Last week we had the pleasure of welcoming Eric Pond, co-owner of Greenleaf Farm Management in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, as the keynote speaker of our quarterly EAT THINK DRINK event. The night’s topic was “Scaling Up — Small Farm to Big Farm” and saw ag industry thought-leaders, innovators and farmers come together to share their experiences and expertise in expanding their business operations with an audience of more than 180 industry peers and community members.

Eric, a leader in sustainable farming in the Pacific Northwest, examined key factors and shared insights on what farmers need to think about when the opportunity or desire to scale up arises. Key takeaways for Hawaii farmers and people interested in supporting local farmers who want to increase their local food production were:

  1. Is bigger really better? Businesses need to assess and identify their strengths and weaknesses and see if there are ways to do more with less.
  2. Ready, set, go? Ensure staff is trained and there’s a management system in place for the farm. Consider the increase in production and if quality can be maintained. Food safety practices need to be in place for the volume of food being produced and sold.
  3. Mission Control. Devise a plan for how these goals can be achieved and know what the costs involved are for staffing, operations, equipment and land.
  4. Show me the money! Is the business well-positioned financially to take on the costs of scaling up? This is often the biggest limitation farmers face when wanting to expand and produce higher volumes of crops. They don’t have the money needed to fund an expansion and taking out a loan may not always be an option.Farmers in the HAF Ag Park at Kunia are familiar with this obstacle. Thoune Hongphao and Yupin Bickel, two farmers in the HAF Ag Park at Kunia shared that within their Thai farmer community, there’s a lack of awareness about the financial resources available, making it hard to expand their operations and purchase equipment to enhance their productivity, such as tractors. Some farmers simply don’t want the burden of debt.For immigrant farmers, language barriers and cultural differences are also huge obstacles. Some farmers prefer to keep their finances confidential and will not provide the financial records required to take on a loan. Financial institutions don’t offer translation services to help non-English speakers understand banking jargon.
  5. Market Demand. For farmers, the need and desire to scale up should be driven by market demand. The market landscape of Oʻahu presents ideal conditions to encourage local farming businesses to expand and scale up. Ulupono Intiativeʻs 2011 Local Food Market Demand Study of Oahu Shoppers showed that 61% of the more than 1,200 Oʻahu residents surveyed believe buying local is very important and 81% of participants believe there isn’t enough locally grown product. The survey also found that while Oahu customers are price-conscious, they’re willing to pay more for local products because they understand the benefits of supporting local. Discerning customers trust local farmers and ranchers to produce food that’s safer to eat such as hormone- and antibiotic-free meat. They value quality and when it comes to freshness they know the difference between local and imported. Local milk takes four days to go from farm to shelf whereas mainland milk can take up to a month. Local eggs take three to four days to reach store shelves while mainland eggs take two to three weeks. Local produce can often be distributed to supermarkets and farmers markets on the same day of harvest. No mainland produce item shipped here to the islands can compete with that!

You can be part of creating market demand. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs are a great way to support local farmers. HAF’s Local Inside CSA [[ ]] program does just that. Every week we source fresh produce for nearly 300 of Local Inside members from farms across Oʻahu. This is especially beneficial for smaller farmers who don’t have the volume to supply large chain supermarkets. Besides joining a CSA, as consumers we can continue to support local by choosing local goods over imported as much as possible at grocery stores and by frequenting farmers markets. As a community, we have the power to drive market demand to provide opportunities for local farmers to scale up, supply this demand and increase local food production to benefit and sustain our food systems.

View the executive summary for the Ulupono Initiative 2011 Local Food Market Demand Study of Oahu Shoppers.

View complete results from the Ulupono Initiative 2011 Local Food Market Demand Study of Oahu Shoppers.