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AthleteIAmA Pakistani ultra-marathon athlete competing in the toughest footrace in the world!

Jan 24th 2017 by RunWithKhawar • 37 Questions • 3776 Points

I'm Kate and my husband Doug and I bought a farm in the Kona Coffee belt in Feb. 2013. We planted our 8 acre coffee orchard and have now been farming coffee for 4 years. We originally are from Chicago where I was a lawyer and he was a proprietary futures trader.

My farm is Sunshower Farms and our website is www.SunshowerCoffee.com.

*My Proof *

Edit - In response to requests for a coupon code you can use the code "reddit" to take 15% off your order and "ship100" for free shipping if you spend over $100.

Edit - okay this has been really fun but I need to detach from my phone/laptop for a bit. If you have more questions just add them and I will try to get to every question in the next couple days. I will also keep the coupon code up until 1/31 at 11:59PM HST.

Q:

Do you think you have a chance to win this?

Good luck to you.

A:

What kind of reactions did you get from friends and family? Any notable stories?

How many people work your farm? Do you have a photogenic burro?

Have you considered some sort of rental accommodation on site? Have you had an influx of friends and family wanting to visit?


Q:

Thank you for your support:) Finishing such an extreme ultra-marathon is a big accomplishment in itself. As this is my first MdS, right now I'm aiming to do it in a respectable time and finish with all my limbs and facilities intact. ;)

If you want to please, follow my journey as I have been posting about my progress, preparation and training marathon schedules on my social media channels: Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/runwithkhawar/ Twitter: @runwithkhawar Instagram: @runwithkhawar Email: [email protected]

A:

What kind of reactions did you get

A lot of surprise and some envy. Most people were really supportive and congratulated us for making the change. Our immediate families were probably the most worried because they didn't want us to lose all of our savings doing something stupid.

How many people work your farm?

My husband and I are the only full time employees but we do have a couple of work traders who work about 10 hours a week in exchange for living in our employee housing (individual rooms but with a shared bathroom and kitchen).

Do you have a photogenic burro?

I wish! I am dying to get a donkey because they are so cute. But my husband says it would be a waste of money. We do have some really cute goats though.

Have you considered some sort of rental accommodation on site? Have you had an influx of friends and family wanting to visit?

No Air BnB set up or anything like that but we do have an area where pickers can rent during the picking season. And yes tons of friends and family have come to visit. We love having visitors because our island is pretty rural and it can be nice to break things up.


Q:

What do you do to mentally prepare yourself for something so challenging?

Also, thanks for doing an AMA OP! I'm looking forward to this.

A:

Assuming that you took a pay cut, at least at the beginning, can you tell us what makes it worth it?

Thanks.


Q:

Training... training... training :)

I knew that approaching The MDS as an amateur runner without fully understanding the risks involved could take a deadly turn. So I worked towards developing speed, strength and endurance through competitive cycling and long-distance running. To further prepare my body for this grueling challenge, I will be participating in:

Urban-Ultra Night Rebel Completed Westin Kilo Marathon (26.2 km) Completed Abu Dhabi Half Marathon (21.1 km) Completed 7 Emirates Run (60 km) Completed Dubai Half Marathon (21.1 km) Completed Urban Ultra Desert Stinker (20 km) Completed Dubai Marathon (42.2 km) Completed Dubai Ironman 70.3 (1.8km swim, 90km bike, 21.1km run) Wadi Bih solo (72 km) RAK Half Marathon (21.1 km) Urban Ultra Hajar (50 km) Urban Ultra Extreme (140 km) Urban Ultra Big Stinker (45 km)

A:

Yes we both took a huge paycut and we will probably never replace that with farming. But what were we really working for in Chicago? We were saving to buy a house (which we now have) and working until we could take our next vacation to a place like Hawaii (where we now live). It's not that we have EVERYTHING we could want (I would LOVE a pool), but I am a lot more fulfilled than I was in Chicago.


Q:

Can you eat while on a marathon?

What do you personally eat before/during/after a marathon ?

A:

I hope this isn't prying too much, but what did it take for you to get started? I've always had a dream to do something similar. Was it very risky? Did you need loans etc, or start with savings? (Trying to figure out what it would take to start myself).


Q:

Freeze-dried meals, gels, electrolytes, and power bars during the race. All meals, including meals before and after the marathon, require loads of research and prep. I will be posting about it in my newsletters and on my social media channels. Follow my journey and hopefully I will be able to guide you in learning more about my prep for MdS. Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/runwithkhawar/ Twitter: @runwithkhawar Instagram: @runwithkhawar Email: [email protected]

A:

We started with a pretty sizable amount of savings but we did get a mortgage (the mortgage process is tricky with a farm but do-able especially because there are farm service agencies to help you).

