Our mission at Hawaiʻi ʻUlu Cooperative is to revitalize ‘ulu as a viable crop and dietary staple. ‘Ulu flour has long been heralded as a promising means to do just that, thanks to its shelf stability, high nutritional content, and the fact that it's naturally gluten free.
We first started producing ‘ulu flour in 2018 when farmer-member Aunty Berta Jacque lent us her tabletop mill and showed us her technique. We then scaled our production significantly in 2020 through a partnership with Voyaging Foods and the Hawai‘i Farmers Union Foundation.
Between July and December 2020, thanks to these local partnerships, we were able to preserve 8,500 pounds of fresh ‘ulu in the form of about 2,500 pounds of flour. We also worked with nutritionists and chefs to develop educational resources that help local consumers learn how to use the ingredient – including A User’s Guide to ‘Ulu Flour and myriad recipes that can be accessed for free online.
Since then, we have not had enough Hawai‘i-grown ‘ulu flour to keep up with demand – which is still nascent but growing. Supply is expected to increase a lot in coming years though, given some 80% of our co-op farmers’ 5,500 planted trees are not yet old enough to bear fruit. Over the next five to 10 years, as more trees mature, we expect Hawaiʻi's ʻulu production to grow significantly, with up to 1 million pounds of fruit per year anticipated by 2030!
In order to ensure a ready market for our farmers’ crop once all of today's keiki trees grow up, we believe it is vital to keep the momentum going for ‘ulu flour among foodies, chefs, and home cooks interested in trying this wonderfully sustainable and healthy flour alternative!
Enter Sāmoa farmers: While Hawai‘i’s ‘ulu production is still at the brink of resurgence, our neighbors in some other parts of the Pacific produce more ‘ulu than they can consume and need a market outlet.
In summer 2021, we were fortunate to connect with a group of small farmers in Sāmoa who had lost their main income stream due to the pandemic and were looking to ‘ulu flour as a potential new revenue source to support their families. The timing was right for us as we were looking at another season of limited ‘ulu production in Hawai‘i.
We ended up selecting a Sāmoan manufacturing partner with expertise in agricultural processing, capacity to grow, and – most importantly – a firm commitment to supporting small, family farms. Their company was founded by farmers for farmers who are passionate about regenerating soil health and developing a sustainable agricultural economy.
A Model for Hawaiʻi Agriculture
As we have developed relationships with ʻulu farmers and processors in Sāmoa, we've learned that they have a lot to teach Hawaiʻi. For example, during the 2007-2008 world food price crisis, many countries experienced sudden skyrocketing prices of grains and imported staples. In Sāmoa, this was a wake-up call to revive local agriculture and become more self-sufficient.
Efforts to strengthen the agricultural economy were orchestrated by local governments to build the infrastructure necessary to process locally-grown crops both for domestic consumption and as export-ready commodities. Farmers were also encouraged to lean on traditional diversified farming practices and to grow a diverse range of crops – not only to sell but for subsistence and food security, too.
Historically, Sāmoa was the first Pacific small-island nation to become independent after western colonization. It has managed to retain its cultural political structures, with villages still operating under traditional law. The people of Sāmoa have a strong communal culture, where power is demonstrated by how much a person can give back to the community rather than how much an individual can accumulate for themselves.
Farmers in Sāmoa grow a range of crops including cocoa, coconuts, oranges, turmeric, taro, giant taro, yams, kava and more, with at least one breadfruit tree in every yard or orchard. It is very common to find public places such as parks and schools lined with rows of ʻulu trees.
The 2017 agriculture census found that there are approximately 5,480 acres or 137,000 ʻulu trees planted in Sāmoa – that’s three ʻulu trees for every four residents!
Meet Our Farmers in Sāmoa!
Similarly to the ʻUlu Co-op, our manufacturing partner in Sāmoa works with many small, diversified family farmers and backyard growers, with over 320 farmers in their network. A team of trained harvesters collects and pays each family a set rate which helps to supplement their farm income.
Meet Gasu Isaako Aipovi of Aipovi Farm in Satupaitea, Sāmoa
Gasu Isaako Aipovi is the “guardian” of his family farm. As the ranking chief in his family, passed down from his late father, he is tasked with ensuring his 130-acre family farm is productive and well maintained. Gasu is also the operations manager of the breadfruit flour plant where the fruits are processed. Like the rest of the team, he is extremely excited to be sending breadfruit flour out to Hawai‘i.
Meet Malama Mafaituuga Ekeroma from the village of Magiagi, Sāmoa
Malama lives and works with her husband and children on their family land in their traditional village of Magiagi. The photo shows the typical food forest type of agroforestry practiced in Sāmoa, including giant taro, banana, avocado and a breadfruit tree. In addition to these crops, farms in this region generally grow market garden vegetables like tomatoes and cucumbers in addition to traditional Polynesian crops. It is a blessing that this traditional style of agriculture is still dominant, as it provides resilience when natural disasters or economic stressors occur.