Nonprofit sets sights on future commercial kitchen

Good News Notes:

Whether it’s supporting a community of local entrepreneurs, helping a farmer to develop value-added products or creating innovative ways to serve those in need throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Maui Food Technology Center has been seeking ways to expand its roots.

For the next phase of growth, the nonprofit’s president Luana Mahi said Tuesday evening that the center has plans to build a collaborative website and open a commercial kitchen facility for local entrepreneurs to use.

The organization was established in 2004 and has since been on a mission to encourage, educate and create opportunities for local entrepreneurs seeking to earn a living through value-added products, agriculture, cultural practices, environmental sustainability, technology and economic diversification.

“It’s just great to see the growth and potential that comes out, and the ideas that (clients) come up with,” said Mahi during a meeting held at the Royal Lahaina Resort’s Royal Ocean Terrace Restaurant on Tuesday night.

Saying that there is a lack of places for small food manufacturers to house and distribute their goods and products in a commercial kitchen, the center is seeking about $470,000 in funding for a facility located on 671 Piliwale Road in Kula.

Mahi said they are looking to renovate an empty building of the old Maui Pickled Products owned by the Uradomo family and to purchase other necessary materials.

It would be a place for local entrepreneurs to process their goods while having access to energy-efficient commercial food service equipment, as well as access to dry, cold and frozen storage; meeting spaces; a food science lab; and training facilities.

They will find out this month if funding is approved through the Legislature, she said.

The center is also hoping to build a new website and app that would help to establish more partnerships between ranchers and farmers, food manufacturers, wholesale buyers, restaurants, nonprofits and other industry sectors.

Mahi said that the online platform will offer resources, workshops and ideas, encourage locals to support one another, open funding opportunities and gather ideas from the community to make sure “concerns and new ideas can be bridged.”

The nonprofit hosts workshops and education expos year-round, as well as national and international trade shows.

Mahi said that Hawaii is home to about 7,000 farms statewide, 800 on Maui, with the majority considered small operations, meaning most need assistance with “operations, expertise and marketing.”

“One thing I like about our organization is the ability that we have to react quickly to clients’ needs and provide confidential services,” she said.

About 15,000 new value-added products are introduced into the market at a national level every year, except about two in three products fail due to the lack of customer appeal, such as pricing. One in five businesses last more than five years, and entrepreneurs spend an average of two or more years developing their new food products.

Diversified agriculture and locally made products in Hawaii are valued at $2.4 billion, which provides jobs and contributions to the economy. Diversified agriculture generates 70 percent of the state’s farm revenues and agriculture workforce….”

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