If you are wanting to come to Hawaii, it is much cheaper to buy a leasehold than a fee simple property. You are supposed to commercially farm your leasehold though so unless you plan to do that, I wouldn't consider one.

If you want to start a farm yourself, I would recommend visiting the place you want to farm (if that is HI, then come here) and meet with local farmers! The farm bureau in the area you are looking at should have some great resources also the Farm Service Agency is great (at least in Hawaii) and has all the info on grants and special loans for beginning farmers.

Also, idk if you are a woman or a minority, but there are even better FSA loans if you are. Good luck!


Q:

My wife and I are constantly dreaming of moving to hawaii and growing our own food, and living simpler. We will actually be on the big island at the end of april. Part of our trip will be spent right up the hill from two step (which I know is coffee country) Could I send you a PM and maybe set up a time where we could come check out your operation? I would love to pick your brain about leasehold land, growing seasons, etc.

A:

Yes absolutely! We're just up the hill from there. Shoot me a PM or feel free to email me (contact info is on our site).


Q:

Mahalo for the AMA

Which varieties do you grow?

What kind of roaster are you using?

Do you plan to offer single varieties or your peaberry solo in the future?

Do you grow any 'Awa?

A:

Which varieties do you grow?

We grow almost all Arabica (Kona Typica specifically). We have about 10 trees of a hybrid called Kona Passion as a test and we may plant more of those because they are turing out great.

What kind of roaster are you using?

I roast on a Sonofresco. It's a really nice roaster for small batches.

Do you plan to offer single varieties or your peaberry solo in the future?

Yes! I actually just got that graded out a couple weeks ago for the first time so we now have about 50lbs of it that we can sell this year. I am just waiting for the peaberry stamp to come in the mail that I ordered for our labels and then it will be added to the website for purchase!

Do you grow any 'Awa?

No we don't, mostly because even though the effects are cool I think it tastes like mud.


Q:

I'm not OP but I may be able to answer if OP doesn't. 'Awa (or Kava) has kava lactones that affect your central nervous system and basically calm you down. It is used in home treatments by people suffering from hyperactivity disorders or sleep disorders (it is said to make depression worse). Kava can be dangerous to the liver and is recommended that you do not consume it on a regular basis. Kava can impede your ability to function normally (if a substantial amount is consumed). You can pick up Kava at some supermarkets and health food stores as it is not off the market in the USA (under the assumption you are from the USA), although Kava or 'Awa is not able to be sold in Canada and some countries in Europe.

Kava has been linked to some deaths.

Source: Biology Major that drinks Kava tea on occasion.

A:

Thanks! There's a Kava Bar in town that I have been to and tried it there. There's also a guy who sells it out of his truck in waterbottles (I know that sounds sketchy but its normal for Hawaii) and I have had it once that way too. Both times I have had to choke it down because it truly tastes like a mud puddle. Other people love it, but it's not for me.


Q:

Have you guys had any difficulties being accepted by locals?

A:

I think there is a lot of racism towards outsiders in Hawaii but on our island at least that is focused on the other side of the island (Hilo side). But also, I think a lot of that centers on dislike of snowbirds who drive up housing costs and do not even contribute to our economy 6 months out of the year. I can tell you it is really hard for farmers/restaurants etc. to make money during the summer which is off-season. Personally I haven't experienced many problems like that but also I try to be respectful of locals, of the land and supportive of "local" issues like schooling etc even though we don't have any kids.


Q:

Hey! I've found this diving on the internet. What do you think of making flour from the cherries?

https://youtu.be/1z34kIq2BWk

A:

I know of one other farm here doing it and it seems pretty cool but honestly such a pain that I probably wouldn't do it. In a zombie apocalypse situation though, that is definitely a good thing to know about lol.


Q:

mahalo for the AMA.

I commend you on the big move. Interested in hearing what spurred your decision.

Chicago is an incredible specialty coffee town. How in to the scene did you get before you decided to dedicate your lives to it? Did you have an experience with roasters or cafes there?

How did you learn how to farm? Seems like a lot of details -- did it ever really intimidate you?

A:

Thanks! Actually when we moved we did not plan to be farmers. We first moved to Maui and had a month-to-month rental while we looked at properties to buy. It didn't take long to realize that we could afford a lot more on the Big Island, so we shifted our search there almost right away.

When we were house hunting around Kona, we fell in love with a property right in the Kona coffee belt (a 30 square mile-ish area where coffee must be grown to be called Kona) and really could not justify the investment unless we farmed it. It is also zoned ag, so for tax reasons we had to at least farm something.

We were not involved in the coffee scene in Chicago at all! I mostly just drank starbucks before buying our farm and my husband barely drank coffee at all. Dedicating our lives to coffee was more about dedicating to farming and coffee just happened to be the crop that made the most sense for our location.

