A Small Family Farm Rooted Community
Commentary, Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
When you buy eggs from a small family farm, you know they are as fresh as can be. And there is great satisfaction in knowing your money is going directly to the farmer. That is money well spent. But there is more to the transaction that you can’t place value on. The experience on the farm harkens back to a gentler time. And for returning customers, the nostalgia never gets old.
Roy Kaneshiro of OK Poultry (formerly KK Poultry) in WaimĀnalo spent his life providing that experience for his community. Kaneshiro followed in his father’s footsteps who started KK Poultry in 1947.
Seven years ago, Kaneshiro sold the farm to a Japanese company from Hokkaido. Kaneshiro said, “I had no interest in selling the farm at first, but they persisted, and they were good people.” Selling the farm meant he could retire, and he would be kept on as a consultant, so he decided to sell.
The Japanese company recently shut down due to financial difficulty brought on by the pandemic. Kaneshiro and his family decided to return and keep the 75-year-old farm going for the families who have been coming to the farm for generations. At 80 years young, he came out of retirement to provide for his community.
Day-in-a-Life – 7 Days a Week
Kaneshiro is on the farm at 6:30 a.m. and his day ends around 5 p.m. every day. For Kaneshiro, his family members and employees, this is what a day looks like:
- First order of the day is chickens are fed and watered.
- Eggs from the cage-free operation are manually harvested.
- Eggs are “candled” (screened by a back-lit light) to sort out eggs with imperfections.
- Eggs are machine washed then meticulously cleaned by hand.
- Eggs are sorted by size for sales off the farm and for wholesale customers.
- Customer service is from 7:30 a.m. to 12 noon at the farm’s retail store on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
That may sound like routine, but Kaneshiro will tell you no day is like the other. There is always maintenance work that requires a jack-of-all-trades to keep the farm in good repair. And unforeseen problems that arise and need immediate attention will add to his already busy workday.
There are some people who say that farmers are not business people, that they farm for the lifestyle. That could not be further from the truth. Farming is a serious business. Egg farmers deal with livestock, which requires expertise in animal husbandry. Eggs are a perishable product and demand must meet supply within a given time. And food producers must adhere to a host of federal and state government regulations. There are a lot of moving parts that require attention to detail. This is in addition to the other business responsibilities such as managing human resources, on-demand inventory control and so on. So, despite the perception that some people may have, the farmer in the well-worn shirt and jeans is a serious businessperson.
Feed Cost Crisis
In 2008 the cost for a barrel of oil hit a record high at over $145. That sent the cost of shipping feed to Hawai‘i soaring. And the cost of feed was at an all-time high due to the federal government’s corn to ethanol policy subsidizing farmers in the corn belt with tax cuts. Corn going to fuel meant less corn for feed. It was a “perfect storm” that shut down the last commercial-scale egg farm on Hawai‘i island and threatened the four remaining farms all on O‘ahu. Two of those farms were on the verge of shutting down as well. Kaneshiro’s farm was one of them.
Kaneshiro recalled that many of his customers were senior citizens and low-income families, “How [could] I raise the price on them?” For him, the welfare of his customers is part of his bottom line.
Lobbying by a Poultry Task Force consisting of representatives from the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, Hawaii Egg Producers Association and the University of Hawai‘i resulted in the legislature providing a two-year feed subsidy to help farmers weather the storm.
Then an S.O.S. call went out to consumers via the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on the plight of the egg farmers. The community answered in a big way – the line of cars extended out of Kaneshiro’s farm and down the street. The same happened at other farms that sold eggs off the farm.
Another article appeared in a Japanese publication and Japanese nationals working on O‘ahu started showing up on the farms. Japan Airlines employees came to one of the farms to buy eggs for themselves and fellow employees. Even the Consulate General of Japan’s limousine was spotted at a farm. Many Japanese food establishments like fresh, antibiotic-free eggs for their iconic comfort dish, tamago kake gohan, raw egg on hot rice. The egg farms in Hawai‘i are in business today thanks to the community’s ongoing support.
Why Buy Local Eggs?
You can get eggs produced on the mainland at practically any supermarket or big box store. They generally cost less than eggs produced in Hawai‘i. Local farmers understand that many of Hawai‘i’s families need to get the most out of their food dollars. For those who can afford to pay a little more, consider that mainland eggs are trucked from farms to ports in California. Eggs are then loaded onto container ships for an average five-day voyage across the Pacific. The eggs are then trucked to distribution companies and eventually to the markets. There is no break in chill during transportation and eggs have a long shelf life. But if you prefer freshness, local eggs get to market in as little as two days.
Local eggs may cost more but they help to reduce our dependence on imports. And when you buy local, you are helping our local economy.
A partnership between two large mainland egg producers recently opened Villa Rose Egg Farm outside of WahiawĀ. The facility is considered state-of-the-art, and they currently have over 200,000 birds with a goal of one million birds. Villa Rose eggs are sold under the Waialua Fresh brand, and they hope to replace mainland eggs in the future.
That being said: There should be room in Hawai‘i for all the farms. But the small family farms that have served and been a part of our community for generations will need our ongoing support moving forward.
Besides Kaneshiro, here are the other three farmers and their family farms:
- Sharon Peterson Cheape is the third generation of Petersons’ Upland Farm est. in 1910. You can buy eggs off the farm.
- Iris Shimabukuro represents the third generation of her family’s Mikilua Poultry Farm established in 1947. You can find their eggs in markets under Ka Lei Eggs and Hawaiian Maid brands.
- Mark Takaki started Maili Moa, LLC in 1998. His father, Don Takaki, started Hawaiian Maid Pullet Ranch in 1967, which raised pullets (young hens) for egg farmers. You can buy Maili Moa eggs off the farm and at certain markets under the Shaka Moa brand.
Heart is in Community
Kaneshiro decided to come out of retirement with encouragement from his son and daughter as well as his siblings. While growing up, he and his siblings spent time working on the farm and so did his kids. They all wanted to step up and help keep the farm going. When asked why, Kaneshiro said, “because we care. WaimĀnalo has been good to us.”
Dan Nakasone is a Sansei Uchinanchu from WahiawĀ. He is a marketing and advertising professional and was a producer/researcher for PBS’ award-winning food and culture series, “Family Ingredients,” which is based in Hawai‘i and hosted by Chef Ed Kenney.