Journalism's Future ... Now

The Mānoa Mirror

Journalism's Future ... Now

The Mānoa Mirror

Journalism's Future ... Now

The Mānoa Mirror

Exploring the contributions of Koolau Farmers in our community

Titleholder of “Best Garden Shop” this year, local garden outlet “Koolau Farmers” has been operating in Hawaii for more than 80 years and continues to produce awareness about sustainable agriculture and healthy eating habits
Photo by Koolau Farmers

In 1938, a group of influential East Oahu farmers assembled to discuss a farmer-focused business idea, which aimed to enhance local food production for the community. Initially formed as a cooperative organization, this collective effort transitioned into a for-profit corporation in 1982. Over the years, Koolau Farmers has expanded and undergone significant growth, evolving from traditional farming to home gardening. Serving thousands of customers island-wide, the company has diversified its products to include an extensive range of items such as plants, floral arrangements, fertilizers, pesticides and gardening tools. In addition to these business pursuits, Koolau Farmers places a strong emphasis on community well-being and environmental stewardship. The company has adapted its focus to the evolving needs of its customers through home gardening and environment friendly practices.

Kenneth Gibson, who has been with Koolau Farmers since 2010, now serves as the store manager of the Kaneohe branch. His long-standing commitment to the company reflects the values and dedication that Koolau Farmers serves to the community. With a devotion to sustainability and a positive social impact, Koolau Farmers not only provides essential products and services but also strives to be a responsible and contributing organization for the community. Discover more about Koolau Farmers as journalism student Shaileyah Amolsch talks story with Kenneth Gibson.

Kenneth, tell us about yourself and how long you have been working with Koolau Farmers?

My name is Kenneth Gibson and I am the store manager of the Kaneohe Koolau Farmers store. I have been working with Koolau Farmers for 13 years. Our business is locally owned and operated and I am very grateful to be a part of it.

Then that means that you worked here through the pandemic. Did you see any changes in community involvement?

Oh, absolutely. More people got involved with our company and our products because they were interested in becoming more self-sufficient. We sold tons of seeds and people were planting gardens at home. This is probably because a lot of kids were home at the time so their parents wanted them to keep busy, rather than being on technology and whatnot. In a sense, the pandemic, although horrendous, brought to light the importance of agriculture to kids and even adults especially in Hawaii where 90 percent of our food is imported from other places. There was a lot of stress on the food supply chain during the pandemic and people were worried that there was eventually not going to be any food on the shelves.

As a response, they turned to planting to become more self-sufficient and to have a backup plan in case things went awry. We have seen tremendous growth on that side. Moreover, being around plants, whether they’re indoors or outdoors, has proven to impact mental health in a positive way. I think this fact in itself has made a lot more people gravitate toward our business. The pandemic affected a lot of people in a very intense way and many felt isolated or disconnected from others. Nature can certainly raise people’s spirits though and I’d like to think that Koolau Farmers has had a positive impact on our community’s mental health.

Koolau Farmers won Honolulu Magazine’s Best Garden Shop award in the July/August 2023 issue. Do you think this helped spread the word about your business and the benefits it provides to the community?

Oh, yeah, for sure but Koolau Farmers has been around forever as well. I think most people know about us but it does help spread the word. We’ve won the award before as well, I believe. We closed the shop in Kailua but we have a lot of loyal customers from that area that shop here. We are aware of this loyalty because customers often share that the shop they used to frequent has closed, yet they remain steadfast patrons of Koolau Farmers. In return, our sales have increased.

How does Koolau Farmers contribute to promoting awareness about sustainable agriculture or healthy eating habits?

I’m proud to say that our commitment to promoting awareness about sustainable agriculture and healthy eating habits is a fundamental aspect of our business. One notable avenue that we actively contribute to is our online blog where we impart knowledge and try our best to foster community engagement. This platform serves as a valuable resource for our community with the best-growing tips and practices to enhance their home gardening experience. Our blog is designed to empower our customers with the necessary tools and knowledge for successful and sustainable gardening practices. We cover a range of topics, from organic gardening methods to the benefits of locally sourced produce.

