Hawaii Strong: A taro farm that’s a fixture on Kauai turns to online sales to stay afloat

Hawaii Strong: A taro farm that’s a fixture on Kauai turns to online sales to stay afloat

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - For the last century, members of the Haraguchi family have been caretakers of 55 acres of wetland taro in Kauai’s Hanalei Valley.

Two years before the pandemic, Mother Nature nearly swept their business away as the catastrophic flood of 2018 put their fields underwater, destroyed equipment, and ripped through a farmhouse that lasted through Hurricane Iniki.

Yet, even with recovery efforts still not complete, Hanalei Taro pulled through and resumed operations until the coronavirus pandemic sacked revenue.

[This story is part of HNN’s “Hawaii Strong” series, profiling businesses in the islands adapting to the pandemic and its economic fallout. To suggest a profile, send an email to hawaiistrong@hawaiinewsnow.com.]

“For several months, 100% of it was gone,” said Hanalei Taro and Juice Company owner Lyndsey Haraguchi-Nakayama. “I already took out two credit cards after the April 2018 flood to be able to get our food truck back up and running because everything electrical got washed out. Just so that our team could keep working and still have jobs and be employed.”

In the face of COVID-19, no measure could prevent Haraguchi-Nakayama from making the difficult decision to lay off her entire staff, close the company’s food truck, and halt in-person tours.

However, demand for Hanalei Taro’s suite of products, including poi, cooked kalo and kulolo, remained and she took the company online.

“It was really adding the poi and then people were like, what about the taro mochi cake that we can get on Kauai, but we can’t get on Oahu or California and stuff?” Haraguchi-Nakayama said. “So like OK, let’s figure out the logistics for that, so it was pretty much an adjustment.”

It was a change that consisted of setting up a complete digital store and fulfilling orders in Hawaii and on the mainland.

“Taro farming and technology don’t always work together right?” Haraguchi-Nakayama said.

“So having to drop phones or iPads in the loi, trying to do Zoom and figure out the logistics has been challenging, but it’s interesting to see where the need is and how we can adapt to do it.”

While Hanalei Taro’s digital pivot has been a success, Haraguchi-Nakayama is well aware the farm’s recoveries from COVID-19 and flooding will be a struggle.

Yet considering this farm has been in the family for six generations, the resilience runs deep.

“I think now more than ever we have to support farmers, small businesses not just on Kauai, but across the state,” Haraguchi-Nakayama said. “Not just for the community or sustainability as well, but for the entire state of Hawaii as we struggle to get through this.”

Copyright 2020 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.