Local produce project is sprouting on the Westside

  • Stephanie Shinno / The Garden Island

    Shade houses will be utilized by nonprofits islandwide including by the founder, The Monkey Pod to help Kaua‘i be more agricultural sustainable, and resilient through the pandemic and beyond.

  • Stephanie Shinno / The Garden Island

    Emilio Ruiz-Romero a board member of The Monkey Pod shows off his plant starters in one of the ten shade houses leased by Corteva, an agricultural chemical company.

  • Stephanie Shinno / The Garden Island

    The Monkey Pod board member Emilio Ruiz-Romero points out the coffee bags that were donated by Kauai Coffee Company in Kalaheo.

WAIMEA — After 11 months of negotiating, The Monkey Pod, a Kaua‘i nonprofit, finally has gotten a lease to use 10 shade houses on the Waimea property of the seed company Corteva Agriscience, free of charge.

The agrochemical and seed company is leasing the shade houses for a project called the Kaua‘i Farmers Shade House Initiative, spearheaded by board member and Resilient Roots owner Emilio Ruiz-Romero.

Each shade house is 3,000 square feet, and a few of them are already occupied by nonprofit organizations. A blessing was held for the project in early March.

Kealia Farms is planning to create a hydroponic system in one of the shade houses, producing tomatoes and bell peppers. The shade house next-door will be turned into a produce washroom. The Monkey Pod will keep one shade house for growing fruit trees and is currently interviewing other nonprofits for occupancy in the other.

Ruiz-Romero says the idea for the project arose while working with local farmers over the past five years. His company processes, sources and sells green banana flour, taro flour and breadfruit flour with a strong emphasis on local production.

He says his hope is that the Kaua‘i Farmers Shade House Initiative will be step one in changing the perception of locally grown food.

“Current perception right now is that locally grown food is hard to come by, inconsistent and expensive,” Ruiz-Romero said. “Resilient Roots wants to change that. As a company that creates Hawai‘i-grown and processed added value products, I understand that in order to grow as a company, producers need the island and agriculture to grow alongside of them. Planting food trees and helping to create a consistent source of raw produce is laying the foundation for the future of local commerce on Kaua‘i.”

Ruiz-Romero envisions The Monkey Pod in collaboration with farmers, producers, and the shade house initiative project supporting other entities throughout Kaua‘i to create more diversity and consistency of crops.

As a variety of plants start to sprout in the shade houses, the next step is to create a consistent outlet for the produce by helping Kaua‘i build a next-level processing facility that will help create shelf-stable and ready-to-eat products for the community.

“I know that one of the things farmers lack is a consistent outlet for their crops, which is why they don’t farm certain crops consistently,” Ruiz-Romero said. “If residents and small farmers could be certain that there are outlets for their produce, they could grow it and know that they would make an income from it throughout the year.”

Julia Matseshe, president of The Monkey Pod said she is grateful to have Ruiz-Romero on board, bringing projects to the table that align with The Monkey Pod’s mission.

“I’m just so honored to have Emilio on our board because his vision and vigilant resolution are amazing,” Matseshe said.

In addition of Corteva’s donation of 2.5 acres of space to use the shade houses, Gay &Robinson has allowed road access for the nonprofit project. Hale Puna and Kauai Coffee have also donated toward the more than 2,000 volunteer hours that have been put into the project thus-far, as well as contributing other in-kind donations. Capital funding has been donated by Resilient Roots approaching $3,000, and other support from individual members is at approximately $1,500.

Matsehe and Ruiz-Romero said they are grateful for the organizations that have come together to make Kauai Farmers Shade House Initiative successful thus far, and they are looking forward to having another blessing once the project is consistently producing.

“We will invite the Kaua‘i mayor,” Ruiz Romero said.

This project is expected to continue for at least the next two years, longer if possible according to Ruiz-Romero, who hopes it will produce more job opportunities in the future.

A wide variety of donations are currently being accepted for the project including tools and volunteer help.

“If anyone has any tools as well, they want to donate to help us build this project, please get in contact with us,” Ruiz Romero said.

To volunteer, donate or for more info, email julia@themonkeypod.org.

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Stephanie Shinno, education, business and community reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or sshinno@thegardenisland.com.

4 Comments
  1. Barbara Kelly April 4, 2021 5:16 am Reply

    I’ve been wondering why there are so many empty fields on the west side that could be used to grow local produce rather than having it shipped from the mainland. Is there something I don’t know about?


  2. Mona April 4, 2021 12:26 pm Reply

    Great project— how can the soil be tested to assure the soil is safe for farming?


  3. RGLadder37 April 4, 2021 3:17 pm Reply

    Those are plantation lands. Worthless lands now. The state cannot just build on it. Agriculture lands. More development? Too much red tape for the state. And for that millionaire, not worth the investment.


  4. Susan Stayton April 5, 2021 8:05 pm Reply

    Kauai is lucky to have such a visionary as Emilio working to increase food production on the island. This is just what we need to make ourselves less dependent on the mainland and imported food.

    I believe the crops are grown in potting soil or hydroponically instead of the burned out sugar cane land. Great use of resources.

    Thank you Emilio and team.

    Susan


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