Clients

How a Business in Belize Bought Us a Brand New Company Vehicle

This past May, our travel company Gemini Connect achieved its biggest milestone yet: pooling together all of our profits and buying a brand new Subaru Impreza in cash. It was a moment that was two and half years in the making and a success story in itself as it not only allowed our company to prosper, but also help transform a small family-owned business in Central America to triple its sales. How on Earth did we end up doing business in a tiny town in Belize, and what skills could we possibly have to offer? Read on to find out!

How It All Started

Today, we have collectively visited Belize three times. Our first trip to Belize took place in 2012, and we ventured from Caye Caulker (one of the islands), all the way inland to San Ignacio and Tikal. In 2014, our second return trip occurred, consisting of a trip to San Pedro island, San Ignacio, and a fishing village of Placencia. But we weren't always this familiar with Belize.

"Wanna do business in Belize?" It's not very often someone utters those words to you, but in June 2012, that was the million-dollar question Martin was posing for me. He had just returned from a vacation in Belize that was initially spurred by a Groupon voucher, and he came bearing not only a great tan and vacation photos, but a business prospect on hand. While visiting the mountainous town of San Ignacio, he happened to go on a horseback riding tour with Santiago Juan, a charismatic Belizean who had just returned to his home country after spending his youth traveling the world. He was taking the reins at his family business, a lodge known as Nabitunich Stone Cottages and Hanna Stables horseback riding outfit, both located on a 400-acre spread of organic farming land located just a few miles away from the main tourist attraction in town, Xunantunich Mayan ruins. Both businesses were active in the 1980s and 1990s, but had been shut down when Santiago's parents decided to retire. Santiago was now on a mission to revive the operations for tourists, beginning with offering horseback rides, and eventually re-opening the cottages to guests.

Santiago Juan leading a tour in Belize.

Santiago Juan leading a tour in Belize.

How would Martin and I get involved? By offering our technology-based services of web design and development, and online marketing to help increase awareness of Santiago's newly revived business, and thus increase sales as well.

Sales marketing email
Sales marketing email

Lesson 1: Choose good business partners.

Since the bread and butter of the business we were selling relied so much on the in-person experience, it was crucial that everything about that service was topnotch off the bat. During subsequent trips to Belize when we attempted to replicate this model with other sub-par small businesses, we became even more appreciative than before of Santiago's hospitable yet highly entrepreneurial personality that it turns out is very hard to find. With Santiago's business, this wasn't a problem, given his extremely high rating on Trip Advisor, one of the biggest lead generation platforms for us today. There's a reason why pretty much every guest review written about Hanna Stables and Nabitunich is rave-worthy, and that reason is Santiago.

Lesson 2: Other countries have different standards when it comes to doing business.

You'd have thought I learned this in my international business courses in college, but it's entirely different to learn this lesson in real life. Given that Belize is located in Central America, accepts US dollars, and even has English as its official language, there have been expected twists and turns while doing business in Belize, some for better, and others for worse. Our first big surprise came in the form of the state of online business in Belize. We were relieved to find out that pretty much every tourist establishment in Belize does indeed have a website, and not too surprised to learn that every single website was a couple years behind in design and technology. This lack of technology was how we quickly identified the problem we were out to solve.

Here in the United States, particularly in Seattle, we've become accustomed to instant gratification. When booking a trip, for instance, we expect to know within seconds if there's availability at a lodge or on a tour, and book and possibly even pay for that service online without a third-party intermediary. These same luxuries of instant feedback and confirmation are largely non-existent outside of the USA, particularly in Belize, where the booking process for a prospective guest goes something like this:

Step 1: Fill out a guest inquiry form.

Step 2: Submit it online.

Step 3: Vendor on the other end receives the booking request and must manually check calendars and confirm availability (or lack thereof).

Step 4: Vendor confirms availability and quotes a rate to the guest.

Step 5: Guest receives rate and either accepts, counter-offers, or asks more questions.

There are many problems with this older model, such as waiting a long time for availability to be confirmed, and then having to make sense of email strings and unrelated forms to properly piece together and organize the guests' final itinerary. Our main mission was to address these inefficiencies and help bring online booking best practices to Belize. We did so using the techniques described in the next section.

Lesson 3: There's no need to reinvent the wheel (even as an entrepreneur)

This is one of Martin's favorite sayings, and it's one that we have applied to many aspects of our business. While our premise of developing an online booking system for Hanna Stables was (and still is) revolutionary in Belize, it's a problem that has been solved in many other parts of the world. We ideally planned to develop a custom booking platform from scratch, but quickly realized that this method would take us a significant amount of time. In the meantime, it was December - the beginning of busy season for tourism in Central America, and it was best that we adopt tried and true methods to create an immediate solution that Hanna Stables could begin benefitting from immediately. Those solutions came to us in the form of WordPress, WooCommerce, and PayPal, costing us a grand total of just $150 a year in web hosting. Our new and improved online booking process allows guests to find, book, reserve a room or tour, and receive a detailed itinerary and receipt all within a matter of minutes. It may sound basic to most, but this was and still is a revolutionary solution for a small business in Belize. This solution was engineered and implemented in less than a month, and we officially began collecting online reservations and payments in December 2012.

