Catherine Tooth Fox: Buy more locally grown foods. It is worth the extra cost

A new study by researchers from the University of Hawaii shows that mainland visitors are willing to pay more for locally sourced foods while on vacation in Hawaii to help the state become a more sustainable tourist destination.

This is good news for local farmers, ranchers, other food producers, and restaurants that promote farm-to-table menus.

But in order to negatively affect our dependence on food imports – about 90% of our food is imported – and truly support the islands’ agricultural industry, a commitment to buy local produce must be even more impactful.

Meaning we all need to support local agriculture. Not just visitors – there were 10 million visitors in 2019 – but all of us.

Buying must be big. There can be no one restaurant in Chinatown that orders small bags of young greens from a local farmer twice a month. That’s not enough to maintain a side hustle, let alone run a full-time farm.

Where I see a solution – and one that’s already in the works – is in restaurant and hotel chains that are committed to getting as many local food producers as possible.

Visitors need to eat, and if they are willing to pay a premium or higher for locally grown food — 78% of 454 participants in the study published in the Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Insights said they would — restaurants and hotels can offset the cost of buying local goods, which They tend to be more expensive than imported meat, eggs, and products sold at wholesale prices.

It is already happening. Zippy’s Restaurants, which has 24 locations on three islands and plans to open in Las Vegas in 2023, switched to using local beef in its popular chili patties, hamburger patties, and pasta in 2010.

Today, the restaurant chain produces about 100 tons of chili alone on average per month, says Jason Higa, CEO of Zippy parent company FCH Enterprises. In 2020, Zippy’s used more than 70,000 pounds of ground beef per month to make its chili sauces and meats, about half of which was sourced from local farmers. (It’s more a matter of supply than demand.)

Konya cultivates aquaculture and aquaculture with a view of the crops.
Kunia Country Farms, which uses the aquaponics system, has supplied lettuce and green salad to Zippy’s restaurants since 2018. Corey Loom / Civil Beat / 2022

“As much as we can get something locally, we will,” Higa said. “And in almost all cases, the price is higher. But I think our customers are willing to support local agriculture.”

Plus, Zippy sources all of its eggs—think of all those adventures—from Eggs Hawaii, pasta from Sun Noodle, and tomatoes and papaya from local farms. And since 2018, the restaurant chain has worked with Kunia Country Farms in central Oahu to supply both lettuce and green salad. According to owner Jason Brand, the deal not only increased revenue for the farm, which grows its vegetables hydroponically, but provided security for a steady buyer and allowed the farm to expand 45%.

It’s a win-win – for the restaurant, the farm, and the person who eats fresh, locally grown greens.

“We’d like to buy more locally, but given the scale of our operations, it’s not always operationally or financially viable, but when we can, we’ll choose locally,” says Kevin Yim, Zippy’s Vice President of Marketing. “We believe that buying local supports local jobs and is an important part of our sourcing process.”

Hotels are buying more locally grown produce and meat, too. And since they feed thousands of people a day – the vast majority of whom are visitors who expect (or want) to pay more for food while on vacation – these hotels buy massive amounts of food from local farms, which need large accounts and consistent orders to survive.

According to the Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism, in 2021 visitors to the islands spent $2.7 million on food and beverages, most of which was in restaurants. Food was the second highest spend for visitors after lodging.

I remember touring the kitchen of The Royal Hawaiian in Waikiki in 2018 with then-executive chef Colin Hazama, who was overseeing the hotel’s cooking operations, which included two restaurants, an oceanfront bar, bakery, and luau that ran for four nights. week.

At the time, he said, the hotel was operating with more than 30 local farms, using asparagus from Twin Bridge Farms in Waialua, oysters from Kualoa Ranch, and Manoa lettuce from Mari’s Gardens in Mililani. About 60% of the food served at the hotel is grown in Hawaii. The shelves in one of the mini fridges were filled with boxes from Ho Farms in Kahuku, Hamakua Mushrooms in Lapahoehoe and Kawamata Farm in Kamuela. Then he said to me: “Look.” “We actually buy from local farms.”

James Beard Award-winning chef Roy Yamaguchi has been supporting Hawaiian farmers, ranchers, and fishermen for decades. He buys from over 60 different local vendors for his 10 restaurants on four islands. You’ll see Kona kampachi on the menu at Eating House 1849, mixed greens Kula at Humble Market Kitchin (STET) and wild boar at Roy’s Waikoloa.

“In almost all cases, the price is higher. But I think our customers are willing to support local agriculture.” – Jason Higa, CEO, FCH Enterprises

Robynne Maii—who won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Northwest & Pacific this year, and is the first Hawaiian chef to do so—has built her restaurant Fete, around local sources. It says, on any given day, about 75% to 90% of the produce she uses and 90% of the meat, dairy, and seafood are local. In fact, if you can’t find an ingredient, they change the list.

“We’re working really hard on it,” she says. This is not easy due to supply issues. But it is important to us.”

And it should be important to all of us.

Whereas the state government, one of the largest purchasers of food, supplying schools, prisons and hospitals, could do a better job of buying local produce—and it is; A law passed last year requires public schools across the state to source at least 30% of school meal ingredients from local producers by 2030 — there are other useful ways to support local agriculture.

But we can’t leave it up to visitors to support our local farms and restaurants. We need to do the same. Make sustainable choices when dining out. Shop at farmers markets. Subscribe to CSA.

I don’t mind paying more. he deserves it.

“Hawaii Grown” is funded in part by grants from the Stupski Foundation, the Ulupono Fund at the Hawaii Community Foundation, and the Frost Family Foundation.

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