Teaching business of ‘locally grown’

PUHI — A salad can be just greens, or elaborate with exotic combinations of color, taste, texture, said Joan Namkoong.

Namkoong, a food writer from the Big Island, joined farmer and owner of Nalu Farms, Dean Okimoto, in a presentation to Kaua‘i Community College culinary arts students on “Salads: Understanding Greens: Growing, Handling and Preparation.”

The presentation was sponsored by the Hale ‘Aina ‘Ohana, a non-profit organization dedicated to championing the culinary industry in Hawai‘i.

Okimoto, who said his original intent was to study law, said he was about ready to give up farming when he met Roy Yamaguchi.

Today, Nalo Farms, located in the Waimanalo area of O‘ahu, produces about 3,000 pounds of greens each week on four acres, rotating through 35 and 40 crops which he supplies primarily to restaurants on O‘ahu and Maui.

Okimoto, also the president of the Hawai‘i Farm Bureau Federation, said they recently acquired 12 additional acres and only this week, started seeding the added acreage with the intent of being able to supply some of the supermarkets with produce that have been met with success at the restaurant level.

“Currently, Nalo Farms distributes sprouts, micro greens and baby vegetables, but we’re looking for something in between,” Okimoto said, prompting one of the KCC culinary arts students to interject, “Midgets.”

Okimoto, in partnering with Yamaguchi, is currently working to expand its line of bottled salad dressings and sauces.

Currently, the farmer-and-chef team has three bottled salad dressings available at major supermarkets throughout the state, but plan an expansion to include sauces such as misoyaki and other local favorites.

At the encouragement of Namkoong, Okimoto said Nalo Farms started selling at the farmers market, and today, are at three farmers markets on O‘ahu.

“I really believe that if people taste local products side-by-side with Mainland stuff, they are able to see the difference,” Okimoto said.

The benefits of locally-grown produce is freshness, taste and nutrition, Okimoto said, pointing out that it takes about a week for Mainland grown produce to get to market shelves.

Using an example of fresh asparagus, Okimoto said the vegetable continues to grow while it’s being processed and shipped, and chefs cut off a part of it before using.

“That woody part represents the growth between the time of harvest and use,” Okimoto said. “The more you cut, the longer it took to get from the field. Local asparagus have nothing to cut.”

That represents one of the aspects of Nalo Farms where Okimoto said crews are at work, rain or shine because restaurants order on a daily basis, and diners eat, rain or shine.

Making adjustments for the length of daylight, Nalo Farms harvests in the morning, packs at midday and delivers in the afternoon so diners can enjoy produce that is freshly-harvested.

Other aspects affecting taste and texture are variety and location where produce is grown, Namkoong said, guiding students through a tomato testing with four different types of tomatoes from four different producers.

Those represented different varieties, but all grown hydroponically in differing conditions: some covered, some outdoors.

“Some are grown for taste, while some are grown for looks,” Namkoong said.

Okimoto added that 90 percent of the tomatoes shoppers find today are grown locally.

He suggested that shoppers leave the tomatoes out on the kitchen counter to ripen to their full potential, rather than tossing them into the refrigerator where the flesh will start getting soft without ripening. By leaving them out until ready to eat, Okimoto said shoppers should be able to get at least a week out of tomatoes purchased at supermarkets.

The pair guided students through taste-testing various greens produced by Nalo Farms and guided them through a session on working with locally-produced goat cheese, hearts of palm and some unique salad greens.

Hayley Matson-Mathes of Hale ‘Aina ‘Ohana said the workshop, this one labeled “Center of the Plate,” is a way to increase educational opportunities for Neighbor Island culinary students.

Following the KCC presentation, Mark Oyama, one of the KCC culinary arts instructors, said the pair were scheduled to do a similar presentation for students at Kalaheo School.

• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@kauaipubco.com

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