Hanna Stables Airbnb listing
Hanna Stables Airbnb listing

Another way we made use of other existing platforms was in deciding to take advantage of Nabitunich accommodations by listing them on Hostel World and Airbnb in early 2013. Being listed on these highly popular directories gave us visibility to a whole new market of potential guests, and Airbnb in particular has become a huge lead generator, even during our perceived low seasons.

Lesson 4: Some business problems are out of your control, but there's (almost) always a solution.

Even after we developed and implemented the online payment system, we quickly ran into a BIG problem. Our system was such that guests were paying the full balance of the tour or accommodations online, leaving Gemini Connect with thousands of dollars that we had to somehow wire transfer to Santiago's bank account in Belize. Online banking is but a dream for Belizeans, so direct deposits or web-based transfers weren't possible. Instead, we spent that first year going to Western Union to wire non-trivial sums of money to Belize, until they eventually grew suspicious and blocked us from doing so. Using traditional methods, there was no easy way to get Santiago's money. That's when we developed a rather simple solution: having guests pay an online deposit to secure their reservations, giving us peace of mind that they are committed to showing up, and also serving as a commission payment to Gemini Connect. The remaining balance was then collected in Belize once the service was rendered, eliminating the need for wire transfers. Simple, yet it solved a slew of problems for  all parties.

Lesson 4: Know your value, but be flexible when it comes to having it fulfilled.

This point relates similarly to lesson 2 since it has to do with understanding cultural and economic differences in other countries. Martin and I highly value and price our services according to U.S. standards, but we had to seriously reconsider our rates when dealing with a country like Belize, where cost of living is such that many people can live comfortably off of a few thousand dollars per year. We never harbored illusions of being paid in cash hourly  even part of what we'd normally charge, and instead worked with Santiago to develop the above-mentioned deposit system. It would be a series of small, gradual payments, but as we soon saw, it didn't take much to start getting sizable profits.

Lesson 5: You don't need a big operation to make a big difference

One of the biggest takeaways that we are continually mystified by was how seemingly simple yet highly effective our work in Belize has been, and all it took was a friendly in-person chance meeting and a few emails to initiate. Since then our 2-person team has been able to repeatedly sell out a resort in Central America. As we've pointed out, this doesn't mean doing business internationally is a cake walk, but it truly doesn't take much to begin solving and profiting from real business problems anywhere in the world as long as you have the motivation and skills.

Lesson 6: To scale an ambitious business you need real software

So far so good, this experience has been rewarding in many ways, but to truly become something beyond a part time business for 2 people, this venture has to scale.We've estimated that to afford to be dedicated full time to this endeavor which we love, we need 40 partners like Hanna Stables. This is of course impossible with the hastily put together solution which relies on third party product - it can only service  a few clients at a time. For this we need a custom proprietary software tailored to our exact operation.  The monetary reward is nice, but by far the most important thing we have gained so far is the opportunity to invent a scalable business model which can let our company grow indefinitely.

Conclusion

This in a nutshell is our success story of doing business in Belize. To get started core of the business strategy was rather simple, including the way it was initiated, although it certainly provided its own set of challenges, but not without great reward. Based on our first 2 years of operation we are now actively developing software to satisfy a much broader model which when finished will put our company on the travel industry map alongside the biggest players.

Below is a brief timeline summarizing our main business accomplishments:

Gemini Connect Business Timeline

  • May 2012: Martin's first trip to Belize when he met Santiago/Hanna Stables.
  • July 2012: Agreed upon a business deal with Hanna Stables.
  • August 2012: The brand new Hanna Stables website debuts online.
  • November 2012: Gemini Connect LLC is formed; we venture to Belize to capture multimedia footage for web.
  • December 2012: Online booking reservation system and payments were introduced, along with a revamped website full of shiny new photos and content.
  • February 2014: Online deposit payments are introduced, eliminating wire transfers.
  • March 2014: Scalable business model invented and software development on it begun
  • May 2015: Gemini Connect reinvests profits and buys a brand new company car in cash to foster a US West Coast expansion
  • (Projected) January 2016 - Release of Gemini Connect's scalable software
Taking our new Subaru Impreza for a spin!

Taking our new Subaru Impreza for a spin!

