On the east side of Hawai'i Island, in the Koa'e community, was where it all began. Our homesteading and farmy neighbors were finding that after their orchards and gardens had fed their families and friends, they still had leftovers that were turning into compost. And, as wonderful as compost is, it was a shame to watch all that delicious, naturally-grown food rot in the compost bin.
Why not just take the abundance and sell it? Unfortunately, the inconsistent surplus from just one family wasn't quite enough to make it worth establishing an account with a local store or paying for a booth at one of the local farmers' markets and haggling with customers for hours.
Over the course of a week, we heard this complaint from a few different neighbors, and a light bulb came on. With everyone having the same need and constraints, how could we create a solution for everyone, from everyone?
This was our answer...
On October 29th, we made our first appearance as the Koa'e Famers' Collective at the S.P.A.C.E. Farmers' Market in Seaview, HI. We picked up boxes and crates of food that our neighbors had set out for us as we headed to the market. We paid the fees, set up, and had a blast slinging produce.
With the exotic abundance of seven of our tucked-away neighbors lavishing the table, we received "Ooos" and "Ahhhs" all day, along with the unsurprising, "What is that?!". Our first offerings included: Navel oranges, dried allspice, lilikoi (passion fruit), vanilla beans, pummelos, tangerines, grapefruit, 'ulu (breadfruit), rollinia, limes, and abius.
When it was over, we broke down the setup and each farm's sales. We took a commission to cover our time, fees, and gas, and everything else went back to the grower. In the same fashion as the morning pick-up, we dropped off leftovers and containers and distributed payments. It was a smashing success.
In October 2011, we began sharing the abundance at Uncle Robert's Wednesday Night Market in Kalapana while remaining a steady presence at the Seaview market on Saturday mornings.
Between Kalapana and Seaview, we grew a great and loyal customer base while adding to our network of farms and growers. So much so, we began calling the operation "Harvest! Puna Makai" to reflect better the wider area represented by our market offerings.
In June, we found an outdoor market area for rent in downtown Pahoa, which we promptly jumped on and set up shop.
We added it to the weekly market mix until the end of the year. At that point, we decided to narrow it down to one full-time location, using the Pahoa venue. The goal was to streamline our endeavors by saving time, energy, and costs while providing a central location for our customers.
Soon after, we added a whole nursery of exotic fruit trees and garden starts, utilizing our lovely outdoor space and brightening up a quiet, old downtown.
The next big step was applying for and getting approval to become official SNAP/EBT retailers. This allowed members of our community who participated in SNAP (formerly the Food Stamps program), to use their benefits to purchase the locally-grown foods and food-producing plants we offered.
In August 2013, we made our most significant transition to date - moving into an actual brick-and-mortar storefront, on the old boardwalk, in downtown Pahoa.
Incredibly enough, a building opened up just two doors down from the outdoor market space we had been renting. Not being ones to waste much time - we jumped on it, got our lease, and spent the last week of July making ourselves at home in our very own store.
We had walls, a door, electricity, and everything!
We primped and primed and opened The Locavore Store on Monday, August 5th, 2013.
2014 brought a special guest to Pahoa Town. Residents and merchants watched the "June 27th Flow" from the Kilauea Crater bring a river of slow-moving lava closer and closer to its main street, as well as the main highway. The threat to essential utilities and supply lines prompted more and more folks to start packing and relocating. Over the weekend of 10/25-10/26, the flow advanced over 1200 yards, bringing it within a few hundred feet of our main street and the town's main power lines. In an attempt to be proactive and create stability in an otherwise unstable situation, The Locavore Store reluctantly closed its Pahoa store doors on October 31st.
On November 11th, we got the keys to a beautiful space in downtown Hilo, right on the historic Bayfront. On December 8th, 2014, we re-opened our doors in our new neighborhood. Since then, we've made ourselves at home in our new and improved location. With more square feet and a central location, we're adding new farms and products every week. While it's not our beloved Pahoa, we've gotten a pretty sweet ocean view and some parking in the trade-off. We are thrilled our Pahoa customers are rolling us into their Hilo trips. With our more extensive selection, there are more goods and groceries to choose from than ever.
We continue to expand and work with more farmers, gardeners, families, and friends. It is rewarding to know that we've created a win-win-win. Our farmers can earn an income doing what they love. At the same time, our family is supported by providing this service to our neighbors. And the larger community has access to fresh, seasonal, locally-grown food and quality products that nourish their families and our local economy.