20 for the Next 20 2015
Operations Manager, Ho Farms
“People say to me, ‘You don’t look like a farmer.’ They think I just work in the dirt,” says Shin Ho. “I run a business that’s a farm.”
Ho doesn’t look like a stereotypical farmer; she’s a young, petite, educated woman. For eight years, she has overseen the 40-acre Kahuku farm and facility her parents started in 1992, where the family grows, cleans, processes, packages and distributes produce to local restaurants and grocers.
Ho Farms is known for its specialty tomato varieties: cherry grape, golden grape, baby Roma and Kahuku golden. The family, which also has a 50-acre facility in Hoopili in West Oahu, also grows Japanese cucumbers, long squash and other specialty crops. Among her many duties, Ho is in charge of the payroll for Ho Farms’ 30 employees (40 in the summers).
Growing up in the sleepy, former sugar plantation town of Kahuku, it was never Ho’s girlhood dream to take over the family business. “I grew up on the farm,” she says. “I knew how hard the work is.”
Both Ho and her brother Neil left Hawaii for college in California; Shin Ho studied marketing and international business. But, upon graduating, the siblings returned, revitalized, to revolutionize the family business and, by extension, the local farm industry.
Ho put her degree to work. In 2006, thanks to a contract with Costco in Hawaii, the family started marketing their products as Ho Farms. Today, the farm has a locally recognizable name and label.
“(Shin) gives a fresh perspective,” says Dean Okimoto, owner of Nalo Farms. “Today, if you don’t have young people involved in farming, it limits your chances of success. She is part of the branding.”
In her spare time, Ho brainstorms ways to streamline operations, build relationships with Hawaii’s chefs by growing experimental crops and further incorporate the farm into the community. This past fall, she launched a line of value-added products, including pickled vegetables that use excess produce and a vine fruit called luffas that are popular in China and Vietnam. The products are being sold at the Kapiolani Community College farmers market.
This year, Ho Farms will move its headquarters to Wahiawa, part of state Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz’s Whitmore Project, in which derelict pineapple-era spaces are reborn into a diversified-agricultural core. Architectural plans have been drawn and the family is seeking construction bids to renovate vacant warehouse space for a modern food-safety facility. “It’s a great hub. The infrastructure is already there,” she says.
“I’m fortunate. I get to work with my family,” says Ho. “It’s rewarding, because we’re helping create jobs in an industry that’s stable. People always eat.”