Lessons of the pandemic, one year later: Fung Yang, Small Kine Farm

Jul 26, 2021

In the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ulupono Initiative launched an award-winning weekly story series spotlighting Hawaii farmers, ranchers and other food producers as they adapted to the sudden disruption to Hawaii’s food distribution network.

When we initially spoke with Fung Yang, owner of mushroom producer Small Kine Farm, in May 2020 for the series, he had established and set common goals and priorities that would help inform his farm’s next steps to persevere: Look to the team, look to the extended ohana and look to the community. We recently checked back in with Yang to see how he and Small Kine Farm were doing.

In general, how is Small Kine Farms doing today?

(It’s) doing great. Government helped with PPP and grants, which helped the farm pivot and offer products through different sales channels. Small Kine Farm is now recovering loses. It took six months to get back to prior levels. Now things are back to pre-COVID. It took time and creativity to identify new ideas and channels. Without COVID, we might not have come up with new ideas.

Has your perspective shifted since we spoke with you last year?

(There is) no shift. I still believe it's very difficult to be a farmer in Hawaii. There’s a high production cost. But it’s possible and takes creatively and thinking. It takes understanding what it takes to be consistent, as well as hard work, luck and creativity.

If you could send a message back through time, what would you tell yourself at the start of the pandemic in March 2020 to help your operation make it through?

Do not slow down production. Small Kine Farm did — by 30% to 50% — right when COVID hit. That was bad move. Recovery would have been quicker if we didn’t slow down. But because of fear and uncertainty, we slowed.

What is most needed now to succeed?

Focus on new channels and wait for the next opportunity when tourism opens up - new sales, grocery store sales and retail packages, small packages. Pre-COVID, our sales focused on 5- to 10-pound packages. Now, we’re selling as small as the half-pound size. Other opportunities are online, groceries, nonprofits with COVID-19 funding, and farmers markets.

Anything else you’d like to add?

In Hawaii, for ag to be sustainable there needs to be a focus on quality. For example, if the state can do something to help organic farmers — since organic fits a higher quality image — in competing against imported conventionally grown products.