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AgricultureTidbits

CLICK FOR FRESH TOMATOES

Imagine shopping for Kula strawberries, Hamakua mushrooms, fresh-cut anthuriums or Big Island steaks, with just a few clicks on your computer's mouse. The three partners of Fresh from the Farm LLC (freshfromthefarm.org) hope to link Hawaii farmers and consumers directly through the Internet, starting with Maui farm products and working with the Maui Farm Bureau.

"Our aim is to provide a 'virtual' marketplace for Hawaii's ag products and offer people the ability to buy fresh produce from their neighboring farms by providing an alternative source for farmers to direct-market their produce," says managing director Juanita Kawamoto. She and partners Eugenia Smith and Isaac Ocenar researched local farmer's markets, as well as eBay on the Internet. They found that current online purchasing of ag products is available only at individual farm Web sites. To move beyond that, the partners pooled their expertise in marketing, economics and computer technology to launch this first-of-its kind online farmer's market. Kawamoto says they hope to create a model for online marketing of local produce, for consideration by the national Farm Bureau Federation.

DREAMING OF TARO

Kalo (taro), the staff of life for Polynesians, has proven to be remarkably versatile and adaptive to modern needs and tastes. Taro-based products have included pancake mix, cheesecake, bagels and even dog biscuits. In recent years, the big challenge for the taro industry has been to reconcile the enormous potential demand for taro with the uncertainties of its homegrown supply.

Despite a 1.1 million drop in production in, 2003 following a triple whammy of apple snails, taro pocket rot disease and leaf blight, local companies still continue to explore new taro-based products. Kamuela -based Taro Dream Inc. created low-allergenic tropical pudding poi blends that are scheduled to hit natural-food stores on Oahu and Maui this year. The company plans to distribute the refrigerated, poi-based Taro Dream® as an alternative to dairy and soy products statewide and to the West Coast in the months ahead.

Photo Courtesy: University of Hawaii

"We are harvesting from 4,000 to 7,000 pounds of our special taro every month, making it into poi and using a novel dehydration technology to transfer this wet product into a shelf-stable, energy-and-nutrient dense dehydrated poi to be used in our pudding blends," says Pamela Noeau Day, founder and president of Taro Dream Inc.

Other poi-based food products from Taro Dream Inc. include poi baby food (inspired by the survival of Day's newborn daughter, who has a life-threatening digestive illness, and is on an exclusive poi diet), frozen Taro Dream® desserts and poi athletic drinks.

FEED THE WORLD PAPAYA

Photo Courtesy: Ray Huo

Papaya developed in Hawaii may soon be helping to feed the poor in Bangladesh and Africa, thanks to scientists at the USDA's Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center (PBARC) in Hilo. Working under a five-year, $1-million U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) grant, Hawaii researchers have been readying a brand-new papaya breed for its first testing this summer and hope the genetically engineered fruit will help alleviate Bangladesh's high rate of Vitamin A deficiency among its poor.

"Papaya is easily grown in the tropics in home back yards, [but] we found that the papaya virus posed the same problem in Bangladesh that we had here in Hawaii," says Dennis Gonsalves, director of the PBARC, referring to the ringspot virus that decimated the papaya crop in Puna, where 95 percent of Hawaii's commercial papayas are grown, nearly destroying the state's second-largest fruit-crop industry in the 1990s. The ringspot epidemic led PBARC's scientists to develop the Rainbow Papaya, a genetically engineered, virus-resistant papaya that is credited with saving Hawaii's papaya industry.

If all goes as planned, Gonsalves and his staff will be hosting scientists from Bangladesh later this year to facilitate the papaya technology transfer, and eventually hope to extend their work in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania in Africa.

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