The Kaua’i County Council may be asking Mayor Bryan Baptiste to consider expanding the county’s Sunshine Market program — a 27-year undertaking government officials say has helped island farmers remain financially viable for nearly 30 years.
In the first 27 years of its life, the markets, found throughout the island, have provided an outlet for locallygrown fruits and vegetables, thereby helping to strengthen the island’s diversified agricultural industry.
At a meeting of the council at the historic County Building Wednesday, legislators and Beth Tokioka, the head of the county’s Office of Economic Development, discussed the possibility of tweaking the program to allow the sale of island-generated, processed agricultural products at the Sunshine Market sites. The products include honey and goat cheese.
The sale of such products could help the Sunshine Market program become an even bigger success story, and expose more Kaua’i-made products nationally and internationally, Tokioka said.
The legislators wanted to study the proposal further and took no action.
The possibility of allowing the sale of processed goods at the county-sponsored markets was taken up in a resolution proposed by councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura.
Tokioka thanked the council for supporting the current Sunshine Market program for so many years, but the time has come to modify it, she says, due to the success of the current program and new consumer demands.
“It is just that it has come to the point where it needs to be reevaluated,” Tokioka said.
The resolution would have no binding action if approved, but merely requests Baptiste set up a process to get input from vendors and others before further thought is given to approving the changes.
Council Vice Chair James Tokioka said, while the concept has merit, he noted he didn’t want the proposal forced upon the existing vendors if they didn’t want such products sold at the markets.
Before any changes occur, a survey has to be taken among vendors who operate at Sunshine Market sites located in Lihu’e, Kalaheo, Kapa’a, Kekaha, Koloa, Hanapepe, Wailua and Kilauea, Tokioka said.
He said he needed to get “feedback” from the vendors, and “the details” of the proposed changes have to be fleshed out before he could support the resolution.
The proposal has not drawn support from all the market vendors, Beth Tokioka said.
The few she spoke with said they “are resistant” not because the proposal is a bad idea, but because they would rather stick with the original focus of the market — that of selling only surplus vegetables and fruits to residents and visitors at discounted prices, she said.
Keeping the vendors in the loop on the proposed changes could bring greater receptivity of the proposal, Beth Tokioka said.
“We need to engage them in the process and make sure all the stakeholders feel good about any changes that come about, feel they have had input into the process,” Tokioka said.
Councilman Mel Rapozo said island farmers don’t necessarily support the proposal, adding, “I don’t know if it is wise to expand it to change what the original intent was of the market.”
Kaua’i Farm Bureau official Roy Oyama said selling honey, for instance, at the market sites could lead to improprieties.
In a letter from Oyama to Rapozo, Oyama states he was concerned that the repackaging of large amounts of honey into small containers could result in “getting away from regulations.” Rapozo also said the changes, if implemented, could bring in wholesalers who could make easy business at the markets, hurting backyard farmers attempting to sell processed agricultural goods.
Rapozo said he agreed with Oyama’s recommendation to create a special committee of farmers whose goal would be to “keep the Sunshine Market philosophy and the feeling, still going.”
“Although it (the existing program) is good, I think (implementation of the changes) takes away from the real culture that Kaua’i has to offer,” Rapozo said.
Beth Tokioka also said the expanded Sunshine Market program could work hand-in-hand with the Kaua’i-Made program to market Kaua’i products nationally and internationally.
Before talk of expanding the Sunshine Market sites goes on, attention should be focused on improving traffic flow at the Sunshine Market site located at the Kapa’a New Park, said councilwoman Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho.
Traffic becomes horrendous during times the market is held there and when baseball and football games are played there, she said.
“We have got 60 to 70 kids running around, cars trying to get in as quickly as they can,” Iseri-Carvalho said.
Work at the Kapa’a Park development also complicates traffic flow problems around the park, she said.
“There is a lot of illegal parking going on, people just parking all over the place … It really has been a real nightmare.”
If processed agricultural goods are allowed to be sold at the Kapa’a site and other Sunshine Market sites, county leaders should be concerned with liability and the expiration date of the products.
“I want you to ask the county attorney about processed products with implied warranties, and how do the warranties reflect on exposure to the county,” said councilman Jay Furfaro, addressing Beth Tokioka.
She indicated that his concerns and others will be taken up before Yukimura’s resolution is put to a vote.
Louisa Wooton, proprietor of Kunana Dairy in Kilauea, the only dairy on the island, said she has enough insurance to protect against liability claims.
She said her company, which has been in business since the late 1970s, has $1 million in product liability insurance today, and sells to businesses on the North Shore.
She also has three state Department of Health permits that allow her to manufacture and sell her goat cheese.
Wooton submitted a petition asking the council amend its rules to allow for the sale of the processed goods at the market sites.
Councilman Tokioka said while Wooton operates her business in line with all the government rules, and has the necessary state permits, others might not be doing the same, and that is what concerns him.
“I am sure, if you were in there, you would have some concerns about other people who aren’t following the rules the same way that you are now,” Tokioka said.
- Lester Chang, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and lchang@ kauaipubco.com