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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Mo`olelo...History, Year One

BIG news today...escrow closed and we now own the Puna land.  We thought it would be good to give a little history of `Ihilani Farms' evolution, so here is part one:

This particular adventure began two years ago when `Ihilani and I made our first trip to the Big Island together in April/May 2011.  Though he lived on Kaua`i for 18 years and I had been travelling to the Big Island for 20 years, our paths crossed for the first time in April 2009.  (That’s an entirely different story.)  We spent a week on Kaua`i so I could see his island and meet his people, then a week on Hawai`i island for him to see the home of my heart and meet my people.  It was so good for us to see each other in those settings and to know the certainty that this is where we belonged…together.  We began to formulate a plan:  to move together to the Big Island to live our bliss.  I had a five-year plan, time to wrap up over 50 years in northwest Oregon and do the internal shifting required to make such a move, as well as find new adventures for the vast majority of my animal family here and gear up for selling the mainland farm.  `Ihilani had a five-minute plan.  He was ready to pack a bag and get on a plane.  We kept telling people we were moving to Hawai`i sometime in the next five minutes to the next five years.
`Ihilani Coffee Company was born that summer.  In September, `Ihilani made a solo trip to ‘da Big Island’ to begin gathering coffee growers and suppliers for tropical flowers.  I began creating websites and procuring various licenses, web domains, and contacts.  Had I known the pain of birthing such a huge project, I may have faltered.  As it was, I traded several weeks of my life in creating the website (and labels, logos, bags, bank accounts…you get the idea.)  At first I tried to use the web page template path, but became quickly frustrated at the lack of creativity.  I soon decided I’d have to write the HTML myself. 
I had done something similar years before by getting through about five chapters of a do-it-yourself book.  I applied what I had learned to the creation of our website for the coffee company.  Starting on a “wing and a prayer” is what I do best, and lacking the resources to hire a web development company, www.ihilanicoffee.com is the result.  The site grows as we add new products, varieties and suppliers.  The intention has always been to grow our own Puna coffee and also offer the best of the Big Island’s other varieties including Kona, Ka`u, and Hamakua.
In November of 2011, there was a fortuitous happenstance.  I don’t believe in coincidence or accident, so my explanation is that we had set a thing in motion with passion and energy and it began to manifest.  It was a stormy Sunday when we set off to Newport for a food bank fundraiser featuring coffee and chocolate.  `Ihilani was reluctant, saying the weather and travel were treacherous.  I said, “Life belongs to those who show up.  We won’t know why we’re going, who we may meet, what connection is to be made if we don’t show up.”  It was a small event with seven coffee roasters and four chocolatiers.  Stepping inside the door and looking left, I saw my neighbor from 30 years ago!  Seems they have a coffee company on the coast and were in need of a Kona coffee supplier, and here we were with a brand-new Big Island coffee company needing a roaster…hmmmm….
At first we thought we would purchase roasted coffee fresh from our growers and have them dropship to customers.  A new idea burst from that “chance” meeting on the coast:  we could bring in green coffee and roast it here in Oregon, insuring absolute freshness as well as quality control over things like bags and labels and weights, etc.  I reconnected with the family and made arrangements for them to roast our `Ihilani coffees here in Oregon. 
I was so excited that first roasting day.  I did my morning barn chores and set off with green coffee, bags, and labels to have the first `Ihilani coffees roasted by my longtime friends.  I was met by a big hug and smiles, then told that I was going to roast the coffee!  That was terrifying and one of the most fun things I’ve had the joy to learn.  My left brain gets the science of roasting:  gas levels, exhaust temperature, batch size, bean temperature, time schedules…and my right brain gets the art of it all:  sound of tumbling beans, the beautiful way they change color in the tiny “peek port,” pulling out a few beans for inspection in the sampler, the way the beans fluff as they roast, listening for the sound of the first crack over the background of the roaster, the scent and sounds of the beans as they crackle out of the roaster mellowing as they are stirred to cool by my hand on the crank, getting a feel for the weighing and bagging and sealing process…all of it.
We were officially open for business with coffee to sell the week before Christmas.  We sold some coffee, and continued the learning process.  In the spring I attended a conference in Boise for another company.  One of my roommates at the hotel just happened to be a coffee buyer for a natural food store in California.  No coincidences, remember?  I sent green coffee samples to her after the conference, and our first large roaster account was born.  Later in the summer, I asked that roaster for referrals, and we got another account with another California roasting company who was not able to find any Kona beans at all to roast.  One of the benefits of having personal relationships with our growers is the ability to reserve coffee for the year and have it available when everyone else is sold out. 

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