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Sugar Hill Farmstead claims top HIplan prize

Honomu-based Sugar Hill Farmstead is hoping to expand its community supported agriculture efforts, and will use a recent $25,000 prize from the Hawaii Island Business Plan Competition to do so.

Brittany Anderson, who owns Sugar Hill Farmstead with her husband, Bodhi, said the farm began three years ago on one acre of a friend’s five-acre property.

They started with some pigs and sheep, before purchasing a 10-acre property in Honomu.

The land had been used for purple sweet potato farming, she said, and with that kind of “intensive agricultural use on the property, the soil just had no nutrients, it had no life.”

Sugar Hill Farmstead uses “regenerative agricultural practices,” which Anderson said is their “holistic approach towards land management.”

The emphasis is on “natural inputs” rather than chemical, which meant the couple didn’t fertilize or seed the ground and was mindful of rotating the animals through the pastures.

“In the course of the year, our pastures just came alive,” she said.

Anderson said they wanted to “flip the script” on local food consumption.

Ninety percent of food on the Big Island is imported, she said, and they “wanted to eat 90% on-island.”

According to Anderson, community supported agriculture is a method to directly link customers with farmers. However, she said most CSA efforts involve produce. Sugar Hill Farmstead is meat-based CSA, delivering humanely raised food “that is good for the soil, good for the animals, and good the people of the Big Island.”

The farm has 15 clients who purchase the lamb, beef, pork, chicken and rabbit raised there, and there are currently 19 people on its waiting list.

Anderson, who said she is against “concentrated feeding operations,” is looking to grow a network of farmers from which Sugar Hill would purchase animals for meat. The farm has “a few already that I know and will be working with us.”

“A lot of time, you don’t have a lot of time to farm and market your produce,” she said. Sugar Hill Farmstead will be able to “aggregate all of this locally resourced, raised really ethically meat … delivering it to other people and having those people who are the end consumers know where their food comes from … .”

Anderson said when buying food from the grocery store, customers don’t know who the farmer was or what their practices are like, and consumers are looking for that transparency.

Facing off against seven other entrepreneurs last month, the farmstead took home the HIplan competition’s top prize, the Edmund Olson Entrepreneur Award for start-up or expansion. The prize money will go toward purchasing on-site refrigerator and freezer units.

“Having it on site will help with aging meat appropriately and processing in a controlled environment,” Anderson said.

It also will cut down her travel time, the meat’s travel time, and will further limit the carbon footprint of the farm, which is 100% off-grid.

Initially, Anderson said she didn’t have the time to apply for the HIplan competition, but made the time to do so.

“… I figured it talks about animal slaughter, and it’s not the conversation people really like to have,” she said. “Meat is very polarizing, especially now. When I got the email (that said) I moved onto the second round, it was so exciting.”

Anderson said she felt supported by the Small Business Development Center and encouraged by customers.

“We had the right judges. It was the right time,” she said. “I feel incredibly blessed, because there was really stiff competition. Really, all of the businesses were so worthy.”

Anderson said she cried when the farm was announced the winner and got emotional talking about the win last week with the Tribune-Herald.

“I still get emotional thinking about it … I feel like a lot of farmers, they’re not seen. Some people will go to a grocery store, buy the meat, but they don’t see the farmer or rancher. Being able to be seen as a farmer was a pivotal moment for me.”

Alapaki Nahale-a, senior director of community engagement and resources at Kamehameha Schools, served as a judge in the HIplan competition, and said the finalists all were exceptional in their own ways.

“I don’t know how the other judges voted, but for me, I felt like (Sugar Hill Farmstead) demonstrated the importance of finding solutions in tough situations. … They had no place to process their smaller animals when our local slaughterhouse stopped processing, so they found a solution that allowed them to continue to get ethically sourced meats to our local community.”

Their effort to grow that market is important as more and more consumers want to know where their food comes from, he said.

“Sugar Hill was the winner, but all the applicants and finalists demonstrated the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well on Hawaii Island,” Nahale-a said.

That spirit is needed to solve the problems the Big Island collectively faces, like food and energy security, and sustainable economies, he said.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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