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The Debut of Roast & Roots: Connecting Hawaiian Coffee, Farming and Culture

by Roast Magazine Editor Emily Puro

This year’s Hawaii Coffee Association (HCA) Conference and Trade Show saw the debut of a new event highlighting the cultural aspects of coffee farming and hopefully attracting a new generation to the trade. “Roast & Roots: A Locally Grown Experience” was a day-long celebration of all things Hawaii, a showcase for local coffee, produce, cooking, music, clothing jewelry and more.

Sponsored by HCA in conjunction with Kamehameha Schools and the State of Hawaii Department of Agriculture, the event featured coffee and culinary contests; demonstrations and tastings presented by renowned local chefs; culinary competitions involving professional chefs and students; live music performances, including Grammy award-nominee and Molokai native Raiatea Helm; and an array of vendors selling Hawaii-made food, clothing and more.

The locally focused event was the brainchild of HCA board member Roger Kaiwi and Kamehmeha Schools Land Asset Manager Les Apoliona. A native Hawaiian, Kaiwi is concerned about the future of Hawaiian farming, noting that most young islanders move away from the island, or at least away from agricultural careers, when they finish school.

“I’m one of the youngest farmers on the island,” says Kaiwi, 48, “and I’m an old guy. I kept asking myself, ‘How do I make farming cool?’”

The goal of Roast & Roots, he says, is to “grow a farmer” and “grow a chef” by showcasing the enjoyable and sustainable aspects of farming and cooking. The event’s debut appeared to be a success, attracting an impressive crowd of nearly 1,000 people. The energy was palpable as families mingled, tasted and voted on local food and coffee, listened to live music, and celebrated the bounty and the spirit of the island.

Proceeds from Roast & Roots will be used to meet matching fund requirements for federal grants awarded to combat the coffee berry borer (CBB), an invasive pest that destroys coffee cherries—aka berries—if left unchecked. While 2014 marked the debut of Roast & Roots, organizers already are planning an expanded second annual event for July 2015. Get more information about Roast & Roots, including information on this year’s culinary and coffee competition winners, from their Facebook page.