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Farmer-Chef Relationships Highlight Local Foods on Hawaii

HONOLULU, January 9, 2012 – Relationships between chefs and farmers are increasingly becoming a way to bring attention to local food production, according to Dean Okimoto, Hawaii Farm Bureau president, who spoke today at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 93rd Annual Meeting. Okimoto said that up to 90 percent of Hawaii’s food is imported, leaving the islands vulnerable in the event of any disruption in the food chain.

“Going forward we need to increase our island food production,” said Okimoto. Speaking at a cooking demonstration, Okimoto said cooking has caught on with older and younger generations, and that people are paying more attention to food.

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An example of a successful chef-farmer relationship is that of Chef Mark “Gooch” Noguchi of He’eia Kea Pier General Store and Deli, and two of his farmer-suppliers, Michelle Galimba of Kuahiwi Ranch on the Big Island and Shin Ho of Ho Farms on Oahu. Galimba and Ho are both second-generation farmers. Galimba’s family has 1,800 mother cows on 10,000 acres of pasture while Ho’s family farm has 50 acres of grape and cherry tomatoes, Japanese cucumbers, long beans, string beans, lima beans and eggplant. Noguchi’s featured product during the session, Kuahiwi Beef Belly with Eggplant Puree, Tomato and Long Squash, incorporated foods from both farms.

The beef belly portion of the recipe refers to a cut called short plate, which is found between the brisket and the short ribs on a beef cow. Galimba said that the short plate normally gets ground into hamburger. She offered the cut to Noguchi, who took on the challenge of finding something to do with it.

“A friend of mine says ‘Food is more natural when borne out of necessity,’” Noguchi said, and necessity was present – a deadline loomed and Noguchi’s experiments with the meat weren’t yielding desirable results. Transglutaminase, known as TG or meat glue, came to the rescue.

Noguchi trimmed the fat from the short plate and created a cube with meat glue, then cooked it in olive oil to create the dish.

While Noguchi focused on the food preparation and sourcing aspect, Galimba shared some of the challenges of raising cattle on an island. One of the biggest challenges, she said, was finishing and processing the cattle for consumers on the mainland. The expense of feeding cattle grains that aren’t available locally wasn’t economically viable, so until recently, her family had always sent their cattle to the mainland to be finished.

“That’s the stark economics of it,” she said. “It costs less to ship the cattle to the grain than the grain to the cattle. The consumers weren’t that interested in the specifics of how cattle were raised.”

However, with the rising interest in local foods, the Galimba family decided to try to market their products in Hawaii. Animal processing is limited on the Big Island to two slaughterhouses; on the other islands, the options are even slimmer – one facility on Maui, one on Oahu and what Galimba referred to as two “half” facilities on Maui.

The Galimbas’ cattle are on pasture their entire lives, but for the last month are fed a combination of wheat bran, barley, corn and molasses with supplements. This feed program provides a consistent product to chefs and offers some security to the ranch. The Big Island has suffered drought recently. Galimba said had the cattle been raised solely on grass, “we would have been in trouble.”

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Contacts: Tracy Taylor Grondine
(202) 406-3642
tracyg@fb.org
Mace Thornton
(202) 406-3641
macet@fb.org