East Hawai‘i Day Three: Flexibility in Changing Markets

Day three greeted our cohort with yet another beautiful and sunny day in Hilo, which in itself is kind of amazing!

Our first stop on this glorious morning is Green Point Nurseries. We were welcomed by Thong-Teng Neo, the general manager and ALP alumni from the class of XII, as well as Jonathon Tanouye from this year’s cohort. Jonathon represents the third generation of farmers at Green Point Nurseries, Hawaii’s premiere exporter of anthurium, tropical flowers and foliage.

Neo walked us through some of the history of Green Point and discussed how the business had to focus on different markets as the industry changed – from Europe to Japan to North America.

I have to admit it was a little tough to focus because we were surrounded by so many beautiful flower. Nick certainly seemed to enjoy it as well!

While the cut stems were beautiful, we were even more impressed with the seemingly endless shade houses of anthuriums. Each plant only produces 3-4 flowers per year, so it takes A LOT of plants to keep up with their sales which averages around 40,000 stems per week.

This anthurium is called “pele”, which seemed appropriate considering all the volcanic activity going on recently.

Mahalo Green Point Nurseries!

Our day of discovery continued with a visit to meet Kelly Irwin at Auntie Cat’s Cacao Studio. Kelly and Catherine Lampton have recently completed a small cacao processing facility for chocolate production, with the intent to provide a service to local cacao growers and artisan chocolatiers. It was so interesting to talk story about some of the advantages and challenges of opening up a new facility on the Big Island, specifically the allowances made for “cottage industry” businesses and the process of getting a production kitchen facility certified by the state.

Here is Kelly opening a cacao pod for us, and their sole-purpose roaster is behind him. They have invested in some key pieces of equipment to help them put together what they hope will be a model processing facility to serve the local community of cacao growers.

Next up was lunch with Richard Ha at the classic Coqui’s Hideaway in Hilo (in the Tsunami Room of course). Richard Ha is the CEO of Lau Ola, LLC focusing on a vertical model for medical cannabis, as well as the former president of Hamakua Springs Country Farms. Richard has a wealth of information to share, starting with some lessons he learned from his father. One of that resonated with me was “Find two answers for every problem, and one more just in case'”

Richard gave us some solid advice on the business side of farming, which includes making sure you do your break-even analysis so that you can make informed business decisions in a timely manner. He also shared some of his personal experiences which started on his father’s chicken farm and then moved into bananas, then tomatoes and now medical cannabis. His ability to transition crops based on market demand and other external influences is truly inspirational.

After lunch we had a little bit of free time as we prepared for a special evening. It started with a private tour of the NOAA Mokupapapa Discovery Center with Virginia Branco. You should definitely check the discovery center out next time you are in Hilo – there is so much to learn about the Northwest Hawaiian Islands.

Here’s Julia checking out one of the only Orange margin Butterflyfish (Prognathodes basabei) in captivity. Fun fact: this fish was named after Pete Basebe, a diver and aquarist from Kona.

After our tour we were treated to a fantastic dinner hosted by Luisa Castro (ALP Class XII) and Diane Ley (ALP Class VII). The menu included local tomatoes, a delicious lamb stew and ulu mash, but more importantly we got the opportunity to connect with quite a few alumni from the Agriculture Leadership Program. ALP President Mark Stoutemyer even flew over to join us. This was a time to listen and learn about the value that others have received from the program before us. The possibilities and opportunities seem endless from here!

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Agricultural Leadership Foundation of Hawai‘i
P. O. Box 342066
Kailua, HI 96734