Leongs Keep It Local

Kristen and Russell Leong of RKL Ranch are all about sustainability and keeping Kaua‘i’s farm-to-table process strictly on-island.

It’s a cloudy afternoon, but that doesn’t mean the panoramic views at RKL Ranch are any less beautiful. Perched upon a hilltop in Keālia, the eastside cattle ranch is where newlyweds Russell and Kristen Leong find solace, especially on Sundays when they gather together with friends and family to hang out and relax. Even the cattle are subdued as they go about their business, including a rather large bull that doesn’t seem to mind people one bit.

These are the moments Russell likes best. He and his wife own and operate the approximately 650-acre RKL Ranch and are no strangers to the business. Kristen grew up in the industry, and Russell was a rancher for a number of years prior to their recent collaboration. Together, they created an operation that stands out by ensuring their cattle remain on island throughout the entire process — from farm to table.

RKL Ranch owners Kristen and Russell Leong (above) check out their grass-fed cattle (below) on their Kealia property.

Rather than shipping animals off for harvesting, as most cattle raised in Hawai‘i are, the Leongs round up their livestock every two weeks and take them to the Andrade processing plant on Kaua‘i and to local butcher Adrian Pu‘u. After chilling, the meat returns to RKL Ranch, at which point it’s brought straight to farmers markets for sale. The entire procedure is as low-impact and as fresh as it gets.

“It aligned perfectly with our mission to help Kaua‘i be self-sustainable,” says Kristen. “Keeping our hard-working, earned dollars in the pockets of our local community.”

The Leongs are only a few months into their business and already it’s growing in exponential ways. They offer traditional cuts like top and bottom sirloin, tender-loin medallions, ossobuco shanks, stew meat, ground beef, flap, flank and skirts.

What’s more, they sell homemade beef chips and sticks without any preservatives in a variety of flavors like adobo and teriyaki. The idea came about after Russell dried some leftover marinated sliced teriyaki beef.

After tasting his creation, Kristen says a light bulb went on.

They made several more batches and conferred with family and friends that it was a winning product. Since then, the snacks have sold themselves.

“People tell us we make ‘beef crack,'” jokes Kristen. “That’s satisfaction to me.”

Cattle from RKL Ranch are all raised, harvested and processed on island.

She adds that while her husband is the cook and comes up with the recipes, she does her best to help — but admits it’s not the same.

“Sometimes it’s better off if I don’t try,” she says with a laugh.

In addition, the Leongs also sell local dehydrated bananas and eggs at places like the Keālia, Kaua‘i Community College and Coconut Marketplace farmers markets each week. When they’re not selling at farmers markets, the couple also enters team roping competitions at rodeos around the island.

The dynamic duo also has plans to open a storefront, dubbed The Meat House, in Kapa‘a, where they will sell local meats, vegetables and cage-free eggs. It’s also their dream to offer grab-and-go pre-made lunches and pūpū that people can take to work or the beach.

Keeping RKL Ranch up and running is a juggling act, to hear owners Kristen and Russell Leong tell it.

But their main endeavor is to continue offering fresh, healthy beef at reasonable prices.

“For our families’ dinner tables,” says Kristen.

RKL Ranch’s approximately 200 mother cows are all pasture-raised. They are 100-percent USDA local grass fed, which means the meat has more omega-3 fatty acids, less fat and a heartier dose of antioxidant vitamins. Moreover, no hormones or additives are used.

While there are more serene moments than not at the ranch, maintaining such a quality product doesn’t come without its challenges and hard work. Russell, who has a son, Easton, 2, also works full time for his family’s company, Kaiwa Construction. After clocking in eight-hour days, he either helps his wife and her children — Zared, 17, Dynielle, 11, and Dreyden, 7 — at farmers markets, prepares beef jerky or visits the ranch to make sure everything is running smoothly. But despite the busy days and having to juggle family time, they both love the lifestyle.

“It’s what we do. It’s fun too,” he says.

Russell and Kristen, who lend their initials to the ranch, are excited to see how their business will continue to grow.

“We can’t change the world, but at least we can do our part,” says Kristen.

For more information, visit kauaiproducemarketplace.com or find the ranch on Instagram (@rkl_ranch).