Haley Miyaoka owns and operates Ahiki Acres in Honolulu, HI, a quarter-acre diversified vegetable CSA, committed in mission to responsible land stewardship and increasing food security on Oahu. Haley is one of the many young farmers who has been forced to turn their business model on its head to meet the evolving needs of her community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Only in their first year of business, Haley had planned to build up markets in the restaurant and tourist industries to sell her produce. But the arrival of COVID-19 meant an almost full transition to direct sales to her community via an online market she set up. Not only did her markets change drastically, many people in her community felt concerned about the food safety of imported foods during the pandemic, so demand for locally grown food surged. To adapt, she shifted her planting plan to increase volume and produce the crops her community wanted to eat most.
“When the pandemic happened, we had to figure out what to do all of a sudden…everyone in Hawaii was starting to realize, “Oh, we have to eat local.” There was a scare that we weren’t going to get shipments in.”
Ahiki Acres now grows everything from leafy greens, herbs, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, and green beans, to roots, while still maintaining small plots of specialty products to be ready when the restaurant industry picks back up. Initially, this required much effort to reconfigure which crops were priority, and the demand for this local food was higher than what she could produce. Haley received a grant to allow her the capacity to provide produce to families in need on a weekly basis.
Haley has been working as a vegan chef off of the farm, and originally envisioned that her farm would incorporate tourism, cooking, and a bed and breakfast. “Everything is changing,” she shared. “It’s normal for your dreams to change, and I think maybe just having a farm is like the ultimate dream.”
Haley was able to respond to a rapidly changing Hawaii as tourists went home, and locals looked to each other for support, by drastically changing her business model. But many uncertainties remain as she plans for the long term future of her business and how she can continue to provide for the food needs of her community while also building out the business she had hoped for.
One thing that has helped is the ability to invest in the growth of her young business. This spring, Haley was the recipient of a $5,000 Young Farmer Grant, which she used to build out a solar trailer, compost tea maker, and a wash-pack station that ultimately supported her transition to feeding her community during this crisis. The flexibility of the funding in that program allowed her to identify where she most needed support, and use it accordingly.
Unfortunately, federal COVID-19 relief programs like the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) are not designed with small, diversified operations like Haley’s in mind, let alone to cover costs of implementing innovative and responsive solutions like Haley did. While she just hired her first employee, as a new business on small acreage, Ahiki Acres wasn’t well positioned to benefit from earlier relief programs like the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) or the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program.
It was Haley’s flexibility, innovation, dedication to her community, and the windfall of flexible funding through private grants that made her story a happy one. But looking ahead, she still faces an uphill climb with uncertain ends. Many questions remain as she works hard to balance the labor required for preparing new CSA orders for all of her new customers, manages the food safety of direct sales options like farmers markets, and works to grow relationships in a restaurant industry with a very unknown future. Without further support and understanding from legislators, many small diversified operations like Haley’s will not make it through this pandemic.