Local Farmer Reacts To Spinach Scare

Dean Okimoto
Dean Okimoto
Nalo Farms in Waimanalo
Nalo Farms in Waimanalo

By Joann Shin

WAIMANALO (KHNL) - The spinach scare that resulted after a deadly E.coli outbreak on the mainland has farmers in Hawaii on alert.

There are no reports of tainted spinach in Hawaii, but some say the outbreak serves as a call to review the way farmers handle leafy vegetables.

We talked to the owner of Nalo Farms who says this recent spinach scare not only affects farmers who produce spinach, but other leafy vegetables like lettuce.

These vegetables are grown and handled in a similar matter.

When the E. coli outbreak first surfaced, Dean Okimoto was on high alert.

According to Okimoto, owner of Nalo Farms, "I thought this was bad for the industry, period."

He grows spinach, but the bulk of his crops consist of lettuce and other greens that make up "nalo greens"

He says the water source has a lot to do with food safety.

"We don't use the irrigation water, because it can be contaminated with things like E. coli. Nurseries can use that type of water, because it's not an edible product," said Okimoto.

Okimoto also says the type of fertilizer used is crucial.

"It's got to be cured the right way, it's got to be certified so that you're free of bacteria contaminants."

Once the produce is harvested, it's stored in containers. The containers are kept at 33 to 38 degrees to keep any bacteria from growing.

"We're tasked with the responsibility of keeping that food chain safe," explained Okimoto. He also said, "We have to look at whatever things can affect your food supply in the long run, because we deliver to customers, that's out business."

Ironically the spinach scare has actually helped boost Okimoto's business.

He says demand for totsoi- a spinach alternative is up by 40 percent.

"More people are buying local, more restaurants," said Okimoto.

Okimoto says it's safe to eat locally grown spinach.

In fact he had some local spinach at a restaurant over the weekend.

He also says he usually grows his spinach during the winter, because it's too warm now.

He'll start growing spinach again in late October.