Local farmers in need of restaurant and hotel operation, City Council to discuss CARES funds to help

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According to the Hawaii Farm Bureau, most of Hawaii’s farmers rely on hotels, restaurants, and schools to stay in business. Honolulu City Councilmember Ann Kobayashi says that Hawaii needs local farmers for the economy to be sustainable.

As restaurants continue to reopen across the state, Merriman’s Executive Chef Chad Yamamoto wants to see eateries use more locally sourced ingredients to help the local economy and provide fresh food.

“Sustainability, we always hear that word and that is always what you want to keep,” Chef Yamamoto said.

“Most importantly you know where your food comes from, and for us what makes it really awesome is everything is in Waimea. Everything is in arm’s reach, we can go to the farmers, we can see how they’re growing.”

Chef Yamamoto often designs parts of his menu around what local farmers have available.

“It’s pretty much whatever they can offer we’ll pick it up. The restaurant itself we thrive on using a lot of fresh local ingredients. So we run specials, we’ll change the menu,” Chef Yamamoto said.

The system was running great until COVID-19 shut down Hawaii’s tourism industry. Without restaurants like Merriman’s open and many hotels closed, produce growers like Io Farms Hawaii in Kona are without their only buyers.

“We were fairly busy with the local restaurants and the local hotels,” owner Ronen Maman said.

“We’re all used to working with tourism and our business thrives on tourism so that’s a big problem. We’re not seeing the numbers.”

Until tourism returns, lawmakers want to find ways to help.

The Honolulu City Council committee on economic revitalization will meet Wednesday. One of the topics on the docket is agricultural response and recovery, as well as how to use federal CARES Act funding to stimulate the local economy.

“Looking at CARES Act money in tomorrow’s discussion to best how we can utilize to boost our local economy by looking at local farmers and how we can continue to partner with them so that we can help our local families here,” Councilman Elefante said.

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