic produce, Ornellas has found a convenient way to bring consumers closer to the origins of their food. This helps minimize food miles which is valuable to the Kauai consumer, the farmer, and in supporting the local community.

Prior to founding Da Food Chain, Carolyn was shopping at local harvest markets, selling sweet corn on the side of the road during Indiana summers, and working at a real-life hippie co-op while attending Indiana University-Bloomington. She travelled extensively to France, where she developed a palate for what she calls “real food”. In 2007 she relocated to Kauai, and began shopping at the local farmer’s markets. This is where she began observing the local shopping behavior. She noticed the cycles of niche crops that quickly lost their high value as soon as the market was flooded the next season. At the end of the markets, she quickly became aware of the pain points for the farmers. Whatever was not sold or could not be saved for the next day was “shrinkage”. This wasted food was either eaten, given away, or composted. Kauai’s warm and wet climate accelerates spoilage and increases inventory shrinkage. It wasn’t long before Carolyn was trying to provide a viable solution to these problems. Carolyn had always known she would pursue something that would be of service to people, and ethical food was the perfect fit.

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(Taro Fields)

Da Food Chain consists of Carolyn, one employee, and the farmers. By keeping in close contact with the farmers, they discuss what is in season, and do their best to provide these products to people in the local area. For fresh produce, they use “just-in-time” inventory and literally receive or pick up straight from the farm the day of delivery. They have a packing headquarters where orders are assembled, and loaded for delivery.  Because of the many challenges of Hawaii including the high cost of real estate, among others, they are always trying to be lightweight, more streamlined, and think laterally when it comes to planning and problem solving.

Da Food Chain has strict parameters that farms and producers must abide by. They must be transparent and open about best practices. As a rule of thumb, all farms and producers must use organic practices or ingredients. They pace their growth to match their quality of service, and what farmers can actually produce. As Carolyn says, “There is a fine line between supply and demand, and balance is everything. As such patience is an essential element. It’s called slow food for a reason. Nature has its own schedule. We do our best to keep her time. Small is beautiful and you gotta walk before your can run could be our official motto”.  For the supply side farmers are in the driver’s seat, they choose what to grow and how much, and they name their price. But recently there has been a shift, and trying requests. Carolyn has been working with one farmer in particular, Farmer Ken. This farm-request trial has been working out well, and moving forward, they are trying to plan to transition more along those lines.

Da Food Chain shortens the food supply chain, aids in minimizing food waste by delivering produce the same day as pick up from the farmers, and provides a convenient inexpensive way to “eat local” in Kauai. I personally utilize their services, and know first hand how valuable this alternative food network is to the east side consumers and local Kauai communities.

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“Farmers come from all walks of life, but we work with people who eat what they grow and tend to eat it very fresh and full of life. Each has their own back story and motivation for growing organically (more or less ‘certified’), yet the end result is the same, good, clean food, and that’s what counts.” -Carolyn Ornellas

References:

  • http://malamakauai.org/docs/MK-FarmFindingsFinal.pdf
  • Feenstra, G. (1997). Local Food Systems and Sustainable Communities. American Journal of Alternative Agriculture, 12(01), 28-36.
  • Hamilton, N. (1994) Agriculture without Farmers? Is Industrialization Restructuring American Food Production and Threatening the Future of Sustainable Agriculture? 14 N. III. U.L. REV. 613
  • Giovannucci, D., Barham, E. & Pirog, R. (2010) Defining and Marketing “Local” Foods: Geographical Indications for US Products. The Journal of World Intellectual Property. Vol. 12, N. 2, pp. 94-120. Doi: 10.1111/j.1747-1796.2009.00370.x
  • http://dafoodchain.com

 

 

 

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