Since then though we have both fallen in love with Kona coffee. We drink our own coffee every day and I legitimately think our coffee is some of the best I have ever tasted. Certainly I am biased (like thinking your kid is the cutest) but it really is very good and we are lucky to love our product so much.

Learning to farm has been a process for sure. We hired a consultant for the first couple of years - a local farmer who has a horticulture PhD from UH in coffee specifically - and he installed our orchard, and has taught us how to maintain it. The coffee is intimidating but an orchard crop is somewhat more forgiving to trial and error than say corn or something. If you make a mistake with your trees, its possible to nurse them back to good health - a lot of orchards here are 70+ years old and still going strong even with a lot of ups and downs.

For all of our non-coffee crops, it's going to sound crazy but we really have just learned from google, youtube and a lot of experimentation. It is totally true that with enough effort you can learn almost anything on the internet lol.


Q:

Greetings from Oahu! My wife and i are big coffee drinkers so my question is how much coffee do you and your husband drink on a daily basis? Also is it possible for you to grow cocoa beans and make your own chocolate? Theres alot of little stores here that get there cocoa beans from the big island.

A:

Aloha! We drink about 2 cups a day each. A morning cup and and afternoon cup after we come in from working outside. I actually drank a lot more when I was a lawyer - maybe that isnt surprising lol.

We can sooorta grow cacao. We are at a pretty high elevation for it, but I do know there are other farms at our elevation growing it. I would love to start growing some but if we did I doubt we would even sell it - we probably would just try to process it and eat it ourselves. The processing is really similar to coffee.


Q:

Neeeeaaaaat!

Do you grow other foods for yourself in the farm or just the coffee?

Is this kind of a retirement fun thing for you guys, or an active and goal-oriented moneymaking thing?

Do you sell your coffee as a single sourced bean product or is it combined with other farms' beans for sale?

I haven't looked at the website yet, not sure if it might answer that last question...

A:

Do you grow other foods for yourself in the farm or just the coffee?

Yes we grow tons of other food - mostly vegetables but we raise goats for milk and meat, chickens for eggs and meat and sometimes trap wild boar that is in the coffee field for meat.

Is this kind of a retirement fun thing for you guys, or an active and goal-oriented moneymaking thing?

Haha not at all a retirement thing. I am only 30! We are trying to make a living doing this but we are still fairly new and our coffee isn't quite old enough to be producing enough for us to turn a profit just on that. We also do events, have a CSA and run a local homebrew supply shop out of our farm to suppliment our income from the coffee.

Do you sell your coffee as a single sourced bean product or is it combined with other farms' beans for sale?

We only sell coffee from our farm. We do sell green to a couple roasters who roast it and sell it under their label, but the majority of our coffee we sell ourselves under our label.


Q:

Reply to THEIR comment, not mine, or they won't see it.

A:

Usually good advice but I am just reading through the thread to make sure I don't miss anyone.


Q:

Reply to THEIR comment, not mine, or they won't see it.

A:

Website is www.Sunshowercoffee.com and coupon up in the top - 15% off with code "reddit."


Q:

Hi and thank you for taking the time. I've got a couple questions for you :). I've been to a couple coffee plantations around Kona, and enjoyed every minute.

  • What spurred your move as professionals in a big (and cold) city to farmers on the relatively sleepy island of Hawaii?

  • Have bore weevils become an issue on your farm? If so, have they had a big impact on your business, and if not, how have you managed to avoid them? They were a common topic on the plantations I visited.

Thank you!

A:

That's cool that you have been to a few farms in Kona! It is a really great area for ag tourism, and there are some really cool tours (especially of historical coffee farms)!

What spurred your move as professionals in a big (and cold) city to farmers on a the relatively sleepy island of Hawaii?

We knew we wanted to move to somewhere with warmer weather and where we could buy a bit of land. I don't think we ever imagined we would be farmers (maybe that we would just have a nice big garden) but when we fell in love with a farm right in the Kona Coffee Belt, the only way to justify the purchase was if we planted coffee and made the property earn a little income for us.

Have bore weevils become an issue on your farm? If so, have they had a big impact on your business, and if not, how have you managed to avoid them?

I assume you mean Coffee Borer Beetles (CBB) and yes, they are a huge issue for us (and I think all other coffee farmers). We are especially hard hit because of our elevation (2400 ft.). Lower elevation coffees have an easier time of it because they have a portion of the year when their trees are totally bare of coffee cherry. At higher elevations, we have the next year's coffee flowering on our top branches before this year's coffee has been harvested at the lower branches which gives the CBB the opportunity to eat our cherry all year round.

They do hurt our business (in that we have less high grade coffee), but there is a fungus that we spray every three weeks on our coffee and it significantly reduces the CBB populations. This year we lost about 5% of our coffee to CBB which really isn't that bad compared to what farms were losing before the bassiana Fungus became available.