By sharing insights and practical advice, we aim to inspire our community to make informed choices that align with sustainable and healthy living. Our employees also play a crucial role in promoting awareness. We take pride in the fact that our team is exceptionally knowledgeable about our products, gardening techniques, and the principles of sustainable agriculture. I’ve noticed that they are always ready to assist customers and many of them personalize their recommendations to the customers. This direct interaction nourishes a sense of community and reinforces our commitment to promoting not only the products but also the values we stand for. Koolau Farmers strives to be a trustworthy source of information for those seeking to adopt sustainable and healthy practices in their gardening and dietary choices. Our primary goal is to contribute to an informed and conscious community that appreciates the importance of sustainable agriculture and embraces healthy living.

Do you think this business allows customers to find plants they may not commonly find elsewhere, such as rare or hard-to-find plants?

Most definitely because a lot of our vendors are actually backyard growers, and they have different plants to distribute. I think most of the big nurseries have plants that most people want, or they see something around the neighborhood and they want that plant but they are still pretty popular plants. A lot of times, the more unusual plants come from backyard growers. We also get plants from other sources that the big nurseries can’t get plants from or just don’t know how to get them. So, you know, I think we bring a lot of different plant species to the store as well.

Does Koolau Farmers promote any environmentally friendly practices to the people within the community?

Yes, it most certainly does. Agriculture and gardening in general are necessary for a sustainable future. The more plants we grow and the more seeds we sell to others, the more oxygen will be released into the atmosphere for us to breathe. Not only that but plants reduce erosion, carbon emissions and preserve the health of numerous species all the while providing people with a healthy source of food that sustains them. We support the use of organic gardening that is achieved by abandoning the use of synthetic chemicals that eventually go into our mouths. The benefits of organic gardening are extensive and can be done in your yard. Through sustainability and gardening, we can conserve resources that would otherwise be put toward creating processed food and becoming reliant on our own products. This way we also know what we are putting into our bodies.

How does Koolau Farmers create job opportunities and support employment within the community?

Koolau Farmers supports employment by providing job security and advancement opportunities. We provide compensation and benefits to our employees. We have been a part of the Hawaii community for over 80 years and we have hired a lot of different people at multiple locations over this time span. Our locations include the store I manage in Kaneohe, as well as the McCully and City Square stores. The store in Kailua recently closed but we employed a good amount of people there and at our other locations. Before our current shops were open and before I was affiliated with the store, we had a store in Kahili. We also opened the McCully store in 2013 and then had to make the difficult decision to close the store in Kalihi. Locations are always changing to optimize business operations because that is how the industry is. We also want the best experience for our customers and want to ensure that our stores are in locations convenient and accessible for them. We love hiring individuals who are knowledgeable and want to learn more about plants.

How do you measure the success or impact of Koolau Farmer’s community-focused initiatives, and what future goals does the company have in store for the community?

One of the primary ways we gauge success is by evaluating the outcomes of our efforts. For instance, in our support for local low-income neighborhoods, we closely monitor the impact of our financial contributions and assess how they translate into meaningful benefits for the community. You might not know her but there is a young lady who brings developed plants to neighborhoods in the Waianae area. Her contributions are significant and we actively support her by providing financial assistance. This allows her to supply families in these neighborhoods with vegetables and herbs. We hope this creates a measurable and positive change in their lives.

Our community donations are another avenue through which we assess our impact. Whether it’s providing surplus produce to local food banks or supporting specific initiatives, we track the effect of these contributions to ensure they align with our goal of making meaningful difference in the community. We are always looking for ways to enhance our community engagement and recently we have been trying to do more through social media. In terms of our future goals, I think it includes an ongoing commitment to expanding our support for local initiatives. We aspire to deepen our impact by exploring new partnerships and identifying new ways to address community needs. We could use social media more in the future to amplify our messaging and inspire others to join us. All in all, though, I think Koolau Farmers has a good name and we do our best to maintain our reputation. Our goal is not only to maintain our good name but to strengthen it through impactful and sustainable community-focused initiatives.

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About the Contributor
Shaileyah Amolsch
Shaileyah Amolsch, Contributor
My name is Shaileyah Amolsch and I am a third-year journalism student. I am studying journalism and sustainability because I enjoy spreading environmental awareness. I hope to go into the field of environmental journalism where I can travel and unveil companies that are major climate change contributors. Investigative journalism is incredibly interesting to me. I would also love to do freelance work one day.

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