[Kailua-Kona, Oct 6, 2023] – The Hawai‘i ‘Ulu Cooperative is pleased to announce a substantial improvement to its operations with the addition of a new combination walk-in freezer and refrigerator, tripling its cold storage capacity. This strategic improvement addresses a major bottleneck that previously limited the co-op’s capacity to meet increasing local demand for ‘ulu products, while enhancing production efficiencies, quality, and food safety.
Installation of the new unit in September 2023 culminated a four-year effort that cost approximately $400,000, with capital provided by the Hawaiʻi State Grants in Aid (GIA) program, the USDA Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), a local family foundation, and reinvestment of the co-op’s earned revenues. The freezer spans an impressive 768 square feet, providing room for up to 44 pallets in a convenient push-back racking system and additional floor space to accommodate the rising volume of breadfruit being produced by co-op members. In contrast, the previous freezer capacity was confined to 288 square feet within two modified 20-foot shipping containers, capable of holding only 16 pallets in total.
This expansion constitutes the largest capital investment made to the Honalo Marshaling Yard facility since its construction by the State in 1993. Owned by the Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture, Honalo is one of ten state-owned food hub facilities leased to farmer organizations across the islands. Like many of these facilities, Honalo is in need of major capital improvements to bring the facility up to County Building Code and support increased local food production and consumption. As highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic, Hawaiʻi is heavily reliant on imported food to meet its basic needs and currently lacks sufficient infrastructure to help farmers scale their production, including aggregation, cold storage, and distribution capacity. HDOA-owned facilities represent the “lowest hanging fruit” for the State to demonstrate its commitment to invest in strengthening food security and economic development, yet have received limited support from the legislature in recent years.
Over the next 12 months, the co-op aims to secure an additional $2-3 million to complete much-needed facility renovations. This includes expanding its commercial kitchen area from 400 to 900 square feet, building an outdoor crop receiving building, and making related modernization upgrades, such as to the domestic water supply and process wastewater systems. Investments will be sought through grants, loans, and preferred stock offerings to both members and non-member investors.
As a whole, this major investment into Hawaiʻi’s staple crop industry not only benefits the co-op and its 150+ farmers across four islands, but also strengthens food security and resilience for the broader community. While Hawaiʻi imports an estimated 85-90% of its food supply, less than 0.5% of its staple foods – those complex carbohydrate starches that provide the bulk of human caloric needs – are grown locally. Most staple foods consumed in Hawaiʻi are rice, wheat and potatoes – none of which are grown in the islands at commercial scale. The Honalo Marshaling Yard will continue to be developed into a food hub dedicated entirely to minimal processing of local staple crops including ‘ulu, kalo, and ‘uala, among others.
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About Hawai‘i ‘Ulu CooperativeHawaiʻi Ulu Co-op (HUC) is a farmer-owned business working to revitalize ‘ulu (breadfruit), kalo (taro), ‘uala (sweet potato) and other local, indigenous crops as dietary staples by empowering farmers as change-makers in Hawaiʻi’s food system. The co-op is committed to the revival of ‘ulu to strengthen Hawaiʻi’s food security and to the value of mālama ‘āina – care or protection of the earth – by using environmentally responsible production methods. https://eatbreadfruit.com/