Q:

How do you and your husband brew your coffee? (French press, drip machine etc). And finally now that coffee is your career how has it affected your coffee drinking habits both at home and when you are traveling?

A:

We typically brew our coffee pour over (if we just want one cup) or french press in the morning. We have a bodum insulated french press that I love and we will make it first thing and drink about 12-14 oz each of that. We also have a nice burr grinder which we never had in Chicago but is pretty much essential to good coffee.

When I am traveling in the US I seek out good roasters and always want to try their coffee. The main thing I look for are roasters who are supporting their farmers. You can tell by the price of their coffee and usually their marketing materials. If they can sell coffee for $10 or less a pound, they are not paying producers enough (in my opinion) no matter where in the world it comes from.

When I was in Europe last year I barely drank any coffee because everything was roasted so dark! It is common for coffee to be roasted really dark in Hawaii too but personally I only drink light or medium roasts. Even medium tastes burnt to me now. You can't taste the origin with coffee like that so I just loaded mine up with cream.


Q:

What percentage of the coffee in a bag must be grown in Kona in order to market it a "Kona Coffee?"

A:

Legally only 10% must be from Kona and it has to be prime grade or higher. Those are supposed to be labeled "Kona Blend" and say the origins of the other coffees but SO MANY people get away with not doing that. To make sure you are drinking real Kona coffee, it should say "100% Kona Coffee" on the bag.

If it says that it will also be above a certain grade because to protect our brand quality as a region, you are not allowed to use shit coffee, even if it is grown in Kona, and call it Kona. Mediocre coffee can be called "Hawaiian" and worse than that it can't even be called Hawaiian. At the lowest grades people don't even drink it - it gets used it for face scrubs and stuff.


Q:

Do you guys sell/ship coffee internationally?

A:

Unfortunately no. We do ship to Canada on request but it is $25 shipping so usually no one is interested.


Q:

How much do you pay the people who pick coffee for you? by the hour? by the bushel?

A:

We pay our pickers by the pound. They make $.70/lb and can typically pick around 200lbs in a day on average. In your final pound of coffee from us between $6 and $8 of the cost is picker pay.


Q:

Sounds like they work in exchange for a place to sleep. I lived in Maui for a time, and found this is quite common on the islands. Google 'WWOOFing' if you want to know more!

A:

No the people who work-trade for us just help out milking the goats, cleaning the chicken coop etc. They usually don't pick coffee but when they do they get paid just like all of the other pickers.


Q:

Hello! I was just on the big island a few weeks ago and visited another Kona coffee farm, mountain thunder, my question is does your coffee differ from theirs at all? and how? also what is the best/ your favorite way to brew Kona coffee!

A:

Yes our coffee differs a LOT from theirs. Mountain Thunder (while a seller of 100% Kona), does not grow their coffee all from one estate. They buy cherry (or green maybe?) from a bunch of different farms all of whom have different elevations, farming methods, tree varieties, level of care etc. Their coffee could sometimes be great and sometimes (more often) is shit but always it is over roasted.

I think aeropress is a great way to brew Kona but really if you are brewing properly (right temp, right grind etc.) I think any method tastes good. I even had our light roast as espresso which was really unusual but tasty!


Q:

Hello! I hope you're still responding to questions as I'd love to know a bit more about what you do. I co-founded a roastery based in Southern California, and one of the big interests for me is sourcing. I'm fascinated by the work that goes into it and we're so fortunate to be able to buy coffee from our friends, and involve them in projects that we're excited about. So what I want to know from you, as an American producer is this:

What is the future of American coffee production? Where do you feel it will be headed, and how will you create a sustainable situation for yourself?

I ask because one of the big things stopping Hawaiian coffee (and a lot of coffee around the world) from getting big, in my opinion, is cost. We're fortunate to have some of the coffees that we have, that are (relatively) expensive but go a long way towards helping the people who produce it. But American coffee, due to labor and agriculture regulations, will never be that cheap. That makes it a challenge for you, as a producer, to get the attention of roasters, because the opportunity just isn't there (so many people I know roast Panama geisha lots and are very fortunate to barely break even on them).

So I'd love to hear the thoughts on that. Is it a huge goal for you to turn it into a massive growing operation? Or do you like where you are, and don't plan on making it bigger? And if so, how do you create a sustainable situation that allows you to maintain that with the creeping popularity of coffee elsewhere?

Thanks! Looking forward to (hopefully) hearing your thoughts!

A:

Yep I am still here!

That is awesome that you are a professional roaster and you care about sourcing! Personally I think that it is roasters (even more than the consumers) - and how they educate their customers - who will shape how the coffee industry moves going forward.

What is the future of American coffee production? Where do you feel it will be headed, and how will you create a sustainable situation for yourself?

So to clarify, by American coffee production, you mean American coffee growing right? Coffee is really only grown in Hawaii (although I did hear that UC Davis is trying to do some test trees) which makes it a little easier to sum-up.

