Market Fosters Food Production

By Catherine Cluett Pactol

A Mobile Market is connecting Molokai farmers with local consumers and creating a thriving system of produce commerce for the island. Launched and run by nonprofit Sust`aina-ble Molokai, the Mobile Market is a weekly online shopping venue that features Molokai products from vegetables to meats to locally-blended spices. Sust`aina-ble Molokai does the legwork, allowing farmers to focus solely on growing, and customers can pick up their weekly orders at various locations around the island.

“I’ve seen new farms start up from it and seen existing farms expand,” said Jamie Ronzello, Mobile Market operations manager who also runs her own farm, Barking Deer Farm. “What you hear all the time, especially on Molokai, is there’s a limited market… the Mobile Market has allowed [farmers] another avenue to sell their produce with no quantity requirement – they can sell produce when they have a surplus. It’s been inspiring for them to see.”

The Mobile Market works differently than the traditional markets farmers often use.

“We let the farmers name their price and then we add 20 percent,” said Harmonee Williams, Sust`aina-ble Molokai’s director of food sovereignty. “Often when selling through restaurants and stores, farmers can’t even break even based on competing with imported produce. The stores set the prices. So that is a big thing [for the Mobile Market] – farmers can set prices and have the flexibility in quantity week to week.”

Consumers have been happy too. Since the Mobile Market launched a year ago, its popularity has grown through word of mouth. Williams said they now have about 300 registered shoppers and an average of 50 weekly customers.

“We didn’t realize what the demand was going to be and people are really excited about it,” said Ronzello. “A lot of people want to eat local, but it’s not always easily accessible. This is a one stop shop. They’re so excited to be connected to who’s growing their food – that’s really important for me. Not only is it grown on Molokai, but ‘so and so’ is growing it and [on the website, they] can read about their growing practices and farm. I really love that. Farmers don’t always get that recognition.”

The program also accept EBT payment, which Williams said increases the accessibility of local produce to all residents.

About 20 farmers island-wide are currently participating in the program, and Sust`aina-ble Molokai has been working to increase that number to meet consumer demand. A few farms are larger production operations, while many are backyard gardens with limited supplies. Ronzello offers support to farmers as to what crops are popular, and helps with quality and food safety. Williams said Sust`aina-ble Molokai has producer guidelines they ask farmers to follow.

“Growing food has about as many challenges as anyone could possibly want to face and it takes determination to overcome these difficulties time and again,” said Hazie Mead, who owns Full Sun Farm with her husband Scott. “Sust`aina-ble Molokai has taken the burden of marketing, customer relations, and delivery away from its producers directly impacting the amount of time and energy farmers have to do what they love to do, grow good food.”

The Mobile Market system connects farmers and consumers through an online shopping platform on SustainableMolokai.org. Farmers upload their produce by Sunday night, and customers can shop Monday and Tuesday. Williams said popular items often sell out within minutes of going online, so they are working to increase growers for certain items. Current offerings include vegetables, flowers, herbs, plants, fruits, eggs, meats, local value-added products and spices, and even plant seeds.

After the sales period ends, the software sends farmers a list of what was purchased, and they harvest on Wednesday. Sust`aina-ble Molokai coordinates produce pick-up, and handles packaging at their facility Thursday morning. The produce is then delivered to consumers during set hours Thursday afternoon in town and on the west end.

Williams said Sust`ainable Molokai has received a grant to add refrigeration to their delivery van, which will allow the addition of Kualapu`u and Mana`e drop-off locations, coming later this summer.

“We’re not here to compete with local farmers, we’re here ‘to increase local production and local consumption, as well as to grow our next generation of local producers and consumers,'” said Williams, quoting their mission statement. Re-establishing food sovereignty — the island growing the majority of its own food — has driven the effort.

In celebration of the Mobile Market’s one year anniversary, Sust`aina-ble Molokai will be holding an event on Thursday June 1 from 2:30 to 5 p.m. at the Canoe Shack which will feature a potluck, “meet your farmer,” and an opportunity to sample and learn new recipes using local produce. For more information on the Mobile Market, visit SustainableMolokai.org.

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