Connecting farms and consumers in Hawaii

How quickly our lives change. One moment, we’re gently encouraging our Farm Link Hawai‘i (FLH) customers to include hō’i’o—a native fern—in their diet. The next, we’re grappling with the uncertainties of COVID-19.

By Rob Barreca

In the first week of the pandemic, our operation went from 80 deliveries per week to over 400, with just a weekend to scale up. It challenged us physically and emotionally, but we knew it was necessary. Farmers, including some of us on FLH, had lost their commercial accounts and needed to find other ways to make up for the financially crippling loss. At the same time, self-quarantined Hawai‘i residents needed to acquire fresh produce safely without having to leave their homes. Home delivery was no longer something to add in the near future—it suddenly was staring us down at point-blank range.

FLH has done its best to acquire the funds and connections necessary to activate the moving parts: transportation, human power, supplies, and infrastructure—without pushing our organization or farmers to the limit. Before the pandemic, we averaged 20 new accounts per week. This quickly escalated to 3,000 new accounts per week! The surge in marketplace activity, and our inability to deliver that volume, caused a bottleneck. But people still needed locally grown foods NOW. With only 250 available slots for orders (our maximum daily capacity), thousands of people logged in, right when the market opened. Most were locked out. But the 250 lucky ones were able to place their orders.

The tsunami of sign-ups was overwhelming, but our small-but-dynamic team was able to rise above, tread water, learn from our mistakes, and eventually take control of the situation. By the end of May, we will leave our temporary packing station in Hale‘iwa, which was graciously donated by Kōkua Hawai‘i Foundation when we were in dire need of space to receive produce, pack orders, and park our delivery vehicles.

By June, we hope to set up a new, permanent warehouse in Honolulu. It will allow us to properly scale up to meet the needs of local farmers, household customers, and, eventually, commercial accounts. We hope the new “normalcy” includes a deeper appreciation for our local growers and the general public’s realization that food independence is a crucial issue that residents and our government must prioritize and secure.

Thank you for supporting local farmers and keeping the funds flowing to their pockets so they can continue to make a humble living while growing nutritious, delicious food to feed you and your families.

Source: University of Hawai'i.


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