I think Hawaiian coffee is actually in an okay place. We have the CBB which has been hard for our industry, but we are fighting it and most farms have been pretty successful in mitigating losses. We still have a ton of people around the world who seek out Hawaiian coffees - particularly in Japan - and I know a lot of farms that sell ALL of their coffee as green to Japan. We don't do that because I haven't wanted to work with a distributor and prefer to sell directly to the roasters and know the people who will be taking our green to the finished product. I don't think we will ever get rich farming Kona coffee, but my hope is that in the coming years we will have a pretty loyal customer base and a few great roasters so that we can project out sales and spend less time on the marketing end. If we are able to do that, we can plan for potentially adding more trees or just working less in general on our coffee business and spend more time on other areas of our business that make money (like our event space).

I ask because one of the big things stopping Hawaiian coffee (and a lot of coffee around the world) from getting big, in my opinion, is cost.

I mean, Hawaii isn't that big and we don't produce that much coffee (in comparison to many other growing regions). I don't think anyone here wants or needs Hawaiian coffee to "get big" because most farms are able to sell their coffee. However, what I would really like to see (and this is where roasters come in) is an overhaul in coffee consumer education. I want people to understand (especially roasters!!) that our coffee is expensive not because we just think it is worth more but because it costs more to produce.

I have had roasters say to me "why do you think your coffee is worth 4x and much a ___ coffee when it isn't 4x as good?" And really that is a hard question to answer because it isn't "worth" more unless you place value on your coffee being produced with (more than) fair labor conditions and in compliance with real environmental laws. It's a hard road to convince someone to care about something they don't care about and it really comes off "preachy" which I hate.

Is it a huge goal for you to turn it into a massive growing operation? Or do you like where you are, and don't plan on making it bigger? And if so, how do you create a sustainable situation that allows you to maintain that with the creeping popularity of coffee elsewhere?

Our property is only 20 acres and right now 8 of that is planted in coffee. Even if we planted every possible area with coffee, we probably could only plant 15ish acres just because of how our house and chicken area and stuff is. It's in the works to maybe consider adding 4 more acres if it makes financial sense a few years from now - but even that is not a big operation at all. We would only add that section if we were easily selling out of our entire crop of coffee from the 8 acres, so it would be I hope sustainable even though other origins are gaining in popularity.

I want to be clear though that I don't see other origins as our competition because I feel like there is a ton of market share for all of the great coffee from around the world. Our competition is starbucks, dunkin, k cups, shit grocery store coffee etc. and I hope to eat away at a (admittedly very small) part of their customer base just through consumer education. Which is actually part of the reason I did this AMA.

I think the craft beer industry is a good example - for years and years there has been room in the market for more and more craft breweries and those craft breweries were barely competing with eachother. They were taking away business from bud light, but not from each other. Now days there is SO MUCH great beer that breweries are starting and failing all the time, and only the good ones are succeeding. But coffee isnt there yet. Third wave coffee is still on the rise, we haven't reached that over-saturation point (not even close I think). But I am not an economist or anything - that is just my opinion based on totally anecdotal evidence.


Q:

Hello, and thank you for your thorough and insightful response! It's wonderful to know that you have a great understanding of your market, and your end goal.

So to clarify, by American coffee production, you mean American coffee growing right? Coffee is really only grown in Hawaii (although I did hear that UC Davis is trying to do some test trees) which makes it a little easier to sum-up.

There's actually a farm just north of us in Santa Barbara that is growing! It's also cool to know that UCD is trying to test as well. I think the hard part is that due to the climate here (neither Santa Barbara nor Davis are particularly humid relative to other coffee growing nations, and the frost point isn't low enough that the comparative altitude doesn't make for much of a similar growing situation as like...2000masl in Kenya), so the coffee...tastes like low altitude coffee. I'd love to try to roast some of their coffee though, to see what's up, only problem is that we can't afford it.

I have had roasters say to me "why do you think your coffee is worth 4x and much a ___ coffee when it isn't 4x as good?" And really that is a hard question to answer because it isn't "worth" more unless you place value on your coffee being produced with (more than) fair labor conditions and in compliance with real environmental laws. It's a hard road to convince someone to care about something they don't care about and it really comes off "preachy" which I hate.

This is tricky on our end too! The thing is...as we have the direct line to consumers and wholesale accounts, we have to explain to them why the coffee is expensive. And while we've been able to do that, we still get a bit of pushback (we spend a lot for our coffee, so our wholesale costs might not be easily as approachable). The thing is, if we are having trouble making an argument from a price perspective despite the fact that we source from dry mills in Africa that provide some of the only opportunities for employment for women in the area, it's going to be a lot harder for us to make the argument that even more expensive coffee is also worth it. So it's one thing that someone like me sees the value in paying a lot for coffees that really do a lot to bring opportunity to the people that grow and process it, but it's another for me to create a sustainable business plan off of it (because even if it just represents one part of our entire product offering, it's still money and effort). It's hard, for sure, but I totally empathize with where you're coming from!