Sustainability Profile: Hirabara Farms

Sustainability Profile: Hirabara Farms

Our week-long Big Island trip for the  Hawaii sustainability documentary continues with a stop at Hirabara Farms. This 3-acre parcel sits at 2,900 feet above sea level in Waimea. It is owned by farmers Kurt and Pam Hirabara, and together they produce 13 varieties of baby lettuce and about 2,400 pounds each week exclusively for island chefs.

Partnership with Hanna Stables in Belize

To welcome in the New Year, we at Gemini Connect are excited to announce that our latest project has finally launched: a new e-commerce website for Hanna Stables! This family-owned tourism business in Belize is our first international business partner and this is the first of many small projects we will be doing with them.

Tucked away in the lush hills of San Ignacio, Belize is a tropical ranch known collectively as San Lorenzo, including the historic Nabitunich "stone" cottages, and one of the oldest horseback riding establishments in Belize, Hanna Stables. The property has been family owned for three generations and is currently owned by Santiago Juan, an avid horseman who has continued has family tradition of running horseback rides to nearby Mayan ruins on the 45+ horses he has on the premises. Tourists have been flocking to Hanna Stables to experience the nearby Mayan wonder, Xunantunich, on horseback, or in other cases taking a leisurely ride through San Lorenzo and over to the unexcavated Mayan site Actun Kan. Hanna Stables has been doing swimmingly well on its own, as evidenced by its overwhelmingly positive Trip Advisor reviews from delighted guests.

However, the Hanna Stables website was due for a refresh (see the old Hanna Stables website here, as well as its corresponding social media pages and overall image library. Not to mention, the Nabitunich accommodations that used to host couples, families, and backpackers was gearing up for a re-opening, and what better way to attract customers than through online booking? This is where we come in.

In late November 2012, right before Thanksgiving, we two at Gemini Connect traveled down to Belize and spent two weeks on site at Hanna Stables, Nabitunich, and San Lorenzo farm. Not only did we learn more about the establishment and all who lived and worked there, but we captured tons of imagery and information that we could later use to rebuild the HannaStables.com website. We were fortunate enough to also visit many surrounding tourist areas that Hanna Stables plans to include on longer horseback rides for experienced riders.

Those traveling to Belize are probably already familiar with the popular Xunantunich ("Maiden of the Rock") Mayan ruins, but have you heard of Caracol, an even larger ancient Maya archaeological site, or one of the area's oldest Mayan sites Cahal Pech, both in the same town? Both ruins are stunningly well conserved, and unlike some of the more popular ones such as Chichen Itza in Mexico and Tikal in Guatemala, visitors are largely unrestricted and can still climb atop the pyramids in Belize. For those wanting to get away from the more established ruins, Hanna Stables also offers visits to unexcavated ruins such as El Pilar and Actun Kan; traveling to these sites is a true adventure that will make your inner Indiana Jones swoon (spoken from experience!).

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Besides the ruins, we also ventured deep into Belizean culture by visiting Martz Farm, another family run establishment consisting of a real life tree house and cabana deep in the jungles of San Ignacio. We delighted over owner Joe Martinez's authentic demeanor, hearty laugh, and beautiful poetry (he'll spout verses for you on command), and his wife Miriam's delicious home cooked meals. Their three children also keep the premises lively, as well as a host of horses, dogs, and a donkey out back.

We didn't stop with ruins and farms; we also visited the local San Ignacio Farmer's Market, Spanish Lookout to see how the Amish and Mennonites live, the Iguana Conservation Project, Guanacaste National Forest, Mountain Pine Ridge, Río Frío cave and waterfalls. Luckily, time also permitted a couple days relaxing on the beautiful coral Caye Caulker, and a crazy adventure across the border in Guatemala while visiting the famous ruins of Tikal.

WHEW. It was at face value a whirlwind trip that didn't end when we came back to Seattle--that was when the real work began. Weeks were spent sifting through thousands of photos, designing a brand new website, and putting together all of the administration tools we would need to become a full-fledged travel booking agency for Hanna Stables.

Joe Martinez of Martz Farm in Belize.
Joe Martinez of Martz Farm in Belize.

Alas, all things came together, and on 01/01/13, we were proud to announce to the world that HannaStables.com is live. From here on out, we remain in charge of maintaining and upgrading the website as needed, as well as posting Photo of the Day images on Facebook and Twitter, writing weekly blogs, and handling all of the online reservations. We would love if you visited HannaStables.com to see our final product, and also follow the Hanna Stables social networks (click hyperlinks below) as we have only scratched the surface with the stories and photos we have to share.

P.S. If anyone wants to visit Belize, let us know! We are happy to refer you to some great people and help you plan a memorable trip of a lifetime.

