Field Trip: How KTA supports local farmers, ranchers

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Everyone who shops at KTA Super Stores in Hilo knows Derek Kurisu.

That’s apparent just following the executive vice president through the flagship grocery store in Puainako. He smiles at every shopper, waves and shakes hands like he’s running for office.

But there’s no hidden agenda here. Kurisu truly loves what he does — and it shows.

He’s particularly proud of what KTA has done for local farmers, ranchers and food producers, too.

“We can’t compete with all the Mainland chains, so we gotta do something they cannot do,” he tells us.

In 1992, the locally owned grocery chain launched its Mountain Apple Brand, showing its commitment to supporting local. This label is put on food products grown, manufactured or processed entirely on Hawai‘i Island. Since then, it’s grown from just fresh milk to include more than 200 different products, from corn tortillas to Portuguese sausages. He said 95 percent of all the leafy greens and 45 percent of all the beef sold at KTA stores are local.

In line with this pledge, Kurisu says he only sources one item from each farmer, no matter the cost. So if he gets long beans from one farmer at $2 a pound, he won’t ditch him for another farmer who sells his long beans cheaper.

“My whole goal is to be more food sustainable and to improve the quality of local products,” he says.

He also helps farmers and ranchers with value-added products, like the popular PAVA drink sold in the store. This is made from off-grade papayas and guavas — plus some cane sugar — from local farmers.

The store promotes its local suppliers, too, displaying large photos of them and their farms and ranches. In the future, he wants to put up video monitors that tell the story of where the food in KTA comes from.

“I want to get people out and support local farmers and ranchers,” he says, “so you can tie in what you eat with where it’s grown.”

Even the waste produced by KTA gets donated — to Pana‘ewa Rainforest Zoo & Gardens.

“The monkeys get one extra swing because they eating all the leftovers from KTA,” he jokes.

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