Welcome to Hawai'i Homegrown!
Building local, sustainable food communities on Hawai'i Island
• Find others for buying, selling, sharing, and learning | Farmers Markets
• Empower yourself and your community to become food self-reliant | Reports
• Learn about events, resources, happenings, and locally grown food | Events
• Keep yourself informed through our monthly newsletter | Newsletter archive
It's all free and abundant, so dig in!
Kea'au Natural Foods Store, with owner Wes Fujii
Tucked into a corner of the Kea'au Shopping Center, right next to Ace Hardware, Kea'au Natural Foods is a small but very clean, bright and extremely well stocked and organized store. It has been in the present location since 1996 and seems to have constant traffic passing through its doors.
The original store was founded in 1983 by Alex Beamer in a small shopping center that used to sit across the street from the present site, where the McDonalds is now located. Present owner, Wes Fujii was working as manager in the original store and bought it about 6 years ago. Wes is a full time hands-on store owner, and his wife Claudine, who recently retired as branch manager of the Hilo Library, helps with the paperwork from home. He tells me he considers himself the "gatekeeper" of the store, using strict standards for personally approving everything that is sold. He knows his customers trust him to sell them only products he feels are safe and that he would feel happy about giving his own children. The two most important guidelines for choosing products to sell have to be quality and safety.
Wes explains that although the store is "sorta low-key" and doesn't do a lot of advertising, it attracts a wide and varied clientele with some coming from quite a distance to shop regularly. A big portion of his customer base tends to be female, and many are seniors since the store offers significant senior discounts.
Besides an assortment of brand-name merchandise, the store has a section where all items carry the store's own label -- on tinctures, essential oils and supplements. Any products which contain hormones or animal products are shelved separately.
The bulk bins and the herb and spice sections are the largest I have seen in any store on the island, and Wes points out that none of these products are irradiated. A huge selection of raw grains, seeds and flours of all types can be found in the bins, very reasonably priced. The herb and spice section contains over 300 different items from all over the world. Each canister holding herbs and spices is marked with a different color dot: green for rain forest, blue for ayurvedic herbs, yellow for Chinese, and red for bulk teas.
The selection of dried fruit is not large, but here again all are personally selected and approved to not contain sulphur or any other preservatives or food coloring. The coffee sold is all organic 'fair trade' coffee beans and customers can grind their own beans. The store does not sell pre-packaged ground coffee that might contain other fillers. Customers can also grind peanuts to make their own natural peanut butter.
On one wall there is water machine where customers can fill their own containers with ionized water and can select the PH level they prefer.
Although at this time their produce selection is not too large, a large percentage is Hawai'i grown. The store uses different designations to label their produce: Certified Organic Hawai'i; Certified Organic Mainland (or other country); and Homegrown "No Pesticides" Hawai'i. This last designation is for food grown organically, with no pesticides or commercial fertilizers but the farmer does not have an organic certification. Wes does not accept any conventionally grown produce, nor products made from conventionally grown produce.
Wes wants to work toward strengthening the connection between grower/producer and consumer. He is currently working on plans to make local farmers or providers more prominently known to the shoppers who come to his store.
The prepared foods sold are all made in a commercial kitchen by Alan's Foods in Hilo.
Wes believes the GMO issue is important and he defends the consumer's "right to know" what they are actually buying and supports labeling of all GMO products.
The store hosts two functions a year: Customer Appreciation in June and the store's Anniversary in November; both events feature tastings, promotions and other specials.
The Hawai'i HomeGrown Food Network recently asked Wes Fujii about the store's mission, the products he sells, and what needs to happen to increase local food consumption.
Sonia R. Martinez, the Hawai'i Homegrown Food Network regular farmers market reporter, is a cookbook author and freelance food writer for several publications in Hawai'i, including The Hamakua Times of Honoka'a. She is a contributing writer for Edible Hawaiian Islands Magazine and has her own food & garden blog at http://soniatasteshawaii.com