BEFORE

Old Hanna Stables website
Old Hanna Stables website

AFTER

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Sustainability Profile: Wailea Agriculture

Those in search of the Garden of Eden need look no further than Wailea Agricultural Group (Wailea Ag). Located in Honomu on the Big Island's Hamakua Coast, Wailea Ag consists of 110 acres of what used to be sugar cane fields for as far as the eye could see. In 1994, partners Michael Crowell and Lesley Hill began working on the land with the idea of establishing a sustainable food forest of sorts. Today, the land is home to lush green land where tons of tropical flowers, plants, fruits, and spices grow in abundance. The cream of the crop is Hawaiian heart of palm, a nutritious and highly prized vegetable harvested from the inner core of palm trees. Wailea Ag supplies many fine dining restaurants and hotels with their abundant hearts of palm and they are currently the largest growers of fresh Hawaiian heart of palm in America averaging an annual harvest of over 15 tons (harvested by hand!).

*This is a multi-part installment as part of the Hawaii Sustainable Agriculture Project. Learn more about the project and the 12 participants here

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Wailea Agricultural Group

Wailea Agriculture began in 1994 as a 110-acre food forest. It is currently America’s largest grower of fresh Hawaiian hearts of palm. Owners Michael Crawford and Leslie Hill spent many years clearing the former sugar cane land in order to make room for their food forest. They practice a variety of sustainable farming techniques. One involves leaving trimmings and fallen leaves and fruits around the original plants to help fertilize them over time. They also use plant cuttings for composting, keep an on-site reservoir of water catchment, and allow local hunting of feral pigs on the property so that hunters can eat or sell the animals.

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Wailea Ag By the Numbers

  • 1994 - Year when Wailea Agriculture began.

  • 110 Acres -  encompassing Wailea Ag.

  • 15 Tons of heart of palm are harvested annually. 

  • 20+ Varieties of edible plants grown.

  • 35+ Years of collective farming experience. 

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Wailea Ag was among our first farm stops during the Big Island culinary tour, and while we were expecting to see tons of palm trees on their property, nothing could prepare us for the extensive tour that Michael took us on. He loaded us up in a motorized golf cart and proceeded to drive us around his 110 acres, stopping every few minutes to get out and show us some of the many other tropical fruits and plants they had growing on the property.

In no particular order (and undoubtedly forgetting many things), here is what we saw growing in full force at Wailea Ag: Fresh peach palm, lychee, rambutans, pulasans, longans, Meyer lemons, keffir limes, durian, dragon fruit, avocado, passion fruit, mangosteen, starfruit, jackfruit, soursop, açai, citron, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, bay leaves, and cinnamon, to name a few.

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Next time you visit Wailea Ag, it's almost guaranteed they'll have another fruit or spice to add to the list. That's pretty darn impressive, especially considering that all 110 acres of land started out as sugar cane fields. By the time we were done with the extensive tour, we also had a box to take home that was full of pretty much every fruit we could get our hands on...and of course a freshly harvest heart of palm!

How does Wailea Ag factor in sustainability? Lucky for them, their cash crop is largely sustainable by nature. Heart of palm is a renewable crop in that new shoots constantly replace the ones that have been harvested, meaning no harm is done to the main crop. There are of course many more sustainability measures in place, but you'll have to wait and see the final video when it's ready! In the meantime, get a mini video tour over at She Grows Food. Also, check out the full photo gallery of the visit here.

Wailea Agricultural Group, Inc. P.O. Box 69 Honomu, Hawaii 96728

www.waileaag.com (808) 963-6360

Sustainability Profile: Hawaii Island Goat Dairy

When you think of the Big Island of Hawaii, I bet that goat cheese is the last thing you'd expect to buy fresh from the islands. However, thanks to Dick Threlfall and his late wife Heather, a small farmstead of goats churns out over 12 kinds of goat milk cheeses including feta, mozzarella, gouda, Colby and much more. As part of a weeklong tour of Hawaii farms, our next stop was Hawaii Island Goat Dairy to learn about dairy goat farming.

*This is a multi-part installment as part of the Hawaii Sustainable Agriculture Project. Learn more about the project and the 12 participants here

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Hawaii Island Goat Dairy by the Numbers

  • 2001 - The year Hawaii Island Goat Dairy was established.
  • 10 - The farm encompasses 10-acres of land.
  • 60 female goats are milked daily.
  • 12 Types of goat cheese produced.
  • 20 male goats on the farm.

The goat farm herd consists of several dairy goat breeds including Saanens, Toggenburgs, and Nubians. Many goats are bred as half Saanen and half Nubian, or "snubian." Pasture lands on the farm include not only grass but also tropical trees such as bamboo, tea leaf, ginger leaf, and macadamia nut trees. The herd of goats graze here frequently.

Hawaii Island Goat Dairy only has four bucks on the premises. But for the sake of increasing production without increasing the adult goats they have to care for, the farm staff uses artificial insemination to produce baby goats. Liquid nitrogen is used to freeze the sperm of mating bucks to facilitate goat reproduction. After they're born, baby goats are raised indoors and fed by hand by staff and volunteers.

