Story By: Hunter Haskins
Photo By: Andrew Richard Hara
‘‘Welcome to my edible petting zoo,” says
Brandon Lee as he walks around Kaunamano Farm, his piggery on the Hamakua coast
of Hawai‘i Island. Heritage breed Berkshire pigs loll in the grass like lazy,
vegan bodybuilders, and a sow nurses day-old piglets. “Brah, those are bacon
seedlings,” Lee says.
Today Kaunamano is one of only a handful of
farms in the state raising heritage breed pigs. Three years ago Lee, now 25,
knew nothing about pig farming. When his brother-in-law, chef Keoni Regidor,
lamented the lack of quality pork available for Napua Restaurant at the Mauna
Lani Beach Club, Lee saw an opportunity. He learned everything he could about
hog farming through online research and by visiting Mainland piggeries. Then in
2015 Lee won Kamehameha Schools’ Mahi‘ai Match-Up, an agricultural start-up
competition that netted him these twenty acres and some $25,000 in seed money.
What did he do with it? He bought pigs and
figured the rest out later. Lee was still installing the fencing as eight sows
were being flown in from an heirloom piggery in Santa Cruz, California.
“Twenty-two hundred feet of fence was my second purchase,” Lee says. Now his
herd has grown to sixty head and is beginning to attract attention. Kaunamano
was a featured stop on the Hawai‘i Food & Wine Festival’s Connoisseur’s
Culinary Journey food tour.
Everything on the farm has a purpose: The
fleet of Araucana and Marans chickens “peck at bugs, scratch at weeds, prevent
disease and lay stacks of eggs,” Lee says. “These eggs are bribes. The logo on
my truck is paid for in eggs.” The goats are for milk and eventually cheese,
but right now they’re on cleanup duty after the pigs’ all-they-can-eat buffet,
a smorgasbord of unsold produce Lee gleans from local markets. Lee delivers
water to his pigs from a spring a few dozen feet below the fields using a
solar-powered pumping system.
As he strives to elevate Kaunamano’s pork to
the level of Kobe beef, Lee still has a lot to learn. And true to his nature,
the autodidact plans to do it the hard way. “For me the right way is to find
all the wrong ways. Like when I tried to get the meat to taste like pork adobo
by feeding them garlic,” Lee says. “I found out pigs hate garlic.”