However, what I would really like to see (and this is where roasters come in) is an overhaul in coffee consumer education. I want people to understand (especially roasters!!) that our coffee is expensive not because we just think it is worth more but because it costs more to produce.

I completely agree with you that a consumer education effort is huge, and absolutely necessary, because so many consumers are blasted with information and farm names just become farm names. One of the things we wanted to prioritize, and to educate on, is the story of our coffees, and the real people behind them, but consumers just aren't interested yet (though we're trying). Once consumers understand the effort that goes into producing the coffee, we hope that our prices will be more justifiable (because specialty coffee tends to be expensive, but what people don't see is the slim margins on both the producer and roaster end).

I want to be clear though that I don't see other origins as our competition because I feel like there is a ton of market share for all of the great coffee from around the world. Our competition is starbucks, dunkin, k cups, shit grocery store coffee etc. and I hope to eat away at a (admittedly very small) part of their customer base just through consumer education. Which is actually part of the reason I did this AMA.

What I mean is that for a roaster, we only have so much ability to take on so much coffee, and we want to have a well rounded selection of offerings but there are a lot of situations that make it difficult for us to pick up coffees from a lot of different locations that we'd otherwise love love LOVE to work with. You may get a roaster who looks at coffee and says, "At that price, I'd rather get something from PNG" because...(and I hesitate to say this but I feel like it might be true) some of them only care about rounding out their offerings. But I guess that's why it's up to you to vet your roasters and choose the ones who really want to focus on sharing your story and product at a price that is fair to you, and hopefully you can get a sustainable relationship from that!

I think the craft beer industry is a good example - for years and years there has been room in the market for more and more craft breweries and those craft breweries were barely competing with eachother. They were taking away business from bud light, but not from each other. Now days there is SO MUCH great beer that breweries are starting and failing all the time, and only the good ones are succeeding. But coffee isnt there yet. Third wave coffee is still on the rise, we haven't reached that over-saturation point (not even close I think). But I am not an economist or anything - that is just my opinion based on totally anecdotal evidence

I hope this is the case. I think a lot about coffee and then I meet people who are into specialty coffee but aren't as into it as I am, and I suddenly realize that it's a very deep pond with not a lot of people who are on the deepest end - we just feel that way here (cause there's a LOT of roasters and shops in Southern California) because we see each other and hang out so much that it just feels that specialty coffee is everywhere.

Out of curiosity, what is the total production / acre that you guys are at right now? And what varietals do you guys have going on?

A:

There's actually a farm just north of us in Santa Barbara

I had no idea about that! Cool! I haven't tried the CA coffee and I don't think it is likely to be that good just based on climate. But I think more people doing coffee research (especially in the US) will only be good for me. So the more the merrier.

Re: cost and consumer education:

I TOTALLY get it that not all roasters can buy Hawaiian coffees and I don't think it is necessarily even a bad thing that they don't. It is just frustrating to me personally when they flat out do not even consider it because of price. Roasters are businesses though, not charities, and you have to plan for what your customers will buy and do what is best for staying in business. You won't be helping any farms if you go under.

That said, the roasters we do work with have found that they can work our coffee into their business plan when they don't buy that much. We sell our green by the pound, not by the 100lb bag, so that roasters can buy the exact amount that will fit in their business. One of the roasters we work with primarily sells our coffee buy the cup in his coffee shop and he only buys 10lbs at a time. Even though 10lbs of green isn't that much for us, we still really appreciate the business and every little bit helps. And he is educating his consumers 1 cup at a time about Hawaiian coffee, and they may come back and want more which means he will be able to buy more.

Re: margins - yes I think it is very hard for consumers to understand the difference in pricing between commodity coffee and single origin estate coffee. The margins are huge in commodity coffee and even "fair trade" coffee. That is how you can buy an $8 lb of coffee at Dunkin donuts or whatever.

What I mean is that for a roaster, we only have so much ability to take on so much coffee, and we want to have a well rounded selection of offerings but there are a lot of situations that make it difficult for us to pick up coffees from a lot of different locations that we'd otherwise love love LOVE to work with.

Ahh okay sorry I don't think I understood what you meant. So I get that roasters want to offer a variety of coffees and can't always justify sticking a Hawaiian coffee in a slot when they could get a great Nicaraguan or whatever for a 1/4 of the price. There are only so many slots (packaging and stuff costs money for each type) and you need to focus on what will sell.