Dick Threfall (second from the right) and his family.

Dick Threfall (second from the right) and his family.

Goat Cheese Production

The goat dairy has a fully automated pipeline milking system on site. Made to exclusively cater to goats, the system can milk as many as 60 goats twice a day. The pipeline feeds the goat milk to the cheese room where it is pasteurized and made into two kinds of cheese: natural feta cheese and flavored cheeses. Some of the latter variety include goat cheese flavored with dill, garlic, macadamia basil pesto, or chipotle pepper. After the cheeses are produced, they are stored in a refrigerated cheese room where they are aged. Altogether, the farm produces 200-300 pounds of cheese a week. The products are sent to Hawaii’s top chefs and a few selected local supermarkets. Hawaii Island Goat Dairy cheese products are only sold in local Hawaii markets; no sales are available on the farm or online.

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Hawaii Island Goat Dairy and Sustainability

To do its part and involve the community, the goat dairy offers an on-site volunteer internship program that offers room and board in exchange for work on the dairy. Dick Treyfall also shares his thoughts on Hawaii becoming a more agriculturally sustainable state: “It’s a lot of work, but in the long run it’s worth it because there may come a time where we have to be sustainable. We’ll run out of food, but we have the ability to produce all of the food we ever need here. The sustainability move is tremendous now; it’s picking up and getting better all of the time. Happy healthy goats give good milk which makes great cheese.”

Sustainability Profile: Wow Farm

Tricia Hodson first inherited the plot of homestead land from her father back in 1989. She had a background in education and her husband Mike had spent 27 years working with the Hawaii Police Department. Neither of them knew anything about farming, but they had the vision of building a family business by growing and selling organic tomatoes. Initially, the Hodsons were growing tomatoes in greenhouses for personal consumption. Then they entered the local farmer’s market scene where their tomatoes earned their well-deserved “wow” name and fame. Their first greenhouse appeared on the property in 2006; today, their 10-acre property a holds over 40 greenhouses that produce between 5,000-10,000 pounds of organic tomatoes a week.

Why grow tomatoes? Mike says they are among the hardest crops to grow, and he wanted a challenge. A challenge did he receive, and it took lots of trial and error to come up with an effective way to cultivate an agricultural program that could be sustainable.

*This is a multi-part installment as part of the Hawaii Sustainable Agriculture Project. Learn more about the project and the 12 participants here

Mike and Tricia Hodson of Wow tomato farms on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Mike and Tricia Hodson of Wow tomato farms on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Wow Hodson Family Farms

Six years ago, Mike and Tricia Hodson were sitting on a 10-acre lot of Hawaii homestead agriculture land in Waimea with nothing more than a house and a dream board of ideas. Today, that land is now home to Wow Hodson Family Farms, one of the most successful organic tomato farms on Hawaii's Big Island. The story of how Mike and Tricia got to where they are today is an inspiring example of entrepreneurial and educational pursuits.

Address: 64-793 Ainahua Alanui Kamuela, Hawai'i, Hawaii 96743 (808) 887-0969 http://www.wowfarms.com/

By the Numbers

  • 10 Acres - Wow Hudson Family Farm consists of 10 acres of land. 

  • 40 - The number of greenhouses on the farmlands.

  • 2006 - The year the first greenhouse appeared on the farm. 

  • Thousands of pounds of tomatoes produced by the farm weekly. 

  • 14 Other families benefiting from the Hodson's farming education. [/tw-column]

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Today, Mike's method of growing tomatoes requires a minimal amount of output, and it reaps a ton of benefits. Among his inventive growing techniques includes the use of plastic flooring in his greenhouses that eliminates the need to weed his plants, an act which he says can take up 75% of a farmer's labor. The plastic flooring also makes it easy to swiftly sweep up the dead tomato leaves when they fall.

Mike's neat row of tomato plants in his greenhouse are also part of his efficiency plan. When it comes time to pollinate his plants, all he has to do is go to one end of the row and give his plants a few hard shakes. The tomatoes take care of the rest of the work, as they are self-pollinating plants.

What is the importance of sustainability in his farming practices? Well Mike is quick to point out that sustainability can have multiple meanings. It can mean financial freedom from the burden of debts, which he has practiced by paying for all of his farming equipment, supplies, and land without the need to borrow credit.

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Malama 'aina means to care for and nurture the land so it can give back all we need to sustain life for ourselves and our future generations.

