Hawaii’s disaster-battered flower growers are clawing back ... by working together
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Shane Castillo first landed on the Big Island’s floral scene in 2018 after taking over an empty, overgrown seven-acre lot in Hawaiian Paradise Park.
“We had my family come over and my dad operated a machine,” Castillo said.
“We took out a lot of the larger stuff and it really started coming along, we opened the business in March of that year and by September of that year, we were already selling flowers.”
Castillo’s business, C&C Tropicals, specializes in selling vibrant ginger and heliconia varieties.
Right when he opened operations, the 2018 Kilauea eruption ripped through the industry and while Castillo’s farm avoided disaster, many of his colleagues were crushed.
“How do you move 10,000 plants and you have less than a week and you still have your home to pack up?” Castillo said. “A lot of them actually forfeited a lot of the plants and the greenhouses.”
In the immediate aftermath of the eruption, Castillo supported his fellow growers and purchased remaining inventory that would be lost or unsold.
Those efforts became an official co-op known as Independent Farmers United and when the pandemic arrived, the co-op helped farmers apply for grants and navigate the process of securing benefits.
“One thing with government money and one thing about these disaster assistance is it has to travel through these channels and so, by the time it gets to the farmer, their mortgage is already due,” Castillo said. “Their car payment is already due. It doesn’t come fast enough and that’s how it works.”
Castillo says the co-op works with farmers statewide and has helped small growers obtain $250,000 in grants or government assistance.
As such, he welcomes others to join the cause because in an industry that’s weathered so many storms, collaboration is more valued than competition.
“We have people growing the same products as us and we share everything ― how we pack, what we do, how we ship, where we can get the best rates for boxes,” Castillo said.
“We share everything because there’s no one farm in the whole world that can supply the world market, so that tells me, why not work together?”
Those interested in reaching out to IFU can head to ifuhawaii.com
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