TALK STORY: ‘Ulu Makes the World Go Round
In 2019, Body Glove Cruises partnered with CarbonBuddy to offset our carbon emissions produced by our tours. Quarterly donations made by guests were contributed back to the community’s various nonprofit organizations. It was through CarbonBuddy that we, here at Body Glove Cruises, made a special connection with Hawai’i ‘Ulu Cooperative in 2020. Now, in 2022, we sat down to “talk story” with our friends at HUC to learn more about what they’ve been up to since then!
Hawai’i ‘Ulu Cooperative (HUC) was founded in 2016. Its beginnings were humble, with nine farmers meeting on Craigslist and deciding to build a network of ‘ulu (breadfruit) farms around the island. The mission was simple: revitalize ‘ulu as a crop, support local farmers, and wean Hawai’i off imported foods.
‘Ulu is a starchy fruit that is native to Micronesia and Polynesia. It’s versatile in use, and because it thrives in warm locations, it’s perfect for Hawai’i! When cooked, its taste is akin to sweet potatoes, but also works wonders in desserts or as a gluten-free flour substitute. Thus, this unique bumpy, green fruit has become the basis for HUC’s organization.
Kenta Nemoto, HUC’s marketing manager, spoke with us at Body Glove Hawai’i, and arranged a tour of the Honalo facility in Kona, so we could see where our contributions through CarbonBuddy were going. He commented that, growing up, rice was a shelf staple in his home. “It’s almost like people of Hawaii forgot how to enjoy indigeneous staple crops,” when discussing HUC’s goal to turn a natural resource into something everyone can easily access and enjoy.
In their first harvest, those nine farmers produced 300 lbs worth of ‘ulu, and now, 224 farmers are part of the co-op, and together, 100,000 lbs pass through the cooperative each year. While HUC has become the foremost breadfruit farming co-op in the state, the organization encourages its members to do what they love best. They also process kalo (taro), ‘uala (purple sweet potato), pala’ai (squash), and many other crops in their facilities – facilities which are committed to processing their goods as sustainably as possible.
At this time, HUC serves as the “middleman” for farmers and businesses. Farmers can focus on what’s important: agriculture. HUC then handles the business and marketing end. As crops arrive at one of the processing facilities on the island, it is then cleaned, minimally processed, and packaged, before it is shipped off to local businesses, which also guarantees that farmers will receive their end of the profit. During processing, any waste that’s produced is given to Mā’ona Community Gardens, HUC’s recycling partner, which then gets turned into nutrient-rich compost and fertilizer.
HUC has plans to expand the farmer co-op to other islands, rather than shipping Big Island products between islands, increase crop collection sites islandwide, and is gearing up for a full production of one million lbs per year. Currently, production is limited by space, so HUC is looking to expand on their facilities. On April 22, 2022 (Earth Day), HUC finished installing a full solar array at their Kona facility, due in part to contributions from donors. A complete swap to solar energy will reduce emissions and save the organization $4,000 – $5,000 in electricity bills each month. These funds will be funneled towards the organization’s growth.
HOW TO SUPPORT:
Hawai’i ‘Ulu Cooperative’s par-cooked products can be found in local grocery stores in colorful packaging, as well as delicious frozen ‘ulu chocolate mousse! HUC also welcomes people to donate via Mā’ona Community Gardens, to the Food Basket (Hawai’i Island’s food bank), and to their Farm to School tasting box program. (Follow these links for more details on how to support and donate.)
Body Glove also provides the opportunity to add $1 to your reservation, which gets donated back to the community to offset the carbon emissions produced by our tours. Your donation will go to organizations like the Hawai’i ‘Ulu Cooperative and make a substantial difference. So remember: leave that donation checkbox marked!
Written by: Keisha Colon