The family-owned vegetable grower has found better prices on water and land leases.

Aloun Farms, one of Hawaii’s most prolific producers of Chinese cabbage, green beans, pumpkin and sweet corn, made a name for itself in Central Oahu in the 1990s as a local food producer focused on edging out vegetable imports.


Its future is taking shape in West Kauai where, since early 2022, the company has planted hundreds of acres of watermelon, eggplant, zucchini and pumpkins. 

Most of the vegetables harvested by Aloun Farms on Kauai must be shipped to the much larger Honolulu market. Despite the added transportation costs and expense of staffing, the new farming venture pencils out according to Richard Takase, an Aloun Farms consultant.

“On Kauai, it’s a dramatic difference from what you’re dealing with on Oahu,” Takase said. “There’s no doubt the land is much more fertile. There’s more affordable land leases. There’s reliable, affordable water. On Kauai we can do things that we can’t do on Oahu because of the urban sprawl and because the politics aren’t as friendly to agriculture.”

Workers harvest pumpkins on agricultural land leased by Aloun Farms on Kauai’s west side. (Courtesy: Richard Takase/2023)

For years Aloun Farms has positioned itself for an expansion and last year the company quietly planted seeds as an experiment in West Kauai alongside a range of existing agricultural operations. The result, Takase said, has been more favorable than anticipated, with harvests yielding Japanese eggplant 30% bigger than anything harvested on Oahu.

Aging Infrastructure

The company leases roughly 300 acres on Kauai. But it wants to punch up its acreage into thousands — enough to contend with its 3,000 acre Oahu footprint.

For West Kauai, the arrival of such a large food producer could drive investment in aging infrastructure, attract ag supply stores and introduce opportunities for small farmers to reach big markets — potential benefits for the whole regional ag sector. 

Aloun Farms Kauai Agriculture Sweet Onion Farming Hawaii Grown
Watermelon and honeydew melon are among some of the summer crops planted by Aloun Farms on Kauai. (Courtesy: Richard Takase/2023)

“From a food security standpoint, this is huge,” said Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami, who grew up working at his family-owned grocery chain Big Save until the business was bought out in 2011. Kawakami said that bigger growers were important if the aging plantation-era infrastructure system is to be maintained.

Barely a year into its Kauai expansion, Aloun Farms is already collaborating with neighboring farms in Kekaha and Waimea to address strategic challenges they share, including the labor shortage and logistical hurdles to bringing produce to market.

Aloun shares farm equipment with Hartung Brothers, the Wisconsin-based seed producer that acquired Syngenta’s operations on Kauai and Oahu in 2017. Aloun and Hartung also partner on selling sweet corn — a product Hartung has historically grown to support community giveaways and fundraisers.

“We’re not at all adept at packing and distribution of a fresh market product like that for local consumption — but they are,” said Joshua Uyehara, general manager of Hartung Brothers’ Hawaii division. “That’s the best of both worlds.”

  • ‘Hawaii Grown’ Special Series

These kinds of mutually beneficial partnerships are uncommon in Hawaii, said Uyehara, who is also president of the nonprofit Kekaha Agricultural Association. But in larger agricultural markets he said it’s common for farmers to work together to reduce costs and boost operational efficiencies.

Farming in West Kauai is not without challenges, however. 

Housing Shortages, Again

Like elsewhere in the state, housing insecurity threatens the ability of many farms to retain employees and makes it difficult to ramp up production. To this end, Aloun Farms is leasing and renovating homes in Waimea for its workers, including some who fly to Kauai from Oahu on a rotating basis. 

Alec Sou, Aloun Farms’ president and general manager, stands in crop fields leaves by the company in Kekaha on Kauai’s west side. (Courtesy: Richard Takase/2023)

To grow its Kauai-based staff, Takase said the company is also open to partnering with other farms or local government to create affordable housing for agriculture workers. The ability of a farm to offer housing to workers is key, Takase said, because the wages for farm work often can’t compete with pay in the tourism sector.

Kauai County is already planning a housing project that includes a mix of 550 single-family and multi-family homes for rent or to own. More housing is also planned for what’s known as the Waimea 400, a 417-acre parcel purchased by the county in 2019 for wetland restoration, agriculture, housing and recreation.

Aloun Farms’ sweet onion crop readies for harvest in West Kauai’s reddish soil. (Courtesy: Richard Takase/2023)

“These are projects that won’t put inventory into the market overnight, but they’re very close on the horizon as far as actually being built,” Kawakami said.

Aloun is also lobbying Young Brothers to bring back barge service to Port Allen Harbor, an idea that Kawakami and Kauai County Council Chairman Mel Rapozo said they would support so long as it doesn’t interfere with the harbor’s current users. 

Returning Port Allen to its historical role a commercial shipping hub would not only save Aloun Farms and other agricultural growers time, wear and tear on trucks and money, according to Takase, but it would also reduce traffic on Kaumualii Highway, the 30-mile road that connects West Kauai to Lihue.

“We encourage more production on neighbor islands,” said Brian Miyamoto executive director of the Hawaii Farm Bureau, noting it will be key if the state is to reach its goal to double food production by 2030.

Hawaii Grown” is funded in part by grants from the Stupski Foundation, Ulupono Fund at the Hawaii Community Foundation and the Frost Family Foundation.

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