As the COVID pandemic reached Hawaii in spring 2020, small family farms were hit hard and found it difficult to sustain their livelihood.
“As business slowed down, we asked ourselves, ‘How are we going to deal with it? Do we still keep planting?’” said Tony Wong Cam of Huang’s Green Leaf Products – a farm in Wai’anae, Hawaii.
But the farm persevered – thanks to a partnership with the Hawaii Foodbank.
During the pandemic, as more people across the country began to visit food banks, much less food was getting donated. Food banks needed creative solutions to finding more food to keep up with demand, so the Hawaii Foodbank looked to their local farmers for help, committing to purchase local agricultural products for its food programs. That included more than 21,000 pounds of pak choy and kai choy from Tony’s family farm.
“Thanks to Hawaii Foodbank, we kept planting, and we were able to keep our 35 employees working,” said Fanny Gan, the company matriarch and Tony’s mother. “For me, I really rely on the food bank, and I believe other farmers are, too.”
The partnership helped preserve the family’s farming legacy, which began on a two-acre lot in Wai’anae more than 20 years ago.
“I just needed something to do with the skills my husband had. He’s the one who chose farming,” Fanny Gan says of their humble start. “After working all those years, I’ve learned little by little, and now I enjoy it because I know we’re providing food for a lot of people.”
Over the next 20 years, the family expanded operations and diversified their crops to include choy sum, green onions, Chinese parsley, mustard cabbage, cilantro, and eventually fresh herbs. Today, they have more than 40 acres of farmland.
“When they began, my parents saw a need to provide for me and my siblings. Now, they are providing food and sustenance for many people,” says Tony.
While Tony believes creativity and staying relevant are important, he also knows believing in what you do is what truly brings success.
“When COVID-19 hit, our operation of planting remained normal because we believed. We never stopped believing. And when Hawaii Foodbank wanted product, we were ready,” says Tony. “The program really supports local farmers, and the extra demand for locally desired vegetables is something we really appreciate. It has not been easy but hearing how people are receiving our products makes my mom and dad very happy. They feel like they are giving back.”
So far, the Hawaii Foodbank has partnered with 19 local farms, ensuring local produce is available to communities facing hunger in Hawaii, while supporting businesses during the pandemic.