While sustainability very may well be a buzz word in pop culture, here at Turtle Bay, it’s much more than that. Being sustainable is a choice we make every day. Here’s a startling fact: Despite being located in one of the most remote stretches of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii imports more than 90 percent of the food it consumes. Although we’ve been fortunate enough to have one of the most hospitable climates in the world—with our mix of sun, rain, and warm weather we can grow just about anything—we’ve become completely reliant on the rest of the world when it comes to feeding ourselves and visitors. Under our current system, it’s been estimated that Hawaii only produces enough fresh produce to support its residents for a mere 10 days. The breakdown of just how much food we import is startling: A total of 90 percent of the beef, 67 percent of the fresh vegetables, 65 percent of the fresh fruits and 80 percent of all milk purchased in the state are imported.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. By sourcing our food from local farmers, we’re not only breaking a viscous cycle of dependence on the mainland, but we’re also supporting our neighbors and injecting money right into the communities we call home. And that's precisely what we're doing here at Turtle Bay.
“I think it’s great and very important that we’re moving more toward sustainability on the island and on the North Shore,” says William "Bill" Sulunga who grows taro and basil on his farm near Turtle Bay. “My ancestors have been growing taro for generations. So it’s exciting for me to be growing something that sustained these islands for so long and to be able to make this my profession. We have a lot of restaurants on the island that are showing interest in these foods as well, and I think that’s really exciting. We import so much food here in Hawaii. I think by working closer with local farmers, we’re helping to end that problem.”
The North Shore Surf Country Culinary Fest was an idea to pair some of the islands’ most esteemed chefs with North Shore farmers to create an entirely North Shore-grown menu right here at Turtle Bay. Unfortunately, due to the existing demands with local farmers’ markets and an unseasonably wet summer, many of the fruits and vegetables needed to create this menu couldn’t be sourced and the event was forced to be postponed.
“For the North Shore Surf Country Culinary Fest, we wanted have local chefs craft these amazing dishes with ingredients sourced from local farmers. Unfortunately, the farmers couldn’t produce what we needed in time because of the weather,” said Jeri Yamada, who helped conceptualize this event. “But I think this just goes to show that if you truly want to be sustainable and source your food from the farmers in your neighborhood, you have to realize that you’re often at the mercy of nature. Moving forward, we’re still looking to launch this amazing event, but we’re going to go to the farmers first, and see what’s in season to set the overall menu.”
It's true that the tide is indeed beginning to turn, and Turtle Bay is excited to be a part of that push toward sustainability. One of the ways we’re actively pushing back is through our support of the North Shore Food Summit. Through this event, some of the brightest minds and experts in food production are brought together to exchange ideas and learn what we can do to ensure that the food we consume on the North Shore is as supportive of the local farmers as possible. And it’s working. The public is beginning to support local farmers at an unprecedented level. All across the country, some of the most noteworthy chefs are embracing the Farm-to-Table movement, which places a premium on serving food sourced directly from nearby purveyors. However, it should be said that as we transition more into sourcing our foods directly from local farmers, we have to remain cognizant of what, exactly, these farmers can produce.
According to a bill that was put forth by the Hawaii Legislature recently, by slowly moving toward a more locally sourced and sustainable food system, we can literally create thousands of new jobs in the state. Research shows that by replacing just 10 percent of current food imports with locally grown food, we can create nearly 2,300 jobs.
The reality of what it’s going to take for us to become a more sustainable state and community is indeed beginning to sink in. Whether it’s working together with local farmers, changing our menus and meals to suit what’s in season, or simply learning to love new foods, we are making progress, but there’s still a long way to go.