Small-scale Farming Hawaiian Style
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Barney says that as their Ailani Orchards business grew, the produce stand evolved to handle the increased market and traffic. The old truck was replaced with a 10-square-foot tent, which was then replaced with a series of larger tents. Today, the farm’s on-site produce stand is a permanent pole structure where folks can find everything from the freshest organic limes and avocados to organic honey to macadamia nut butter and coffee – all in season.
In addition to farm-stand sales, Elizabeth and Barney market avocados and citrus through farmers’ markets and to wholesalers and organic food stores. However, the more valuable macadamia nuts and coffee are only available at the farm or through the website (www.AilaniOrchards.com, 808-929-8785). Barney says it’s important to market the more labor-intensive crops directly because they can better control the pricing.
Over the years, the Internet portion of the farm’s business has become more important – thanks in no small part to Barney’s farm-stand philosophy and the fact that people like to know just who it is that’s producing their food.
“We enjoy having just a few people visit the stand at a time,” Barney says. “Then you have time to talk with each person, get to know them and tell them a little bit about what we are doing and how we are doing it.” Taking the time for those interactions has paid off in a big way. Barney estimates that 99 percent of the farm’s Internet business comes from repeat customers who’ve visited the stand.
“They know who we are and call us by our names,” Barney says. “That’s a good thing. I like that.”
Elizabeth and Barney recently added sheep to their operation. The 45 head of Blackbelly Barbados and Saint Croix hair sheep do a good job of mowing the grass and gobbling up windfall fruit – converting it all into succulent protein; they also leave fertilizer wherever they go.
Keeping sheep in a diversified tropical orchard is not without its challenges, however. Barney recalls an episode when the flock spent three days in the coffee orchard while he was away from the farm. Sure enough, the animals feasted on the trees, stripping bark and leaves. Although he was concerned about losses, about a month later the coffee trees exploded with blossoms. The trees had gone into shock from the debarking, which stressed them into reproduction. They have been producing like crazy ever since.