The roasters we sell to now solve that by offering our coffee on a really small scale or rotating basis just in their coffee shop and/or offering it more for the holidays or up-scale gifts. One roaster in Michigan we work with buys our extra fancy pretty much just for valentines day and christmas because people are willing to spend more then. So I guess what I am saying is that if a roaster wants a Hawaiian coffee, there is a way to sell it, but it doesn't fit in with every business model and that is okay.

it just feels that specialty coffee is everywhere

Haha I never feel like that living here. The line is sometimes around the block at starbucks and we have locally grown coffee in tons of independent coffee shops. I don't think we (my farm) needs to target the "deepest end of the pond" so to speak of coffee consumers. A lot of our customers buy our coffee just because they like us and they like supporting local farmers. It isn't always a matter of being "into" coffee. We actually send out guides to brewing coffee with our orders just because a lot of people don't know anything about water temp or grind size and I want to make sure they are getting their money's worth after dropping a lot of money (comparatively) on coffee.

Out of curiosity, what is the total production / acre that you guys are at right now? And what varietals do you guys have going on?

We right now have primarily arabica (kona typica) trees but we have a small section of about 10 trees of a hybrid called Kona Passion (also an arabica). They are working out great though (high production, beautiful big beans and tasty!) so we will probably plant more of those.

On our 8 acres our production for the 2016/17 harvest was about 30K lbs of cherry. We project to have more like 40-50K lbs next year and hopefully around 60K lbs going forward after that. Of that coffee about 4,000 lbs of green was produced. Then when it is all graded out we will have about 3,400lbs of sale-able green (some of it is too low of a grade to sell and we either drink it ourselves or if it is really bad compost it). Of that our goal is to sell about half of that in green and the other half as roasted. We have sold about half of our green goal already for the season and we haven't even finished our last pick which is great! On roasted coffee, we are slowly plugging away but still have a lot left to sell.


Q:

Do you use a natural, honey, or washed process?

A:

Only washed process right now but I would like to do some natural next year if there is a demand for it. A lot of farmers here seem to look down on it because it can kinda hide bad coffee with sweetness.


Q:

What was the cost to start from scratch to your first sold product?

Edit, 1 million dollars from another post. thanks

A:

We have had some negative comments just randomly when we are out and about but overall Hawaiians are the most welcoming wonderful people. They really do try to live "aloha" and treat everyone with kindness, respect and love.

Not necessarily from Native Hawaiians specifically, but locals in general were so helpful when we started our farm. Our neighbors all made an effort to meet us and give us tips. Even the local civil servants at the DMV or small business office (not the official name) are really nice. There are rude/mean people everywhere but Kona (and Holualoa specifically) is truly the best community I have ever lived in.


Q:

Hi Kate, thanks for doing this. I am a law student who would love to own a farm one day. I am not sure practicing law (after learning about all the biglaw horror stories and living in the law school culture) is what I want to do for the rest of my life. Job market seems tough as well. Do you recommend I stick with it for a few years just to see what actual practise looks like? Or should I make the out-of-the-law jump now because things won't get better? I am in my last year.

edit: spelling

A:

Where do you go to school and how much debt do you have? Those are going to be big factors in dropping out. I would say if you are a 3L, stay in school and definitely take the bar and pass in at least one state. Even if you don't want to practice, you can always fall back on law (at least doc review temp work) to make $20 an hour looking at a computer screen. Most people do not have an easy way to make $20 an hour so you want to always keep that as a fall-back option. Even now I could always reactivate my IL license or take the Hawaii bar if I needed the money.

I will say though if you already know you will not want to be a lawyer, start researching and applying for alternative careers now. Life is too short to do something 5/7 days a week that you hate. And if you must practice law, try to at least live somewhere you love. I LOVED Chicago but weather-wise it was draining me. The winters, not just the cold, but the dark, made it hard for me to find happiness in all of the things I did have (family close by, a nice paycheck, friends, a great city full of culture and great food etc.). My advice is find a way to be happy as a lawyer, and if you can't, do not hesitate to get out.


Q:

How'd you get the funds to start your business?

A:

A lot of them were just savings from our jobs. My husband was the really successful one. If you have ever read a michael lewis book, youll know there is a lot of money in trading. But we also had a lot of loans.


Q:

How much did he have under management and what were his annualized returns? What was his cut of the p+l? How competitive was it to get in the role? Securities he traded? Was it super algorithmic or more flow? Was he involved in trading during 07/08, and if so, what were his returns then? Did he know Ray Cahnman? Is kona coffee different from regular coffee?

A:

Lol I have NO IDEA what the first questions mean but I will ask him later and try to get back to you. Yes he knows Ray Cahnman and actually was on his desk when he first started out! (small world!)

Kona coffee is different from other coffees but not from "regular" coffee. If you are drinking single origins roasted correctly, you should be able to taste differences in coffees from all over the world. Kona is known for a really smooth easy drinkability. Not a super high acid coffee. There are tasting notes on our website if you are interested in specifics.


