With a cattle ranch to run, raising an eight-year-old daughter on her own, and a Ph.D. in Comparative Lit, there’s a lot on Michelle Galimba’s mind.
Coming back to Hawaii after an era of travel and study that took her from the cafes of Paris to the corridors of academia, Michelle has only sharpened her ability to see the beauty and meaning, the art and politics, in the landscape of agriculture and community she now finds herself.
She grew up on Oahu and graduated from Punahou, but raising animals is strong in her blood. Her father, Al Galimba, played a huge role the North Shore Meadow Gold dairy operations at the height of its success. When Meadow Gold closed its dairy operations on Oahu, C. Brewer on Hawaii Island began leasing land holdings acquired for their defunct sugar operation, it was then the Galimbas decided to pursue Al’s long held dream: to move back to his hometown of Na’alehu in the Ka’u district and raise cattle. They started with nothing but knowledge, desire and their connection to the land and its history.
Hawaii Island is where the relationship of Hawaii and cattle began, over 200 years ago, when the first four cows arrived as gifts to King Kamehameha. It is on this island that the king’s love of the cows caused him to declare a protective proclamation that allowed them to flourish without boundary – wild. Ranching in Hawaii began as a way to minimize the rogue population of this huge animal.
And that’s how Kuahiwi Ranch started too. With one cow. With Michelle and her brothers, riding deep into the valleys and roping wild cattle. Then caring for them, raising them, cultivating their herd over a decade and a half.
But ranching is not just about cows. It is also about the land, pasture, water, and working with others to keep a rural community alive. The expanse of land, and the many factors involved, might also require those who ranch to develop a philosophy of stewardship. This is certainly the case with the Galimbas and in other ranchers we’ve spoken with.
On an early visit to Kuahiwi, I sat with Michelle on her porch. We were high in the valley and as she gazed deep into the valley. She spent the last few nights shuttling one of her dogs to the vet, he was old and not doing good. Between thoughts, my eyes would drift over the expanse of shimmering waves of green and gold pasture to the smooth and endlessly blue ocean. Then sky. She had just come back from Honolulu where she met with a meat distributor in a small air-conditioned office. The goal is to get their beef into markets on Oahu. She is also working with coffee growers in Ka’u to get their coffee into larger markets too. It’s not all just about markets, it’s about farming. It’s about doing what it takes to make Ka’u a community where farms could have a future and people could continue to have livelihoods and independent businesses, where the next generation does not have to move away.
That moment in the freezing air-conditioned office in Honolulu – it was a walk through fire. A necessary step, she said, if her daughter and nephews are to have even an inkling of a chance at running this ranch.
Months later, Michelle is on Oahu again. Events have been organized to showcase Kuahiwi beef in a tasting against supermarket imported beef. Chefs from top Oahu restaurants show their overwhelming support of Kuahiwi.
I hear from a friend of mine, also a friend of Michelle’s, that Michelle’s father Al has said if they do not get into Oahu markets by summer, they will need to close their operation. I meet Michelle and her daughter, Ua, for dinner. They are in town to do a sampling presentation at Foodland for a beef co-op they are a part of. Ua is along for a short shopping trip that involved a pair of silver shoes for the Miss Peaberry contest.
Michelle is a mover of things and ideas. And things are moving quickly for Michelle. And on a recent Saturday night, she fired the equivalent of a bursting flare high into darkness, illuminating the disappearing landscape of agriculture in not only Hawaii, but the rest of country, and perhaps the world.
It came as a 8:43 p.m. posting to her blog Ehulepo, named aptly for the wind of Ka’u that beats the dust.
In it she mentions an article, “Push To Eat Local is Hampered By Shortage” by Katie Zezima for the New York Times that reveals that local independent livestock farmers across the nation are finding that a lack of support by communities and governments for needed infrastructure has become the largest obstacle in this push for reestablishing local food systems.
“This is a problem that I deal with everyday,” writes Michelle. “It’s a part of what I mean by saying that it’s not enough to buy local. Is it the farmer’s and rancher’s responsibility to create the infrastructure necessary to get the food all the way onto the plate? Do farmers have the millions of dollars and more importantly, the time and stamina to get through the regulatory hurdles of putting this infrastructure into place? We are trying to get it done, but the obstacles are daunting. We could really use some help, and not just in the eating part. “
In a few days she will be appointed to the Hawaii Board of Agriculture. But it will not instantly solve the problem for her ranch, for Ka’u, or for food growers in Hawaii.
She Grows Food invites you to be a part of a project to support Kuahiwi, in not just establishing themselves in the Oahu markets, but to address Michelle’s concern about the lack of infrastructure.
Consider this a call to action.
Recipe:Michelle’s La’uya recipe
Tags: Featured Farmer Profile