Chefs & Farmers Facing Future

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Chefs, farmers, culinary students and food professionals from across the state converged at Leeward Community College Friday for Chefs & Farmers Facing Future, a forum to discuss how Hawaii can foster a sustainable agriculture industry. Similar to the way local chefs united in the early ’90s to kick off the Hawaiian regional cuisine movement, chefs and farmers came together to discuss how they can better use locally grown foods, not just in restaurants and hotels, but throughout Hawaii.

The forum — consisting of three panels moderated by Vino’s Chuck Furuya and Midweek’s Jo McGarry — included chefs Alan Wong, Ed Kenney and Peter Merriman; food writers John Heckathorn and Betty Shimabukuro; farmers Dean Okimoto of Nalo Farms, Richard Ha of Hamakua Springs Country Farms; and cattle ranchers Michelle Galimba of Kuahiwi Ranch and John Morgan of Kualoa Ranch to name a few.

The three discussion topics centered on ways to reduce dependence on imported food; overcoming the bad reputation of tilapia; and Hawaii’s resurgent beef industry.

The session I found most interesting was the one on tilapia. Although tilapia has a bad reputation of being a “rubbish fish,” Alan Wong has learned through blind taste tests that it can be very tasty when raised under the right conditions. He said in a side-by-side tasting of mahi mahi, tilapia and opakapaka, people preferred the tilapia over the mahi two-thirds of the time, and it was an even split with opakapaka. Tilapia farmer Ron Weidenbach of North Shore Tilapia explained that the quality of fish is affected by the quality of the water it grows in. Of course tilapia from the Ala Wai Canal will taste bad, but Weidenbach said he raises his fish in clean water and keeps the fish in floating cages so they never feed on the bottom of his pond. They only eat what he feeds them, which ensures the best quality possible.

Overall, the forum was a terrific event with lots of informative discussions both in and out of the sessions. The sessions only served to spark the sharing of ideas among food professionals about sustainability and other topics. Yet as much as was covered at the forum, there still were important issues that weren’t addressed, and that left everyone eager for another gathering.

Facing Future forum

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The panel discussion on what can be done to be less dependent on imported food.

Dan Nakasone
Dan Nakasone

Melissa and Ed have always brought good energy to the table - whether it's to break bread or to support an event as volunteers.
They stepped up to the plate when we called out for help with this forum.

Mahalo nui to you both for your kokua!

Dan Nakasone
Dan Nakasone

Melissa and Ed have always brought good energy to the table - whether it's to break bread or to support an event as volunteers. They stepped up to the plate when we called out for help with this forum.Mahalo nui to you both for your kokua!


I'm really glad I attended this event. As a marketer, I felt it was important to try and understand the issues a little better and see how I might be able to contribute -- personally and professional -- to help Hawaii achieve its sustainability goals.

There were interesting insights and perspectives shared by presenters...mostly things we've been taking about for a while with little action...what was said vs. not said...some new ideas and challenges that will hopefully get people looking at this issue of food security more seriously. If you go back and follow the Twitter hashtag #hifoodforum, there's some passionate commentary from both sides of the issue. It's going to take more forums like this...with hopefully more candid conversations...and everyone working together to get to the place we want/need to be. I hope it doesn't take a disaster for everyone to figure out we need to be looking at solutions now.

Here's my takeaways from the Hawaii Food Forum: (1) Food security is a serious issue. Support/buy local when possible. (2) Start food systems education at a younger age. Important to know your food sources. Ask your kids where chicken/beef/eggs come from...and you may be surprised with their answer. (3) Reaching food independence is everyone's kuleana. No matter what industry you work in, you can help. (4) The current and next generation of chefs/farmers/producers/business leaders are committed to getting there.

I'm in. Are you?

johngarcia moderator

Mahalo for sharing this, Ed! Really glad that we were able to post up about this event. Appreciate your coverage on a topic that Nonstop will be more involved in!

nonstopmari moderator

glad to see this bc while i knew it took place yestdy, i hadn't seen other coverage. i heard mixed abt the dialogue, but at least sustainability has gotten enough momentum to generate a forum.

Melissa808 moderator

@johngarcia Actually, Ed & I were working with them about a month or so ago) on somehow getting a livestream up but the facility wasn't able to accommodate. We were happy to be able to do a video preview before other media outlets, though!