Our weekly series continues, talking story with local farmers, ranchers, and other food producers about their crucial efforts to sustain our communities during the coronavirus pandemic.
A conversation with
Michelle Galimba, Vice President & Co-Owner of Kuahiwi Ranch
By Dani Douglass
Sprawled across 9,000 acres between Wood Valley and Waiohinu in the pristine and remote district of Kau on Hawaii Island, three generations of the Galimba ohana work tirelessly to keep up with the growing demand for Kuahiwi Ranch’s grass-fed and free-range beef. Michelle Galimba, vice president and co-owner of the ranch, said the family-owned business is struggling to meet the local demand for beef, in part due to limited and under-capitalized processing capacity – a challenge that existed even before the coronavirus pandemic.
Michelle Galimba believes that rebuilding the food system is necessary to reverse Hawaii’s vulnerability.
As the crisis continues to highlight Hawaii’s over-reliance on imported food and a tourism-dependent economy, the role of our state’s local ranchers and farmers remains vital to sustained economic health. Galimba acknowledged that how we think about rebuilding is paramount – and achievable – to better navigate future challenges. She said the old normal was deeply problematic, and we cannot succumb to the fear and paranoia that allowed continuation of short-term thinking, destruction of the environment, and inequities.
“We have to make every effort, even as we deal with the immediate situation of uncertainty and eroding community resources, to rebuild a food system that is better able to respond to the long-term challenges our children and we are facing,” she explained.
Although demand for its products is up, the ranch has been affected by the precipitous drop in cattle prices across the continental United States, which has trickled down to the local market. The ranch has also lost revenue due to restaurant closures. Fortunately, Kuahiwi Ranch sells its products to local grocery stores, including Whole Foods Market on Oahu, Foodland and Foodland Farms statewide, as well as Sack N Save in Kailua-Kona. Galimba said hard work from her family, coupled with the resilience of the Kau community and the support of local leaders, have helped immensely during this tumultuous time.
The business’ essential status has allowed the ranch to receive emergency federal funding from the Small Business Administration to make sure it has resources for operations and employees, which is of utmost importance to Galimba. For now, business can continue; however, she remains vigilant in these uncertain times.
Despite the challenges, Kuahiwi Ranch has contributed to The Food Basket, Hawaii Island’s food bank, and distributes ground beef directly to families in its community. Galimba said its inherent in the spirit of the Big Island community to help their neighbors. “It’s a natural part of our culture in Hawaii that if you have food, you share it,” she said.
“I don’t know if there is anyone, especially in this country, who can predict how things are going to be in two or three months from now,” she continued. “The best one can do is stay alert and have some backup resources, if possible.”
Through it all, Galimba has been surprised by a return of simple habits that had faded amid the rapid pace of modern-day culture. These practices include gardening, raising backyard livestock, baking, cooking, eating together as a family, maintaining multi-generational households, and supporting local farmers and businesses.
“It is not going to be easy, but it would be wise to learn from this experience – as well as what happened in 2008 – and work really hard at building an economy that prioritizes the life of the land and the well-being of the people.”
Mahalo to the agriculture producers of Hawaii, who understand that a strong ag economy is a resilient one.
Follow this weekly series highlighting the vital work of the dedicated farmers, ranchers and other growers throughout the islands and their contributions to our state’s self-sufficiency and resiliency.