Eleanor Macdonald, a senior living in a Chinatown apartment building, was dismayed to see a depleted vegetable aisle at her local grocery store.
As one of the few in her social circle who knows how to navigate the internet, she found Oahu Fresh, a company that sells local produce and could deliver it to her building. It would be a convenience her senior friends could also benefit from, as they are at risk of catching the new coronavirus when they go out, Macdonald said. And, “I’d really like to support local farmers.”
Oahu Fresh owner Matt Johnson said he’s gotten more calls from customers like Macdonald since the COVID-19 crisis began. Few have heard of CSAs — community-supported agriculture — but they’re looking for safer alternatives to shopping in crowded markets.
“There’s a bit of a CSA renaissance; everyone is very busy right now,” said Johnson. He used to have 100 regular customers, but that number has jumped to about 500. His 10-year-old company works with a network of farms and delivers to most of the island.
Subscribers to Oahu Fresh pay a $15 membership fee, then buy a bag of produce every other week, and can also choose meal kits and ready-to-eat food. They can receive a $25 farmers market bag containing various items based on availability, select their own bag of produce for $30 or choose a vegetarian meal kit for $40. Delivery fee is $5 to $7. Customers can pay as they go and cancel anytime.
His company has had to close some of its pickup points at businesses that have been shuttered due to the coronavirus outbreak, but is offering more home delivery instead. Oahu Fresh also has stepped up its prepared-food service, partnering with Good Clean Food and other caterers, including increased portions. Eggs, dairy and other items are also for sale.
MA‘O Organic Farms in Waianae sells produce from its own farm, run with the help of underprivileged youth while providing them educational and entrepreneurial opportunities and teaching Hawaiian cultural values.
After paying a $15 membership fee, CSA customers may order eight weeks of produce boxes, then renew their orders in four- or eight-week increments. Each box, costing $32 to $28, includes a salad mix and eight to 13 items such as greens, roots, fruit and herbs — enough to feed two to four people for a week.
Pickup times and locations are being added as demand rises, according to manager Cheryse “Kaui” Sana.
MA‘O also sells its produce in stores like Foodland, Sack N Save, Whole Foods and Down to Earth, in addition to the Kakaako Farmers Market on Saturdays.
Sana said MA‘O has seen more customers over the past two weeks than ever. Subscribers now number about 250, versus the previous weekly average of 170. The farm is averaging 125 boxes a week, instead of 75, and she expects the number to keep climbing.
“It’s really awesome to see the commitment and intention of the community to find local sources of food … which is 10 times better than importing food,” she said. The spike in subscribers will help the nonprofit grow more organic food, prepare more land for planting and assist the young adults involved in its social enterprise program, she added.
“It’s beautiful to see not only for our farm, but the call-out for all small farms to meet this demand. It’s eye-opening to see what us local farmers can do. Everyone is busy.”
Sana likened the upturn in demand to a turning point for small farmers, including mainland counterparts, by creating the opportunity to have people “understand where their food is coming from and who they’re supporting” with their dollars, she said.
HOW TO SUBSCRIBE
>> Oahu Fresh: Call 476-7550; visit oahufresh.com.
>> MA‘O Organic Farms: Call 696-5569; visit maoorganicfarms.org (click on CSA link).
Other CSA sources
>> Kahumana Organic Farms and Cafe: Pickups are Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at the Kahumana Farm Hub, 86-660 Lualualei Homestead Road, Waianae. Delivery provided to some areas for $10. Call 670-4804 or 383-5224; visit kahumana.org/csa.
>> Farm to Car: The city’s partnership with the Hawaii Farm Bureau lets customers order produce online and pick it up at Blaisdell Center, 10 a.m. to noon Wednesdays. Go to hfbf.org/farm-to-car to create an account; this week’s pickup is already sold out.
>> Farm Link Hawaii: Shop for produce from a network of farms. Call 205-5252; visit farmlinkhawaii.com.
>> Local Harvest: Find CSA farms near you, read reviews or sign up; localharvest.org/honolulu-hi.
>> Local Inside: The Hawaii Agricultural Foundation sponsors this CSA directory. Call 927-9749 or visit localinside.csaware.com.