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Create strong relationships with customers: Adaptations
Co-owner, Adaptations, Kealakekua, South Kona
Tane Datta and his wife Maureen began homesteading as a move toward self-sufficiency in 1980 and expanded their gardens into a small farm enterprise over the next few years. Adaptation’s mission statement focuses on the need to engage in ecologically sound community and land development based on organic farming, alternative energy, and complimentary medicine. Datta has strengths in horticulture and has natural entrepreneurial instincts, while Maureen has strengths in building a business and has excellent people skills. Through the years one of the keys to success has been avoiding overextending their resources, including no significant debt. Instead, they built their business by reinvesting profits back into their company.
Adaptations began wholesale distribution in 1987 and now distributes 100% locally grown produce from their farm and about 100 other Hawai‘i farms. Many of these farms are small scale (less than $100/wk), with roughly 15 being major commercial producers. Customers include most of the local produce retailers and many hotels and restaurants. Adaptations also runs a CSA called “Fresh Feast,” with approximately 30 subscribers at present. Customers can subscribe via Adaptations website, which provides web store options for new and existing CSA members.
Their specialty is producing a diversity of high quality sustainably grown, certified organic crops for a wide range of markets including: top ranking chefs, locally owned restaurants, health food stores, large herbal companies, alternative medicine practitioners, CSA subscribers and direct retail customers. The product mix includes specialty greens, retail packaged coffee, ground cinnamon and cinnamon cooking planks, and medicinal plants. Through the years, the Dattas have worked with dozens of farmers. Tane qualified to train organic inspectors through IOIA and worked as an organic trainer in California before moving to Hawai‘i to train local growers. “Now when I visit a farm, I can see very quickly if they are organized, what their excitement level is, how their harvesting and postharvest processing works—in sum, these things tell me if the farm can be successful,” says Datta.
“Caring only about money and not caring about people who will be customers” is the biggest mistake Datta sees farmers make. He recommends first talking to potential customers and building relationships, then developing their crops and services to satisfy the needs of the customers. Products based on human relationships can bring the highest value in the marketplace, and without the human relationships, products are just a generic commodity that are valued lowest in the marketplace. “To get the highest prices, producers must care about the food and people, as no one wants to pay top dollar for food that nobody cares about.” Other big mistakes Datta has often seen include people starting a large farm operation without developing good horticultural skills and people who have the agricultural skills, but do not know the cost of production or other basic business skills.
In keeping with their mission statement, Datta is active in community service: developing sustainable community development plans and working with the university, local government, and non-profit organizations. Datta provides insight into statewide agricultural production directions and market developments that strive to answer the basic questions: “What crops should be grown?” “What is the market value of a crop?” and “Where should a crop be marketed?”
To learn more about Adaptations, read Hawai'i Homegrown Food Network's in-depth article.
This interview was excerpted with kind permission of the authors from:
Elevitch, C., N. Milne, and J. Cain. 2012. Hawai‘i Island Farmer’s Guide to Accessing Local Markets. Hawai‘i Community College Office of Continuing Education and Training, Center for Agricultural Success, and Permanent Agriculture Resources. http://hawaiihomegrown.net/pdfs/Hawaii-Island-Guide-to-Accessing-Markets.pdf