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Hawaii's Backyard | Travel

Hawaii’s Backyard: Big Island festival spotlights local agriculture

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    The Taste Gala moved back to the paniolo town of Waimea last year and will be held at the Old Kahilu Town Hall.


    The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel offered a dish featuring beef tongue at last year’s Taste Gala.


    During the Taste Agriculture Festival, 4H-er Kamuela Andrade helped Will Contreras get acquainted with farm animals.

Jeri Moniz’s “office” has the sky for a ceiling and a view that encompasses the Kohala Mountain, Waipio Valley, the blue Pacific Ocean, verdant pastureland and, on a clear day, Haleakala Volcano on Maui.

Since 1991, Moniz and her husband, Jason, have raised beef cattle at that spectacular site; their KK Ranch sprawls over 5,000 acres on the northeastern slopes of Mauna Kea near Honokaa town.

“Our three sons grew up working with us on the ranch,” Moniz said. “There are always challenges, including drought, but ranchers tend to be a resilient breed. We have to take care of our animals every day. They don’t stop eating and drinking on weekends or holidays, so we seldom have days off. But my sons have learned the value of perseverance and having a strong work ethic.”

Moniz has been on the planning committee for Taste of the Hawaiian Range, Hawaii island’s largest agricultural event, for 12 years, the past five out of six as its chairperson. It began in 1996 as an evening celebration to complement a day of workshops for cattle industry members at the Mealani Research Station in Waimea, operated by the University of Hawaii’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR).

Sponsored by CTAHR for around 15 years prior to that, the workshops were valuable in that they taught ranchers how to produce and market quality, pasture-raised beef. But Milton Yamasaki, Mealani’s manager, and Glenn Fukumoto, who worked for CTAHR’s livestock program, thought a component involving the public needed to be added.

“Back then, ranchers were able to sell prime ‘middle meats’ like T-bone and Porterhouse steaks, but we were having a harder time selling the ‘end meats,’” Moniz said. “Those are generally the less expensive cuts from the front and back of the carcass that are usually used for stew and ground beef. One of the goals of Taste of the Hawaiian Range was to show chefs and consumers how those end meats could be used to create delicious meals.”

There was no funding for the inaugural “Taste” celebration, which was held at the Old Kahilu Town Hall community center in Waimea. The organizers had their fingers crossed that ticket sales would pay for expenses; if not, they were prepared to cover costs from their own pockets.

That turned out to be unnecessary. Taste of the Hawaiian Range was a huge success — so much so that by 2002 the workshops in the field had been dropped and the dinner had moved to posh hotels on the Kohala Coast to accommodate some 2,000 people. As the years passed, crowds kept coming to enjoy fabulous food, but the purpose of the event was no longer clear.

After a hiatus in 2017, Taste of the Hawaiian Range returned to Waimea last year with the addition of a daytime family-friendly festival, Taste Agriculture, that showcased agriculture in a broader, more comprehensive way. That format will continue at this year’s 23rd event.

“Pasture-raised meat is still center stage, but we’ve expanded the message,” Moniz said. “It’s so convenient to buy meat and produce in supermarkets these days, but we hope those attending the festival and the evening gala will gain a better understanding of Hawaii’s agriculture industry, including the people behind the products.”

At Taste Agriculture’s Keiki Farm Hands tent, children can shovel hay, drive a kid-sized tractor, use miniature farm tools, “milk” a replica of a cow and plant vegetable seeds in a cup to take home and grow. They can pet farm animals such as pigs, goats and chickens, and learn what food and other products each animal provides. Horseback rides will be available for a nominal fee.

In the educational tent will be displays from organizations such as the Hawaii Beef Industry Council, the state Department of Agriculture and the Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center. Topics of talks and demonstrations range from hydroponics to mushroom cultivation to preserving food at home.

Eighteen food stations at the evening Taste Gala will be manned by chefs from 16 Hawaii island restaurants and students enrolled in the culinary programs at Hawaii Community College’s Hilo and Palamanui campuses. Each group was assigned a pasture-raised meat to prepare. For example, Fairmont Orchid’s Brown’s Beach House will be serving a dish made from goat meat; Mauna Kea Beach Hotel’s Copper Bar, feral pork; and the Royal Kona Resort’s Don the Beachcomber restaurant, beef shank.

“It’s amazing to see what delicious dishes the chefs come up with,” Moniz said. “Ranchers take pride in producing quality meat and seeing the creative ways it can be used. Ranching is a great profession: We feed people, we contribute to food security, we are dedicated stewards of the land — and we appreciate the opportunity Taste of the Hawaiian Range gives us to show our community who we are and what we do.”


Waimea, Hawaii island

>> Phone: 808-969-8258

>> Email:

>> Info:


>> Where: YMCA Minuke Ole Park (next to the Old Kahilu Town Hall)

>> When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday

>> Cost: Free

>> Notes: Wear a hat or visor, sturdy walking shoes and comfortable clothing, including a sweater. Bring cash as all vendors might not accept credit cards for purchases of food, drinks and merchandise.


>> 10:30 to 11 a.m.

“Mushroom Cultivation ­FUNdamentals”

Zach Mermel, Ola Design Group

>> 11:10 to 11:40 a.m.

“Comparison of Grafting Machines and Hand Grafting”

Eli Isele, assistant extension agent for sustainable agriculture, University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, Hawaii island

>> 11:50 a.m. to 12:20 p.m.


Lew Nakamura, owner of Hikari Nursery and Department of Agriculture instructor, Hilo Community College

>> 12:30 to 1 p.m.

“Rat Lungworm and Other Pests”

Franny Brewer, communications director, Big Island Invasive Species Committee

>> 1:10 to 1:40 p.m.

“Preserving Food: Thinking Outside the Jar”

Raven Hanna, master food preserver

>> 2:30 to 4 p.m.

“Cooking Pasture-Raised Beef 101”

Chef Jacqueline Lau, culinary specialist for Sysco Hawaii, will demonstrate how to prepare beef tongue.


>> Where: Old Kahilu Town Hall (Mana Christian ‘Ohana), 67-1182 Lindsey Road (next to YMCA Minuke Ole Park)

>> When: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Saturday

>> Cost: $50 presale online, during the Taste Agriculture Festival and at Parker Ranch Store (Parker Ranch Center, 67-1185 Mamalahoa Highway). $60 at the door, if tickets are available (space is limited to 500 people). Kids under 5 are free if accompanied by an adult. Paniolo-style attire is encouraged.

Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based freelance writer whose travel features for the Star-Advertiser have won several Society of American Travel Writers awards.

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