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Shinsatos pass on knowledge as farm closes after 74 years

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    Glenn, left, and Amy Shinsato work with chef Justus Keliehor of Biscuit & Bacon on making a batch of Italian sausages. Glenn pours red wine into the ground pork as Keliehor stands by ready to mix.

Here’s the thing about Glenn and Amy Shinsato: They’re doers, and they do things right. Running Shinsato Farm for 16 years, Amy was devoted to raising her hogs happy and healthy, housed in clean pens and fed grain, never slop — each element ensuring a quality product. Glenn was meticulous about maintaining his certified slaughterhouse, so much so that USDA inspectors commented on its impeccably clean and orderly state.

So it was understandable that clients worried when the pair decided a couple years ago that it was time to start thinking about moving on. Sourcing high-quality local pork isn’t easy.

The Kaneohe farm was sold in early September, and the Shinsatos are now moving out the last of their personal belongings. The new owners have farming backgrounds but haven’t yet decided what to do with the property, Amy said.

Faced with customers concerned over their departure, the Shinsatos responded in typical fashion: They got busy finding a proper replacement. It wasn’t an easy process.

“None felt right,” Amy said about her initial search.

Then she discovered 2 Lady Pig Farmers, run by Stacy Sugai and Patsy Oshiro in Waianae.

“And as far as I’m concerned, women make better farmers than men,” Amy said. “That really translates to the meat.”

2 Lady uses a nonmedicated grain feed, which meets Amy’s approval. Despite the current focus on all fruit-and-vegetable feed, she believes grain produces the best tasting pork.

“Very few people feed their pigs all grain.”

The Shinsatos passed their client list to the women, and most customers got on board. “That was the most important thing, that 2 Lady would take care of our accounts,” Amy said.

Glenn took Sugai and Oshiro with him on his deliveries and made introductions, to chefs such as Ed Kenney, Kevin Hanney, Colin Hazama, Mike Longworth and Alan Tsuchiyama.

Beyond a great product, Glenn said, the key to success is getting to know the customers, understanding their needs, likes and dislikes. “It’s about building relationships,” he said.

Then there was one more transfer, a lasting gift really, to both the farmers and the clients: Shinsato Farm’s breeding pigs.

“It works out for everybody,” Amy said. “There’s a continued supply for chefs and regular business for 2 Lady.”

The first incarnation of the Shinsato business was Tomei Farm, started in 1942 by Amy’s father, a carpenter by trade.

“He bought the farm for $5,000. It may sound small to us, but it was a major struggle for him,” she said. “My mother was a farmer. She grew carnations and tuberose, and we made lei. My dad took nighttime work at a gas station. It was tough.”

After Glenn and Amy married, they worked for her father and in 2000 took over the entire farm, renamed Shinsato Farm.

Farm work goes on seven days a week, and even the occasional vacation was limited at best — and they were taken solo.

“When our daughter lived in Japan, I visited but I couldn’t stay longer than four days. I couldn’t be away from the animals for too long,” Amy said. “Now, Glenn and I can travel together. It’s such a nice feeling.”

But in between getting on planes, the couple is focusing on helping others in the food community, among them chefs Justus Kelie­hor and Nicole Prince. The young couple run the Biscuit & Bacon booth at the Makers and Tasters food park at Kewalo Harbor, where they make homemade sausages and biscuits. Sausage-making has long been an interest of Glenn’s.

“Justus and Nicole can take a whole carcass and incorporate it into various dishes,” Glenn said. “They never had excuses about not having space to store all that meat. They said they would do it and they found a way.”

Amy said sharing knowledge is really about passing on the help she and her husband received during their decades as farmers.

“Throughout the years, there were times when it was so hard. We never would have made it if people didn’t come to help. Once, we were so desperate. I was looking for another market and a guy came to me and said to sell on Lanai. He said to send the pigs and he’d collect the money — and he did that for us, and never took anything for himself,” she recalled.

“It’s a difficult road as it is, and unless somebody cares, it’s even harder. We just want to lend a hand.”

For all those trials, was it hard to say goodbye to farming?

“Not at all,” Amy said. “I don’t have to deal with the constant battle of ‘How are we going to move these pigs? How are we going to pay the bills?’

“Now I can say to Justus and Nicole, ‘You tell me what to do.’ I don’t have to make any decisions. I love it!”

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