|May 09, 2012 --
Hawaii Island's southernmost region of Kau may be the best known as the home to Hawaii Volcano National Park and Kilauea, but the region's coffee growers are working to change that. Kau started gaining critical acclaim for its coffee in 2007 when two of its coffees placed in the top 10 at an international cupping competition. However, while a few select coffee farms are doing well, many of the coffee farms are facing challenges in their operations. But some of these challenges are being met with the assistance of USDA Rural Development's Small Socially Disadvantaged Producer Grant program.
The Kau Coffee Growers Cooperative (KCGC), established in 2003, has a membership of 52 coffee farmers. The membership represents 31 farms that collectively cultivate approximately 280 acres of coffee in the Kau District. Over the past few years, many of the farms faced inconsistent growing, processing and storage practices which hampered Kau's reputation as truly "regionally acclaimed" coffee. To deal with these problems, the KCGC hired Miguel Meza, a coffee expert and consultant, to provide training to its members to improve the overall quality of the coffee grown in Kau.
To assist in funding of this training, over 2010-2011, KCGC received a $112,755 Small, Socially Disadvantaged Producer Grant from USDA Rural Development. The grant helped growers improve harvesting, storage, and processing techniques, as well as identify new markets and strategies to target high- end coffee drinkers. Chris Kanazawa, State Director for USDA Rural Development stated, "the Small, Socially Disadvantaged Producers Grant program is an excellent funding source to small, socially disadvantaged agricultural cooperatives like the Kau Coffee Growers Cooperative for technical assistance in market research, product or service improvements, legal counsel, feasibility studies, business and marketing plan development, and training."
Since the training, KCGC has seen their overall coffee grade for the Kau region jump from 73-75, well below the grade of 80 that is required to be designated as a Specialty Coffee, to a rating average of 82-83. A year later, KCGC placed 10th in the Hawaii Coffee Association's Statewide Cupping Competition (HCACC). Individually, cooperative members have also received awards for their Kau coffee, including Efren Abellera, owner of Kehau's Coffee Farm, who placed 5th in the competition.
"The USDA Rural Development grant was very good for the coffee farmers in the area, and will keep benefitting us in the future," said Abellera. "Our coffee is now out in the market and has a very good reputation." Two-time Grand Champion of the HCACC, Lorie Obra, of Rusty's Hawaiian, stated "All of us are very thankful for receiving the grant. Without it, we will never be where and who we are right now in the coffee industry. It truly is a blessing."
"I'm very pleased to see that Rural Development programs are making a difference in the assisting the success of Hawaii's small businesses," said Kanazawa. Over the past 18 months, the Hawaii USDA Rural Development offices have provided loan and grant proceeds of over
$430 million for affordable housing, community facilities, small businesses and renewable energy projects and assisted in creating or retaining over 3,600 jobs in Hawaii. USDA Rural Development has offices in the Hawaiian Islands of Oahu, Kauai, Maui Molokai and Hawaii, as well as 5 offices in the Western Pacific and American Samoa.
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