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Homegrown Hawaii: Waikapū Pickles

June 28, 2017

This is our first post in our new Homegrown Hawaii blog series, where we will feature local Hawaii businesses and organizations that share Kunoa’s “stand free” values of supporting and growing our islands’ local food systems.

Since our first product was ground beef, we thought who better to feature first than a pickle company! We found Waikapū Pickles, a Maui-based company that makes three varieties: Crunchy Dill Garlic, Sweet Bread & Butter and Hawaiian Chili Pepper. Here’s our interview with Head Pickle Lady Jen Fordyce.

Why did you start a pickle company?

I started a pickle company because a local farmer friend/mentor had an abundance of cucumbers and did not know what do with the ones he wasn’t selling. I wanted to create fresh, delicious pickles using local ingredients to help work toward a more food-independent and sustainable Maui and Hawaiʻi. With year-round farming seasons, there is no reason why we can’t produce enough food to feed everyone who lives here.

What kinds of local ingredients are you able to use?

Sourcing ingredients locally is not always easy, but it is a top priority. We use local produce such as cucumbers, onions, dill, sea salt and nīoi (Hawaiian chili peppers). There are spices and seasonings that we cannot find locally, but we do get all of our produce locally (or grow our own).

What has been the reaction to your pickles?

We have been selling our pickles at school events, community events, farmers markets, grocery stores, restaurants and bars for nearly two years now. I love how people often have a pickle story to tell. Lots of people remember pickling with grandma when they were kids, or an aunty will reminisce about winning a blue ribbon at the country fair for her own pickles and will say something like, “Let’s see if these pickles measure up…” And then I hold my breath a little until their faces light up! So far, we are 100% aunty-approved. We also have a lot of small kids who are pickle lovers. Some of our biggest fans are not quite three feet tall yet.

What has been the biggest challenge about starting a local food business?

Just like living on an island, owning a business on Maui has extra high expenses for things like shipping, rent, cost of goods and getting to a point where we can hire people. We want to provide GOOD jobs for local people, with decent pay and a great work environment. And we are dedicated to supporting our local economy and supporting local families as much as possible. Doing all of this and keeping our product affordable for everyone is a real challenge. But sticking to our values means we work hard to figure it out.

Why is local food important to you?

Local food is important to me for a few reasons. It’s a safety and security issue, #1. We live on an archipelago that is 3,000 miles from anywhere. The world is an unstable place these days. If the barge doesn’t arrive to refill Costco, what will we do? It’s also better for the environment when our food does not travel via fossil fuel-burning vehicles for thousands of miles. Then there are the economic reasons I mentioned before. A lot of the profits generated by tourism on Maui are sent away to the parent companies. Eventually, I want to help create good jobs for local people, support local farmers, and help to make Maui a place where people can still live and work and raise their families. It breaks my heart to hear of locals who decide to move away from their families because they simply can’t make it financially.

What’s your favorite way to eat a burger?

I love pretty much all burgers! But I think my favorite would be topped with bacon, cheddar, avocado and Waikapū Pickles Hawaiian chili pepper flavor. And maybe an egg, if I had a long paddling race the next day.

Are there any surprising ways customers are serving/eating your pickles?

I have a customer who likes to mix the sweet pickles and spicy pickles together, which never occurred to me before. Lots of folks drink the brine, which is not surprising at all…itʻs really good for you! It is also the “secret ingredient” to more than a few potato mac salad and deviled egg recipes.

Here’s where to find Waikapū Pickles.