Growing A Kaua’i Food Industry

As the head of KCC's Food Industry Program, Glenn Hontz is cultivating food sustainability for an island that now imports more than 80 percent of its dietary requirements. Coco Zickos photo

It may look like simple gardening, but at KCC Glenn Hontz is quietly leading a food revolution that will give Kaua’i greater independence

Kaua’i Community College’s Food Industry Program director Glenn Hontz is cultivating food self-sufficiency one vegetable at a time.

At the forefront of a budding locally grown grinds movement, Hontz heads an agriculture program at KCC aimed at decreasing Kaua’i’s dependency on imported food.

“It’s something bigger than any one of us who are a part of it,” he says. “We know we are contributing to something really worthwhile for the island.”

The three-tiered program starts with the basics of successful home gardening, followed by a sustainable gardening and intensive farming training program and finishing with developing entrepreneurship in the food industry.

“I’m training people not just to grow food, but to distribute it, create value-added products and how to do a variety of new things with food so that we have a true food industry on the island,” says Hontz, whose wife Virginia Dunas is the director of KCC’s Professional Massage Program.

Glenn Hontz checks a papaya tree -- looks like harvest time. Coco Zickos photo

Funded through the University of Hawaii, the program began in 2003. But at the time it was like “trying to sell ice to the Eskimos,” says Hontz.

People already knew how to farm on Kaua’i, and those who wanted to learn didn’t have the financial means. If there were 15 or 20 students enrolled, “I thought I had a mob,” Hontz says.

Since then, however, the program has taken off and employs a more successful learning sequence.

Now some 40 to 50 people sign up for the basic gardening class, with 20 to 25 continuing on to the upper levels of the program.

People primarily need to understand how to grow food. Only then can they comprehend how to market their product and make a living at it.

Hontz originally had thought to emphasize the business aspects of agriculture in the program.

“I needed to put the horse in front of the cart,” says Hontz,

“The food industry is more encompassing than just agriculture.”

It is about moving away from larger, mono-cropping techniques to smaller, more diversified organic farms.

“Mono-cropping is an invitation to plant disease and insect infestation,” he says. “The more of the same stuff you grow, the more you invite those kinds of problems.”

Students harvest vegetables from the KCC garden. Photo courtesy Glenn Hontz

When soil is pumped up with chemicals, fertilizers and pesticides, “that basically keeps everything cozy for just that one crop,” says Hontz. It upsets the ecological balance of a region.

Teaching students to start their own diversified small business is as important as encouraging them to begin community gardens.

The program is responsible for initiating some 10 to 12 community gardens across the island, and the plan is to develop even more.

“We import an enormous amount of our food on this island,” says Hontz.

In fact, roughly 80-90 percent of the food consumed on-island is from elsewhere.

“Locally grown food is way superior,” says the Poipu resident.

Hontz tends to a domestic lettuce. Coco Zickos photos

Additionally, it is far more sensible to rely on local products, especially as the planet’s population reaches 7 billion and farmland becomes increasingly sparse. He cites a recent statistic that the human population has already exceeded the earth’s capability of feeding it.

“It’s a piece of information that a lot of people just don’t want to confront, they don’t even want to hear it,” says Hontz.

Of course, there will always be edibles that the island is unable to produce, such as Spanish olives and the abundance of wine found in grocery stores.

Still, reaching a sustainable level at which Kaua’i could produce the “basic nutritional needs in the realm of fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs and probably chicken and fish, the survival level would be comfortable if the boats stop coming,” he says.

A halt in food imports was something Hontz experienced firsthand in 1992 when Hurricane Iniki ravaged the island. He was able to subsist at his Kokee cabin using his 3-acre plot of land where he propagated 12 vegetable beds.

“It was a good environment to learn,” he says of Kokee, where he discovered how to farm organically on his own.

Prior to cabin life on Kaua’i, Hontz, who has two children, Steven Hontz and Erika Robinson, lived on Oahu, where he taught and worked on grant development and management at the University of Hawaii.

KCC grows from sprout to harvest

But Kaua’i was where he really wanted to be.

“This was the kind of place more akin to my childhood I grew up in a small town. So that kind of warmed the cockles of my heart,” says Hontz, who has a master’s and a doctorate in administration of higher education and curriculum development from Columbia University.

But before even setting foot on any of the islands, Hontz, who is originally from New York, served as a director of city planning for Garden Grove in Orange County, Calif., where he facilitated a nine-city planning project.

“That was a real breakthrough for a lot of cities because previously, everything ended at a city border,” he explains.

But much of Hontz’s career has involved teaching and work with universities and other school systems.

“I love school,” says the studious-child-turned-workaholic.

His admiration and commitment to academia continue to shine through.

“When somebody goes out and applies what we’ve taught in the class and it’s working successfully, that’s the real reward for a teacher, no matter what you’re teaching,” says Hontz, a nature lover who enjoys recreational swimming. “You changed someone’s life; you gave them a skill or a knowledge that was beneficial to them, and I hope also beneficial to the community.”

Planting and picking are a continuous process. Photo courtesy Glenn Hontz

The changes already happening in the food industry are profound, with increasing access to locally grown food.

“Just that increased awareness in the source of our food, the more people become conscious of the source of their food, the more conscious they become about consuming food,” he says.

The greater the demand for fresh food, the more people are eating healthy, and the larger the swell in personal pride and accomplishment grows across the island, it will have an impact within all community arenas.

“The social structure, political, economic, cultural changes on this island are way bigger than most people anticipate. And, in my opinion, they will be way better than they anticipate.”

For more information, email Hontz at or call 246-4859.