On the east side of Hawai'i Island, in the Koa'e community, was where it all began. Our hard-working 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.
So, the first idea was for these growers to take their abundance and sell it. Unfortunately, the surplus from just one family wasn't quite enough to make it worth paying for a booth at one of the local farmers' markets and haggling with customers for hours, and there wasn't the volume or consistency to sell to most wholesalers.
In the course of a week we heard this complaint from a few different families, and a light bulb came on. With everyone needing the same thing, but having the same constraints, why not create a solution for everyone, from everyone?
...So we did.
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 7 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 set up and each farm's sales. We took a commission to cover our time, labor, 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 were able to grow a great and loyal customer base and add to the list of growers we represented. So much so, we began calling the operation, "Harvest! Puna Makai" to better reflect 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 being approved 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 biggest 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 it's main street, as well as the main highway. As basic utilities and supply lines were threatened, more folks began 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 it's Pahoa store doors on October 31st.
On November 11th, we got the keys to a beautiful space in downtown Hilo, right on historic Bayfront. On December 8th, 2014, we re-opened our doors in our new neighborhood. We've made ourselves at home in our new and improved location. With more square footage and a more central location, we're adding new farms and products every week. While its 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, and with our larger selection, everyone has more to choose from.
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 are able to earn an income doing what they love, our family is supported by supporting 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.