An ahupua'a is an ancient concept of resource use and management based on families living in a division of land that connects the mountains to the reefs and the sea." - Puanani Rogers, Team Leader for the Ho`okipa Network

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Sustainability can also mean malama 'aina (take care of the land) by using organic farming techniques that will keep the land healthy, which is what Wow Farms does in their practices. Although they aren't certified organic (they don't see the need to pay for a stamp of certification), Wow Farms is a fully organic farm that chooses to sell itself as an "all natural" farm.

Most importantly, however, is the definition of sustainability that applies to keeping a community of people happy and fed with healthy, wholesome food. Wow Farm fulfills this mission by helping 14 other nearby homestead families learn to grow their own food using the Hudson's greenhouses and growing techniques. Mike points out that the entire state of Hawaii only produces about 7% of the food that we consume; if the ships and suppliers were to stop bringing in food from outside sources, the islands will starve after a week. An isolated island can't eternally rely on outside providers, especially with the population booming the way it is.

Wow Farm tomatoes varieties include heirlooms, red and orange beefsteaks, and Romas. The tomatoes are of such pristine quality that they are in high demand by the chefs at many high end Hawaii resorts including the Hilton Waikoloa, Four Seasons Hualālai, and Mauna Lani Bay Resort. Consumers can also find Wow Farm tomatoes in select grocery stores. Yes, they're priced higher than the average tomato, but they are organic, locally grown, and supremely tasty--not to mention, they have a very long shelf life.

Sustainability Profile: Rare Hawaiian Honey

Volcano Island Honey Company is a small business in Hawaii that produces one of the rarest types of honey in the world: organic kiawe honey. The honeybee nectar comes from the naturally GMO and pesticide free forest of kiawe trees on the dry side of the Big Island. The honey naturally crystalizes into a creamy white texture and is pure, raw, 100% certified organic honey that is bottled and jarred.

The company is owned by Dr. and Mrs. Michael Domeier; Dr. Domeier is an expert on Great White Sharks, having made many breakthroughs and discoveries that have been featured on television programs. He created a special honey called the Great White Honey and is donating 10% of those sales profits to shark research. Thus, Dr. Dumeyer’s work with the kiawe honey helps sustain another natural resource of Hawaii: the Great White Shark.

Rare Hawaiian kiawe honey
Rare Hawaiian kiawe honey

“What I like about Hawaii is that there aren’t huge agricultural businesses that are spraying their giant mono-crops. We came here from California where that happened all the time. So I think Hawaii is a great place to eat fresher and healthier.”

Location: 66-1250 Lalamilo Farm Road Waimea, Hawaii

(888) 663-6639 |  www.rarehawaiianhoney.com

*This is a multi-part installment as part of the Hawaii Sustainable Agriculture Project. Learn more about the project and the 12 participants here

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By The Numbers

  • 100% All honeys are 100% certified organic. 
  • 10% Percentage of sales of Great White Shark honey that go to research. 
  • 1,000 Acreage of kiawe forest where honeybees gather nectar.
  • 1828 Year the first kiawe tree was planted in Hawaii.
  • 6 - Kiawe trees have long thorns that can be up to 6 cm long. 

Sustainability Profile: Hamakua Springs Country Farms

Richard Ha and his family own a 600 acre farm on the Big Island in Hamakua Springs. Here, they along with 70 full-time employees practice biodiversity by producing a variety of bananas, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, watercress, avocado, and citrus. All of the fruits and vegetables are produced using sustainably viable practices. For example, instead of spraying banana plants with pesticides, predatory wasps are allowed to nest inside of the banana groves to cut down on the amount of caterpillars that try to eat the fruit. Grass is allowed to grow around the roots of the banana trees to create a sponge-like effect that helps the plant absorb more water and fertilizer. When banana fruits begin to ripen, they are wrapped in pesticide-free plastic to protect them against pests.

421 Lama Street Hilo, Hawaii (808) 981-0805 www.hamakuasprings.com

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By the Numbers

  • 600 Acres of Hamakua Springs Farmland.
  • 70 Full-time workers on the farm.
  • 150 Acres of land leased to other farmers.
  • 2004 - Year when Hamakua Springs expanded its crop offerings.
  • 2 Types of bananas are grown in Hamakua Springs Farms.

Even the way the farm stays powered is sustainable by way of a flume system that supplies water to a newly built on-site generator for electricity. Rain water is captured on a rooftop and is stored in a reservoir for cooling and washing produce as well as powering a hydroponic system. Hydroponic farming is preferred since it ensures protection against pests and fungal growth while also reducing reliance on labor, land, and heavy machinery. Using hydroelectricity and solar power, the farm strives to soon be completely off the grid.

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Hamakua Springs further encourages sustainability in leading by example and helping the rest of their community have access to farming. Currently they lease 150 acres to local farmers so that they too are able to grow their own crops for consumption and commerce. The farm is also open to new technology for farming including the possible use of drones to detect agricultural problems.

