Aaron Leikam, owner and chef of Street Burger, says his restaurant goes through about 500 pounds of locally-grown meat per week.
“I know that the meat is fresh, where it’s coming from, the pasture lands the cows are grazing on,” he said. “If you get stuff from the Mainland, what you’re getting is thousands and thousands of cattle that are ground up. When you make your burger, you don’t know exactly where it’s coming from.”
Using locally-sourced beef for him is important because he said he can actually speak to the people where he’s getting the beef from and find out everything he needs to know about the cattle.
According to a USDA report, about 700,000 pounds of red meat was produced in the state in August. The number equaled last year’s figures. Through the first six months, however, this year’s figure of 5.8 million pounds of red meat production is down from production of 6 million pounds through the first half of last year.
Red meat production includes cattle, hogs, and sheep and lamb, according to the report.
The bulk of the red meat is cattle, which amounts to 7.1 million pounds before slaughter in 2016 and 7.6 million pounds last year, according to USDA reports.
Data from the 2012 Census of Agriculture had Kauai producing about 10 percent of the state’s cattle sales, which amounts to about $4 million that year out of the $38 million of cattle sales in the state.
Jack Beuttell, a partner with Kunoa Cattle Company, which has cattle operations on Kauai and Oahu, said cattle is important to the history of Hawaii and added the industry continues to make strides in the state.
“There are local beef producers on Kauai that have figured this out and their products are produced for restaurants and groceries,” he said. “Our business model is to raise cattle on Kauai and purchasing animals from across the state and trying to generate scale that way, so we can create economies to scale and have more competitive pricing and better pricing ultimately for the consumer.”
As an industry, Beuttell said, ranchers are trying to find ways to keep some of the cattle in the state to meet the Hawaii’s beef demands.
“It seems silly that we raise calves and we import a whole bunch of Mainland meat that have to travel a great distance and arguably not as healthy as locally-produced meat and really has no benefit for our local economy,” he said.
Patrick Pepper, owner of Chicken In a Barrel (like Street Burger), said he uses locally-grown beef from Makaweli Meat Company on the Westside.
“You know that it’s grown here, so you know it’s better for you,” he said. “We like to utilize the local vendors, the local farmers, the local ranchers. If we’re going to buy it from somebody, we might as well buy it from our own and continue to use the money in our own economy here on the island as much as we can.”
Makaweli Meat Company, which is owned by the Robinson family, has about 4,000 head of cattle on about 21,000 acres of agricultural land. Makaweli did not respond to multiple inquiries from The Garden Island on Tuesday.
“For us Makaweli beef provides the best flavor,” Leikam said. “Everybody is stepping up their game on the island. I’ve been dealing with local beef for about eight years now. Even since then, the beef on the island has come a long way. It’s a lot cleaner. It doesn’t have the gaminess that’s associated with island beef.”
Sharleen Andrade Balmores, Andrade Slaughterhouse and Cattle Company manager, said her slaughterhouse averages about 60-65 cattle a month and an average of about 550 pounds per animal.
“We have the responsibility of preserving the traditions of small island life: Ranching, meat production, and making it available for our community,” wrote Andrade Balmores, a fifth-generation cattle rancher. “This is not only something we feel passionate to pursue as our legacy, it continues to be our pleasure to be a part of making Kauai a better place to live — with more sustainable local industries.”
Pepper said an added bonus to using local beef is the rapport created with businesses and the local ranching community.
“You can actually put a face to a name,” he said. “Even outside of the business setting, there’s an automatic connection. Chances are you’re going to be working with these people for years hopefully.”
Leikam added: “It gives you that connection and sense of place that you’re doing something good for the people who live next to you down the street or the next town.”