Governor Neil Abercrombie with young man in whie shirt and tie and woman in chef's shirt holding packages

Governor Neil Abercrombie receives handmade chocolates from Maui Culinary Academy students before touring the Food Innovation Center at UH Maui College

Farmers and ranchers on the Valley Isle will be able to explore ways to increase their profits through a local food innovation center at University of Hawaiʻi Maui College.

The center was conceived by the Maui County Farm Bureau three years ago as a business incubator where growers and entrepreneurs can turn excess harvests or low-price fresh crops into more profitable value-added products, such as frozen, dried, preserved or canned foods.

Value-added products not only increase the profit margin for farmers and ranchers, but help stabilize agricultural businesses since value-added products have a fixed price while the market for fresh food can fluctuate greatly.

UH Maui College not only had an ideal facility—a cafeteria left empty when kitchen facilities moved to the Pilina building, but expertise in recipe and product development, food safety, nutritional analysis, packaging design and support for marketing, business development, distribution and storage through its Maui Culinary Academy.

The center, which is being developed in partnership with the Hawaiʻi Agricultural Foundation, will provide the space and equipment for research, development and small-scale production. The state Department of Agriculture is providing $1.3 million for design, planning and a portion of construction, which will be used to leverage federal and other project-related funding, noted Hawaiʻi Governor Neil Abercrombie, who toured the site in December.

“The Food Innovation Center will improve the viability of local farmers and ranchers and help stabilize the industry,” said Warren Watanabe, executive director of the Maui County Farm Bureau.

“Farmers need a way to deal with excess crop when supply and demand don’t line up,” explained Denise Hayashi, executive director of the Hawaiʻi Agricultural Foundation. “Unless new farmers can see their way to profitability, they won’t be interested in replacing the generation that is now retiring.”

Helping local farmers and entrepreneurs turn excess crops into profitable value-added food products will create jobs and give residents more options to buy local goods, creating a stronger local food industry, said Maui College Chancellor Clyde Sakamoto.

That improves food security, Abercrombie said. “It supports on-island operations and cultivates homegrown expertise in the preservation of food, which can be essential should outside sources become temporarily cut off after a natural disaster.”

In addition, the center will afford educational opportunities for Maui College students in product design, nutrition, food safety, retail food sales and marketing. And busy local families could make healthy, affordable frozen or packaged meals that are easy to prepare after work, added Maui County Farm Bureau’s Mae Nakahata.

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