Island farm expands to support local customers.
[Appeared in the July 16, 2009 issue of The Molokai Dispatch]
Molokai’s Kumu Farms has made a name for itself over the past 27 years. Shipping 14 thousand pounds of papaya and 4000 pounds of fresh herbs from the island every week is a testament of their productivity. Some of the fruit is sold to Whole Foods in Hawaii and some is shipped as far away as Chicago. But now, owner Grant Schule is expanding the organic farm to bring more fresh fruits and vegetables to local customers.
Forty of the Kumu Farm’s 120 acres are already certified organic. Thirty more will complete the lengthy certification process this year. While Schule says papaya, bananas and herbs are still Kumu’s main crops, he and his staff have recently added tomatoes, beans, corn and zucchini to expand their local offerings.
“Adapting is part of sustainability,” says Schule. He explained the farm’s emerging goal is to serve Molokai’s needs for fresh produce.
Several years ago, Emanuela Vinciguerra, known to many as Manu, began frequenting Kumu Farms to get fresh herbs for her native Italian dishes. Her infectious enthusiasm for fresh, local produce, combined with her passion for education, caught Schule’s eye. He later offered her a job at Kumu Farms to help expand the business toward agro-tourism.
Schule and Vinciguerra transformed an old warehouse into a colorful salesroom. Posters featuring Kumu’s history as well as information and uses for the crops they grow now line the walls. Blushing tomatoes, fragrant herbs and juicy papayas are just a few of the tempting fresh offerings for local customers and tourists alike.
With the motto “From the field to your table,” Schule said he is always open to suggestions for what new produce customers would like to see on the table.
“Every time we come out with something new, people buy it right up,” he explained with pride.
Vinciguerra highlights the educational component of Kumu. She regularly shares with customers her favorite recipes for fresh produce and herbs, and says she educates people about the benefits of eating healthy, fresh and local.
Kumu Farms employs 25 workers. They donate a portion of proceeds from eco-friendly, reusable Kumu Farms bags and t-shirts to Molokai community causes and organizations. Vinciguerra says Kumu Farms is also donating 8 cases of papaya to the sustainability conference this weekend.
Schule started Kumu Farms in 1981, and he says he has experience growing just about every imaginable crop on Molokai. But for Schule, that knowledge is not something he keeps a trade secret.
“With the emerging interest in sustainability, the answer is in small farms,” he says. Part of Kumu’s purpose is to act as a mentor for upcoming farms and backyard gardens. Schule says he hopes he can share his experience with those who want to start growing their own produce.
Kumu Farms’ plant nursery is another way they serve the community and encourage others to follow in their footsteps. Schule says the nursery supplies mostly the crops Kumu grows in their own fields.
“Starting up a farm can be intimidating,” says Schule.
With a sustainable future for Molokai in mind, Schule is happy to supply plants as well as willingly offer growing and marketing advice to fellow Molokai farmers. He says he already markets papaya of other island papaya growers. Kumu has also supplied awa plants, a Hawaiian cultural and medicinal root, to a Molokai resident who started their own enterprise making a healing salve from the plant.
“Our goal is to be an inspiration,” explained Vinciguerra. “We don’t want to be the only one. We want to say, hey, you can do it, too. Together, from small farms to big farms, we can be sustainable.”
Kumu Farms, located just south-west of the airport, is open Tuesday through Friday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call 808-351-3326 for more information.