POIPU — When it comes to using local ingredients in his dishes, Makai Sushi owner Matthew Oliver sometimes sources up to 90 percent of the produce from local farms and outlets.
“On certain times we don’t do more than 50 percent, but it’s just on average 60 percent to 70 percent local,” said Oliver, whose restaurant is in Kukuiula Market. “I think the whole success of my business is using local produce. Without having these ingredients, I wouldn’t have this success.”
Oliver said he buys locally grown products such as avocados, green onions and cucumbers from three Kauai farmers.
Food production sales in the state reached almost $85 million last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.
The data comes from the 2015 Local Foods Marketing Practices Survey report, a first-ever survey conducted by the USDA’s NASS to produce data about local food marketing practices.
Most farms selling directly to consumers sold through outlets such as farmers markets and on-farm stores. Value of sales directly to consumers in Hawaii, including value-added products, was $22.8 million.
Local farmer Etang Tiare took over her mother’s produce business two years ago. Before she died, Tiare’s mother had been in business for over 20 years at the Koloa farmers market.
“We get to bring and present to the public the freshest produce,” Tiare said.
Of the $84.4 million in total food sales, $69.5 million were from sales of vegetables, nuts and fruit. The remaining $14.9 million were from jams, meat and cheese.
“Lots of people don’t know about (some of the produce) and we educate them, and next thing you know, everybody falls in love with it or it wouldn’t be in our back yard,” Tiare said.
The remainder of local food produce and value-added products were sold to supermarkets, restaurants, institutions and wholesalers, according to the USDA.
Terry Kuribayashi, owner of Kukuiula Market in Poipu, sources about a fourth of her harvest products from the island.
“We try to buy as much as local stuff as we can because you want to support the local people,” she said. “We work with three farmers and we have Esaki’s produce. They also sell local products as well: zucchini, apple bananas, watercress. They, too, as well try to sell Kauai grown.”
As soon as they get the opportunity to buy local, Ordean Bukoski, Sueoka’s produce manager, said they jump on it.
“With Sueoka being a family-oriented thing, we try to have more local farmers come in,” Bukoski said. “We try to have it consistently, but some produce are seasonal. We just got Manoa lettuce in because the weather is cool. Come about April or May, you can’t get it anywhere.”
About 30 percent of the store’s produce is locally grown from about five farmers.
“We’re still trying to get more local farmers here,” she said. “They’re all in the farmers market. That’s where they make more money, but when (farmers) have their overflow, this is where they come.”
Poipu resident Joe Sauve shops for local produce every Monday.
“Farmers are the same worldwide: All they want to do is grow more for more with less and less,” he said. “It’s nice to do business with the local farmers — whether it’s here or on the Mainland or anyplace else.”
Sauve supports farmers wherever he can.
“I’m a farmer. I appreciate the work that goes into farming. I grew papayas here on the island, then I grew some tobacco,” he said. “If you like to eat, you better like a farmer.”
Peter Sterne browses the Koloa farmers market every week, but also shops at grocery stores.
“I buy a lot of my produce at farmers market — particularly apple bananas, carrots, avocados. We get those kinds of things here,” said the Poipu resident. “It’s always fresh. It’s right from their farms, so it’s the biggest advantage. I like the fact that I buy my papaya from one particular lady and it’s always good. You can’t complain.”
There were 2,423 operations involved in the sales of local foods in the state, representing 3,512 farm operators, according to the report. Of those operators, 1,287 were female operators.
Nationally, more than 167,000 U.S. farms locally produced and sold food through direct marketing practices, resulting in $8.7 billion in revenue in 2015.
Like Hawaii, most farms selling directly to consumers sold through farmers markets and on-farm stores. Pennsylvania led the U.S. in the number of farms selling directly to consumers, with more than 6,000 operations engaged in direct to consumer sales. California led in sales, earning $467 million. Only 8 percent of farms selling directly to consumers across the nation did so via online marketplaces, though 73 percent of all farms using direct marketing practices had internet access last year.
The survey also concluded that more than 80 percent of direct market food sales occurred within 100 miles of the farm, and that most farms selling to consumers were less than 20 miles from their largest grossing marketplace.