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‘Ohana > More OhanaSummer 2009 IS Magazine7/22/09 IS Online

Support a Farm, Eat Local, Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

Everybody wins with community-supported agriculture.

By Marlene Nakamoto

Twice a month, Paula Bender and her two daughters, Sophie, 9, and Charlotte, 7, go to Otsuji Farm, less than half a mile from their home in Hawai‘i Kai. There, they pick up a box of freshly harvested produce that may include daikon, green onions, eggplant, choy sum and bok choy. Bender pays $10 for what she calls a “goodie box.”

“When I open the box, I have wonderful vegetables to prepare,” says Bender. “I get that little-kid thrill of seeing what’s inside, although I doubt kids would be as excited if they got a box of vegetables.”

Bender is a subscriber of a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm. The money that she and other members (called “subscribers”) pay for produce goes toward all aspects of Otsuji Farm’s operations, such as seeds, water, labor and equipment. Subscribers are repaid with a steady supply of fresh, seasonal produce.

Many CSA farms require subscribers to make a financial commitment and pay a fee annually, monthly or seasonally. Otsuji Farm operates as a pay-as-you-go operation – members pay each time they pick up a box of produce, usually twice a month. Norrin Lau, who calls himself “the unpaid marketing manager,” says, “we believe that if we provide the best produce at a fair price, our customers will continue to come.”

A Growing Trend

It has become increasingly favorable to be a locavore (“one who eats locally”) for several reasons.

Instead of consuming food from another state or country, locavores consume food within a 100-mile radius. This saves time, uses less fuel, causes less greenhouse gas emissions, helps preserve the nutritional content of fruits and vegetables, and supports local farms, workers and the economy. Shopping at farmers’ markets is one way to realize those benefits, but buying directly from a farm affords you instant savings – because there’s no middleman, consumers pay a cost that’s closer to wholesale than retail. It’s also very appealing to go to a farm where the atmosphere is friendly and relaxed and the farmer is available to answer questions.

There’s no getting around it – it’s very difficult to be a full-fledged locavore in geographically isolated Hawai‘i; the state Department of Agriculture estimates that 90 percent of Hawai‘i’s foodstuffs come from out of state. But then, it’s probably very difficult to be a full-fledged locavore anywhere on the Mainland, too. To be an aspiring locavore, however, all it takes is having an awareness of where your food comes from and making the appropriate choices.

If you can’t go to a farmers’ market, simply buy local at the supermarket. You can easily get Kahuku papayas, sweet Maui or ‘Ewa onions, Ka‘u oranges, pineapples from any island, and local eggs, chicken and pork. But don’t avoid products from the Mainland that aren’t grown in Hawai‘i, such as apples, pears and grapes.

Down On the Farm

Otsuji Farm

It’s 8:30 on a Saturday morning, and the sun is bright and strong in the cloudless sky. For the next two hours, a steady stream of cars pulls up to Otsuji Farm’s dirt driveway, where a portable canopy shades a handful of people in constant motion. Customers greet “Farmer Ed” and chat with him before paying for their boxes, loading them up, and driving away. In addition to the pre-packed boxes, customers may also buy additional produce that may or may not be in the box, such as beets, kale, Swiss chard, gai choy, sweet potato leaves, chives, and oregano.

Edwin Otsuji has farmed four acres in Hawai‘i Kai on O‘ahu for more than 40 years, selling his crops to supermarkets. While that remains his primary business, Otsuji gave CSA a try after a friend, Norrin Lau, came up with the idea to sell directly to consumers. “I’m having fun with it,” says Otsuji. “I get to meet people and help them eat healthy.”

Lau is an insurance agent by trade. Initially, the concept of a CSA farm was foreign to him. “We were so new to the process, we didn’t know the terminology,” says Lau.

Although Lau won’t divulge how many subscribers support Otsuji Farm, he does say, “Our numbers are growing. Our customers are telling their families, friends and neighbors.”

Reaping the Benefits

“We’re eating more vegetables now,” says Bender, “and we’re eating vegetables that I wouldn’t normally buy from the grocery store because I wouldn’t know how to prepare them.” Bender’s in-laws also subscribe to Otsuji Farm, but pick up their box on alternate Saturdays. “Then we share what’s in the boxes with each other,” says Bender.

Bender estimates she gets $20 to $30 worth of vegetables for $10, simply because there’s no middleman or retailer. She also gets vegetables within 24 hours of being harvested. “You develop an appreciation for what fresh vegetables should really taste like.”

Says Lau, “It’s great to see people get excited about getting a variety of vegetables. We even have a few people who pick up a box every week.”

As a perk, Lau gets free vegetables for his family – wife, JoAnn; son, Isaac; and daughter, Tammy. The biggest benefit is that Isaac, who uses a wheelchair, now has a job. “Isaac handles our Internet inquiries and orders. On Wednesdays, he calls Ed with the number of boxes to prepare for the upcoming Saturday pickup. On Saturdays, Isaac is our cashier.”

While Bender, her husband, John, and her in-laws are happy to reap the benefits of CSA, her daughters are a different story. “Sophie will eat vegetables at least once,” says Bender. “Charlotte will say she hates whatever vegetable I put in front of her, even before she tries it. And many times she won’t.” All Bender can do is keep trying. “Charlotte won’t even buy into the creamed, sweetened or camouflaged vegetables, either,” says Bender. “I wish I had her resolve.”

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