WAIANAE (HawaiiNewsNow) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded grants to five Hawaii farms to allow them to better market their goods and services.
The grants, totaling $285,930, came from the USDA's Rural Development Value-Added Producer Grant program, which is conducted nationwide.
Naked Cow Dairy in Waianae received $140,000 from the USDA. The dairy, owned and operated by sisters Monique van der Stroom and Sabrina St. Martin, is the only remaining dairy farm on Oahu. It's already been making and selling butter at several stores and farmers markets, but now it wants to expand to make Hawaii's first cheeses from dairy cows.
"Hawaii is so dependent on mainland food," said van der Stroom. "And it's just like a lot of the farmers now, we really want to be self-sufficient in the islands, and cheese is one of those things that is not being made in the islands, except for the goat dairies."
The federal money will allow Naked Cow Dairies to add value to its cheese. "Whether it be through niche marketing, through product segmentation, or identifying specialty markets, all to help contribute toward the value of their product," said Chris Kamazawa, the Hawaii state director for the USDA.
Naked Cow has already started making some cheeses, with the help of Gida Snyder, a graduate of the culinary school at Kapiolani Community College. She said the dairy wants to make fresh cheeses on Oahu, including mozzarella, jack, cheddar, gouda, brie, camembert and more.
"We have a lot of people waiting for us. We have a market for the cheese. We just need to provide the quantity for it now," said St. Martin, who added that chef Alan Wong already has expressed interest in using Naked Cow cheese in his restaurants.
The dairy has already invested $50,000 in a cheese vat, which would allow it to make larger quantities of cheese to meet the demand. But the value-added grant does not cover the cost of equipment. The farm is using an Indiegogo campaign online to raise $15,000 for a water heater and cheese aging room, which would allow it to begin a full-scale cheese-making operation. The farm also has to match the $140,000 grant in cash and in-kind donations.
Grants were also awarded to Noni Biotech International on Maui, which received $48,000. On the Big Island, the USDA awarded $58,180 to the Hawaii Cattle Producers Cooperative Association, $27,750 to Mauna Kea Tea, and $12,000 to Kalapana Organics LLC.
The USDA said it has many other programs, including loans, for rural development. "In the past three years, people don't realize that USDS rural development has provided over $700 million in financing." Some of those projects include affordable housing and infrastructure for rural areas.
Now, some of that financing will help in getting made-in-Hawaii cheese to island restaurants and stores.
"I can't wait to start using our cheese vat," St. Martin said. "I can't wait to get our first batch of cheese out there at the farmer's market so that people can try it, because it's really gonna be awesome."
Related link: Naked Cow's Indiegogo Page