Livestock and aquaculture played important food-producing roles in early Polynesian societies long before agriculture developed as an industry. Meat, poultry products and seafood were staples of the ancient Polynesian voyagers who first made Hawaii their home. Today, they still are mainstream ingredients as well as big industries on the Big Island.

The basis for Hawaii's regional cuisine is the use of local ingredients-the fresher the better. So it goes without saying that by incorporating Big Island raised meats, dairy products, poultry and seafood into their recipes, cooks will be utilizing the freshest products. These locally raised products are available in restaurants and supermarkets throughout Hawaii.

Livestock

Livestock and aquaculture played important food-producing roles in early Polynesian societies long before agriculture developed as an industry. Meat, poultry products and seafood were staples of the ancient Polynesian voyagers who first made Hawaii their home. Today, they still are mainstream ingredients as well as big industries on the Big Island.

The basis for Hawaii's regional cuisine is the use of local ingredients-the fresher the better. So it goes without saying that by incorporating Big Island raised meats, dairy products, poultry and seafood into their recipes, cooks will be utilizing the freshest products. These locally raised products are available in restaurants and supermarkets throughout Hawaii.

Cattle

Hawaii's first cattle were introduced on the Big Island by Captain George Vancouver in 1793. The wild cattle became so numerous and hard to handle that in 1832 King Kamehameha III invited Spanish vaqueros to train Hawaiians in thinning and managing the herds. The cowboys became known as "paniolo" from the word "espanol"for Spanish.

Between 1850 and 1900, Angus, Devon, Dexter, Shorthorn and Hereford cattle were imported. During this time, large-scale ranching operations were established, many of which are still in operation.

Today, approximately 70 percent of the state's cattle inventory comes from Big Island ranches. Nearly 115,000 cattle are bred and raised on the Big Island, then most are shipped to the U.S. mainland and Canada for further grazing and finishing. A small percentage remains on the Big Island for local marketing as natural forage-fed beef, which is low in fat and cholesterol and has high amounts of healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Whether cattle spend their entire lives grazing on the Big Island, or just get their start here, the result is the same: high-quality natural forage raised beef with improved flavor, juiciness, texture and tenderness.

Dairy

Though the beginnings of the dairy industry in Hawaii are not exact, it probably started with the introduction of cattle. By the mid-1800s, cattle were being imported for the sole purpose of producing fresh milk, butter and cream, and first recorded commercial dairy opened its doors in 1869.

The shades that dominate the dairy industry are black and white - the colors of the Holstein-Friesian cow. On the Big Island, nearly 2,000 cows provide almost enough milk to support the island's population. The dairy industry includes the production, processing, distribution and marketing of fresh fluid milk and its value-added products. The grocery list of products includes yogurt, cheeses, sour cream, fresh cream and even ice cream. By purchasing Big Island-made dairy products, consumers can be assured of freshness and quality.

Swine

Pigs were brought to Hawaii in ancient times by the Polynesians. Historically used in religious and celebratory ceremonies, they still play a vital role in Hawaiian culture. Swine production reached its peak in Hawaii in 1945 during World War II, when the population swelled to more than 90,000 head in response to food demand for soldiers stationed here.

Today's swine industry targets a unique niche in the local pork market. Most farmers market their hogs to resorts for luau, direct farm sales and through local supermarkets.

Poultry

Chickens or fowl probably were introduced by the early Polynesian settlers. Over time, different varieties were shipped in, and by 1905 most of the popular breeds of fowl had been introduced to Hawaii. Most of the commercial poultry industry on the Big Island is egg production, with estimates of 25 to 30 million farm-fresh eggs produced each year.

Small Ruminants

Sheep and goat farms are increasing in popularity and size, both for meat and dairy production. Both Big Island lamb and goat meat are preferred for their mild flavor achieved by forage feeding. Production of gourmet dairy products, such as feta and chevre goat cheese, sheep and goat milk, also is on the rise, meeting the demands of culinary-savvy consumers.

Bees

Often overlooked as a livestock business are the honey and queen bee industries. The Big Island is the state's leading producer of honey, with annual production of more than 1 million pounds. In addition to raw and organic honey, fresh specialty honey can be made from the nectar of a single flower source, producing unusual flavor nuances, such as macadamia, ohia-lehua, Christmas berry or coffee.

The Big Island's climatic conditions-warm temperatures, little wind and sunny skies-are ideal for queen bee production, with exports to beekeepers around the world.

Aquaculture

Aquaculture, the farming of plants and animals in water, is one of the oldest forms of Hawaiian farming. The first Polynesian settlers practiced fish farming when they built extensive fish ponds bordering the ocean to ensure adequate supply of seafood, especially for ali'i, or royalty. At the time of Captain Cook's arrival in 1776, there were estimated to be more than 400 fishponds scattered throughout the islands.

The Big Island is an ideal location for aquaculture: water abounds here, be it from freshwater streams or the surrounding salty ocean. This provides an assortment of environments to raise a wide variety of food items, both plants and animals.

The bounty of sea life being harvested in the aquaculture industry includes abalone, carp, catfish, clams, flounder, milkfish, moi, mullet, ornamental fish, oyster, prawns, sea cucumber, seaweeds, shrimp, snails, sturgeon, tilapia and rainbow trout. Additionally, several types of microalgae are being cultivated for pharmaceutical purposes and as health food supplements.

Aquaculture species are raised in numerous ways that utilize different facilities, from small ponds to large-scale operations involving cutting-edge technology. There is a large and increasing demand for these seafood products, primarily due to consumption of fish and shellfish throughout the islands-more than 60 million pounds annually-by residents and tourists alike. Additionally, with new advances in health and medical science, interest continues to rise in using marine products for nutritional and pharmaceutical markets.

Hawaii natural products companies have access to discounted exhibit space at the industry's leading trade expo. They will be promoted in a manner and to a degree that they might not otherwise be able to accomplish. Their products will be part of an integrated marketing effort linking them to and merchandizing them with Hawaii’s appeal as a health and wellness destination. The Hawaii brand as a source of natural products will enjoy strong recognition at the expo. Additionally, the Hawaii brand as an appealing health and wellness destination will be advertised to consumers.

Anticipated outcomes of the project include increased awareness by trade buyers of the Hawaii brand as it pertains to natural products; increased sale of Hawaii natural products; increased awareness of the Hawaii brand as it pertains to health and wellness travel, and thus, increased tourism to Hawaii by visitors seeking health and wellness experiences.

Hawaii Island claims a unique connection to Cousteau. The eldest son of Jacques Cousteau - Jean Michel-Cousteau - began the Ocean Futures Society, which has teamed up with Kona Family YMCA to offer a program, Hawaii Ambassadors of the Environment. The program uses experiential education with frequent excursions into the marine and terrestrial environments to address responsible stewardship of natural resources and how to live more sustainable. Students are introduced to the natural wonders of Hawaii’s marine and coastal environments and their residents through slide shows, skin diving / free diving excursions and discussions. Watch for complete information on Hawaii Ambassadors of the Environment in an upcoming column.

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