But at the end of the day, Richard Ha knows that the best form of sustainable farming comes in the awareness and activity from his customers. He encourages all Hawaii residents to buy local not only to support local farmers, but to ensure everyone the freshest, most natural products.

Produce from Hamakua Springs is available at most Hawaii-based supermarkets including Safeway, Costco, KTA Superstores, and Star Market; select produce is also exported internationally and to the mainland USA.

*This is a multi-part installment as part of the Hawaii Sustainable Agriculture Project. Learn more about the project and the 12 participants here

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Sustainability Profile: Aikane Plantation Coffee Company

Kona coffee reigns supreme as Hawaii's most popular coffee. But (arguably) superior to Kona coffee is that which comes from the neighboring area of Ka'u. Valued for its smooth and delicate flavor and low acidity, Ka'u coffee is considered on the top coffees of the world and is even available as a Starbucks Reserve brew. One talented Hawaii coffee farm known for its Ka'u coffee is Aikane Coffee Plantation. You'll know their brand once you see their iconic purple packaging.

Located in the Ka'u region of Hawaii (bordering Kona), Aikane Coffee Plantation's first coffee trees were planted by owner Meryl Becker's great-grandfather in 1894 when he settled in the area to work in the sugar industry. In fact, many of the plantation’s current coffee trees are descendants of those first trees. Located far away from other coffee farms, there is little chance of cross-pollination. As a result, Aikane coffee remains a truly authentic old Hawaiian coffee.

Aikane Coffee Plantation Hawaii
Aikane Coffee Plantation Hawaii

By the Numbers

  • 1894 - Year when Aikane's first coffee tree was planted. 

  • 2 How many seeds are in one coffee berry. 

  • 8% Amount of coffee berries that have only 1 seed (peaberries). 

  • 70+ How many countries produce coffee. 

  • 15th Century - when coffee was first introduced. 

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The coffee cherries are handpicked, washed, and dried on site. They are roasted and packaged in eye-catching royal purple bags as whole beans or as ground coffee. A brewed cup of Aikane coffee is smooth and rich, lacking a strong acidic aftertaste. The coffee production process is truly green. No pesticides or chemicals are ever used, macadamia nut shells and coffee pulp are used as mulch, grazing sheep are used to keep the grass growth down, a catchment system catches rainwater, and electric solar panels supply all of the energy. The farm is also home to horses and donkeys and it is a visitation destination for tour groups. Aikane Plantation coffee is a premium product in the Japanese market, but it can be found in high-end restaurants in Hawaii as well as Shirokiya, Bishop Museum, Blue Hawaii Lifestyles, military commissaries, and select farmer’s markets.

*This is a multi-part installment as part of the Hawaii Sustainable Agriculture Project. Learn more about the project and the 12 participants here

Sustainability Profile: Abalone and Natural Energy

The state of Hawaii operates NELHA, an innovative science and technology park located in Kona. It consists of 87-acres of land and 3,200-acres of water. Parcels of the land are leased to national and international businesses that cultivate abalone, ocean fish, lobsters, shrimp, sea horses, algae, alternative energy sources, and bottled water. NELHA was the site of the first successful Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) plant in the world. This remarkable technique uses the difference between deep ocean water and warm surface water to create electrical power. One of the many uses of OTEC is to stimulate growing conditions for ocean plants and animals so that they may be cultivated on land.

NELHA By the Numbers

  • 87 Acres of land encompassing NELHA. 
  • 40 Enterprises located on NELHA property. 
  • 3,000 Feet deep: how far deep ocean water is extracted from. 
  • 1974 The year when NELHA's HOST Park was created. 
  • 3,200 Acres of water on NELHA property. 
Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii
Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii

 

Big Island Abalone Corporation

One of the businesses leasing 10-acres of land from NELHA is the Big Island Abalone Company. They produce over 100,000 pounds of abalone each year for consumption in Hawaii, on the mainland, and in Asia. The objective of the farm is to stimulate the positive elements of the natural ocean environment in which abalone can flourish by harnessing a constant flow of cool, pure, nutrient rich seawater pumped from 3,000 feet deep in the ocean. The farm also cultivates a blend of seaweed on site to serve as food for the abalone; the seaweed heavily influences the taste, color, texture, and appearance of the abalone.

The abalone business is thriving in Kona because science and technology are able to utilize a natural, clean and renewable resource: the Pacific Ocean. 