Q:

Ah, ya. I saw that he worked for transmarket and had to ask, since Ray is pretty big in that space. Very cool that he got to work directly w Ray.

A:

Okay so I asked him but he doesn't remember the answers to all the questions. Here is what he said though from 2012 when he left-

  • He doesn't know how much he had in management because it depends on which desk he was working. It ranged from 50K to a few million.

  • He said the annualized returns depend on how many assets were under management but he thinks his returns were over 100%.

  • His desk got 30% of profits and another 30% is put in the firm-wide discretionary bonus pool given out depending on how well you traded.

  • It is much more competitive now than it was when he got hired (although to me his process still seems pretty competitive). When he got hired, he started in a summer group of 15 people and then he was the only one out of that pool that got hired on.

  • He said it wasnt super algorithmic. They did a lot more market making and used a mean reverting strategy.

  • He traded interest rate futures (started with Euro Dollar, then moved to Euribor, Sterling and then moved to Canada and Brazil interest rates)

  • He started in 09 so he avoided that dark period.


Q:

Are there any days where you regret leaving the corporate world? What do you miss about the corporate world?

A:

Yeah sometimes! Even though I was a lawyer, I miss being able to leave my work at work. Now that I own my own business, it is just work all the time. But that work feels better because everything we do benefits us and our bottom line so it feels good busting ass.

I miss the perks! Lunches out, work parties, health insurance etc. Now I eat lunch at home every day and we provide our own health insurance.


Q:

Hallo, im from germany and currently studying agriculture [sadly we have no classes about tabaco or coffee]. I was wondering where did you get the knowlage to operate a whole farm? From what i learned its pretty difficult to build a new farm and get it running.

A:

We hired a consultant for the first few years to help us and teach us. It really has been a long road and learning process and we still don't know even close to everything we need to know. Just tomorrow my husband is going to a class at the CTAHR (College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources) to learn more about a pest we get a lot.


Q:

I enjoyed going through your photos on the website but disappointed that there weren't any photos of the coffee shrubs. I think photos of the flowers, berries and raw beans would be nice as well. Could you also take a photo of the coffee shrubs with someone standing by it for scale? I always wondered how big they can grow. I used to grow one indoors for a few years.

A:

Ahh sorry there are a bunch on our instagram! I don't know if I have one with someone standing right next to it but there are at least a couple with people standing near by. I will definitely take your tip though and add more coffee plant pictures to our site.

The trees can get really tall if you dont prune them but we only let ours get up to 8ish feet before pruning.


Q:

About how much coffee does your orchard produce on average? Is 8 acres on the large side for a farm on the big island or more average? I'm also curious to know if your land was already a working orchard when you purchased it or did you lease a patch of land and start from scratch?

A:

The average size of a coffee farm in kona is 5 acres but that average is a little misleading because there are TONS of "farms" where people have an acre or less and then a few huge farms with hundreds of acres. I think 8 acres is pretty normal for people who coffee farm as their full time job.

This year we produced about 30K lbs of cherry which is on the lower end but our trees are still very young - many of them didnt produce at all this year or had like one branch producing. We expect to have a bigger harvest next year.

Our land is owned not leased and there was no coffee on it when we bought it. We planted the orchard from scratch.


Q:

what is your favorite type of coffee to grow?

A:

We grow almost all arabica coffee (kona typica specifically). We have a little section of another type called Kona Passion but only about 10 trees of that as a trial.


Q:

Hi Kate and Doug!
I was in Kona recently and took a tour of another lawyer-turned-coffee-farmer and it was delightful.

Do you guys know each other and hang out? (Not mentioning the other company name to be respectful of your AMA)

A:

No I don't know them! Feel free to post who they are haha if they don't mind. I know another lawyer turned dragonfruit and bee keeper but that's it.


Q:

Have you ever visited other coffee shops on other islands? If so, which ones? I may or may not have worked at a ton of coffee shops.

A:

On other islands? Not really. I do go to them occasionally but I cant remember any memorable coffee.


Q:

What do you sell your coffee for a pound? Why so expensive?

A:

Most basically, it is expensive because it is grown in a first world country. It is the only coffee in the world grown with restrictions like labor laws, minimum wage, workers comp, overtime requirements, insurance requirements etc. The markup you are paying on our coffee over cost is about 25%. And those "costs" do not include our salaries. If we paid ourselves minimum wage, we wouldn't even be breaking even on the coffee. That bad of a return won't be the case forever though - as our trees get more mature, we will have more consistently large harvests and we should be able to pay ourselves slightly better than minimum wage. But no one here coffee farms to get rich.


Q:

What's your personal favorite roast you two have made? I may buy a bag or two ;)

A:

Thanks!! Anuenue is my favorite but if you like a darker roast Kalikimaka is great.