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Roast & Roots: Event brings local farmers, products into focus

July 20, 2014 - 1:49pm

Over a few drinks, Roger Kaiwi and Les Apoliona brainstormed to create an event that could showcase the array of local produce and products the Big Island has to offer, while also connecting with well-known local culinary professionals to showcase the potential of buying local.

After first tossing around less-catchy names like Ag and Family Day and Sustainable Saturday, Roast & Roots was born.

Hundreds turned out for the inaugural event at Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay Saturday, which was hosted by Hawaii Coffee Association (HCA) in alignment with its 19th annual conference. The event was a collaborative project between HCA, Kamehameha Schools and the Hawaii Department of Agriculture to help stimulate the “Buy Local” movement.

“Roast goes back to roasting coffee, and the roots go back to the roots of our aina and what we grow here to make us sustainable,” Kaiwi said. “For me, hosting an event like this is all about growing farmers. I’m the youngest farmer in my neck of the woods and I’m trying to make farming sustainable, cool, and making it so kids can get interested in it. We are also trying to build the relationship between farmers and chefs.”

Among the day’s events were a “Buy Local” marketplace, a people’s choice coffee cupping contest, a “mystery box” demo by legendary local chef Sam Choy, and a chef-student culinary competition.

Department of Agriculture chairman Scott Enright said he expects the event’s holistic and well-rounded approach to pay dividends for a still transitioning agriculture economy on the Big Island.

“The state has been in transition since the 1990s,” said Enright. “The history of agriculture here on the islands is one of plantation agriculture. We had large sugar and pineapple plantations, and when they folded, the thought was that there would be a quick transition to a diversified agriculture economy. But we don’t have a history of family farms in this state, so the institutional knowledge was not there. We are still in transition and it may take up to another generation until we move toward having a really diversified agriculture economy.

“An event like Roast & Roots helps by creating demand, and with that demand we can grow new farmers and they can make a living knowing there is a strong demand for their products. The event is an amazing success.”

Choy opened up the festivities with the mystery box event, where he was given a box of local products and expected to produce a tasty meal for an eager audience. The veteran chef did not disappoint.

“The nice thing about the mystery box event is that all the foods in the presentation were entirely from Hawaii Island,” said Choy. “That is exactly what the message is. It allows us to support the farmers, but more importantly get the food out to all those people who came here to get a true taste of Hawaii Island.

“We are beyond macadamia nuts and coffee. We are beyond it — no ifs, ands or buts. Hawaii Island is the cutting edge right now. Also at this event, we have allowed the young culinarians to come in. It is so exciting and breathtaking, especially for a guy like me who has been around a long, long time, to see the future of food in Hawaii being so incredible.”

The chef-student cooking competition heated up the Sheraton Kona Convention Center next, with upcoming chefs from high schools around the island and the Hawaii Community College culinary program competing alongside well-known local chefs.

Local chefs taking part in the competition included Clayton Alakawa of Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows, George Gomes of King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel, James Ebreo of the Hualalai Grille, Nakoa Pabre of Umeke’s, Robin Ganir of Broke Da Mouth Grindz, and home-field favorite Matt Naula of Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay.

When the final votes were tallied, Ebreo’s team took home the People’s Choice Award, while Naula and his squad’s “Pig in a Blanket” garnered the Judge’s Choice.

Rusty’s Hawaiian, a family farm in Ka’u, captured the People’s Choice Award in the coffee cupping competition.

Kaiwi said the secondary goal of the event is to raise money to help local farmers in the fight against coffee berry borers (CBB).

“What we are trying to do — if we are able to make any money from this — is to help with CBB control. It has been such a long, hard fight for local farmers against CBB, we are trying to ease that burden.”

Kaiwi also thanked the committed group of volunteers, headed by event planner Tracey Apoliona, who came out and made sure the event ran smoothly.

“We have had overwhelming support,” Kaiwi said. “We are hoping this thing last for a long time.”

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