Kona Hawaii Abalone

Kona Hawaii Abalone

*This is a multi-part installment as part of the Hawaii Sustainable Agriculture Project. Learn more about the project and the 12 participants here

Sustainability Profile: Kuahiwi Ranch

Kuahiwi Ranch began in 1993 by the Galimba family just after the sugar cane industry on the Big Island shut down. The ranch is located on 10,000 acres in the southern-most tip of the island and is currently managed by founder Al Galimba and his daughter Michelle. There are 400 Kuahiwi cattle grazing the pasturelands and no antibiotics or artificial hormones are used to speed up their growth. The cattle are fed an all-natural plant-based supplementary feed consisting of wheat grain, wheat germ, barley, corn, and cottonseed. However, using this feed comes at a high cost to cattle ranchers in Hawaii as it takes resources to ship the feed over from the mainland. Indeed, even reducing transportation plays a big part in impacting sustainability in Hawaii.

Michelle Galimba encourages all food producers to form good relationships with the greater community. “We all need to help each other become more sustainable in our living.”

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*This is a multi-part installment as part of the Hawaii Sustainable Agriculture Project. Learn more about the project and the 12 participants here

By the Numbers

  • 1993 Year the ranch was founded. 
  • 400 Free-ranging cattle on the ranch.
  • 10,000 Acres the ranch is comprised of. 
  • 100% Free of hormones and antibiotics.
  • 4 First original cows introduced to Hawaii. 

Sustainability Profile: Hamakua Heritage Mushrooms

Located on 33-acres in Laupahoehoe on the northwest side of the Big Island of Hawaii, Hamakua Heritage Farm consists of an indoor warehouse stretching 16,000 square feet. Owned by Bob and Janice Stanga, this farm grows gourmet mushrooms that are sold to Hawaii restaurants and supermarkets. Each week, the farm grows 4,000 pounds of grey oyster, pioppini, abalone, and alii mushrooms in thousands of jars in a sterile, climate-controlled environment.

Address: 36-221 Manowaiopae Homestead Road Laupahoehoe, Hawaii www.hamakuamushrooms.com

*This is a multi-part installment as part of the Hawaii Sustainable Agriculture Project. Learn more about the project and the 12 participants here

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By the Numbers

  • 16,000 - Square footage of the Hamakua Heritage warehouse.

  • 4,000 Pounds of mushrooms grown.

  • 33 Acres of land Hamakua Heritage sits on.

  • 4 Types of mushrooms grown. 

  • 85% - How much of mushrooms are water. 

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Hamakua Heritage is one of only two farms in the USA that grows mushrooms in jars. The growing medium or substrate for the mushrooms consists of locally sourced eucalyptus wood, corn cobs, wheat grain, and water. No manure, gluten, pesticides, fertilizers or growth hormones are used. After the mushrooms are harvested, the natural growing medium is then recycled to local farmers and the jars are cleaned and reused; nothing is wasted.

In addition to fresh mushrooms, Hamakua Heritage also makes and sells mushroom-infused foods including mushroom cookies, crackers and tea, to name a few. They also have a section of the warehouse dedicated to hosting tours to teach visitors about the mushroom growing process as well as demonstrate some quick and easy ways to prepare mushroom dishes. There are also plans to further increase sustainability by adding solar panels and introducing shiitake mushroom growing logs, bokashi (fermented organic matter for composting) kits and mushroom growing kits for purchase by those looking to start their own home gardens.

Hamakua mushrooms are available in many local supermarkets including Foodland, Safeway, Times, Don Quijote, Costco, and Whole Foods.

Hamakua Heritage Farms mushrooms Hawaii
Hamakua Heritage Farms mushrooms Hawaii

Sustainability Profile: KTA Super Stores

If you've been to the Big Island, odds are you are very familiar with the island's popular local grocery store chain: KTA Super Stores. Headquartered in Hilo, KTA Super Stores is the largest network of supermarkets on Hawaii's Big Island. The chain of 5 stores began over 95 years ago as a small 500-square-foot dried goods store owned by Koichi and Taniguchi. Their stores strongly support the concept of selling Hawaii grown food. Added to this are the Hawaiian values of lokahi, or working together, and the Japanese value of kaizen, or striving for improvement. Together, these values are reflected in the KTA Mountain Apple brand of local foods.

KTA Super Stores Hawaii
KTA Super Stores Hawaii

Over 1,500 years ago, the mountain apple was one of the 24 plants brought to Hawaii by the Polynesian voyagers. Like taro, coconut, breadfruit, and banana, the mountain apple was fundamental for the survival of ancient Hawaiians. The following are some of the locally grown foods sold at the KTA: Meyer lemon, papaya, argula, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, strawberries, herbs, cucumbers, kabocha pumpkin, watermelon, tangerine, and cilantro.

By the Numbers

  • 1916 - Year when KTA Super Stores started. 
  • 5 - Number of chain stores in Hawaii. 
  • 800 People employed by KTA Super Stores.
  • 1979 - Year when they became the first supermarket in Hawaii to use UPC barcode scanners.
  • 500 - Square footage of the original store. 

*This is a multi-part installment as part of the Hawaii Sustainable Agriculture Project. Learn more about the project and the 12 participants here

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