Farming The Egg-cellent Way At Ka Lei

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - September 01, 2010
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Kristyn Fujita and Jennifer Muehle at Ka Lei Eggs on Waialae Avenue

The phone has been ringing more than usual at Ka Lei Eggs these past few weeks, with callers eager to find out the latest on the massive recall of eggs from the Mainland.

So far, more than 550 million eggs have been recalled nationwide, providing us with one more reason to buy local food.

While nobody is sure exactly what’s caused the salmonella breakout, it’s possible that high-tech methods of mass farming may have led to the spread of contaminants. Many Mainland egg processors use entirely automated methods to keep chickens and collect eggs.

The methods at Ka Lei Eggs have always been thought of as a bit old-fashioned.

“Nothing is computer-monitored here,” says Lois Shimabukuro, president of Ka Lei Eggs. “Our family philosophy is to have real people involved with the farming. We hand-collect the eggs every day, and we hand-feed the chickens.”

Looking at the Ka Lei operation from a purely business model, it doesn’t really make sense. But the Shimabukuro family isn’t in farming to make a fortune.

“Our family philosophy is twofold,” says Lisa. “We want to continue to create jobs for people, and we believe that farming should be a human-to-animal relationship. For us, it’s not about sitting at a computer watching the chickens, it’s about checking on them three times a day, feeding them and hand-collecting the eggs.”

The Shimabukuro sisters credit their father with the simple design and layout of their Waianae chicken coops, and with his insistence not to add artificial ingredients to the chicken feed or to the water.

“My dad always said he thought of it from the chicken’s point of view,” says Lois. “They drink the same clear water that we do, they are exposed to natural

Hawaii sunlight and their ventilation comes from the trade winds.”

Compared to Mainland processing problems, all this “old-fashioned” Hawaii farming is starting to look cutting edge. Island water, an abundance of natural sunlight and a diet unimpeded by stimulants and hormones results in clean, fresh eggs. And because the eggs are hand-sorted immediately, there’s no risk of contamination from broken shells or dirty eggs on the way to the processing plant.

“The risk of cross-contamination is minimized when people are picking and sorting the eggs,” says Lois.

The USDA is advising consumers to store eggs at a temperature of 45 degrees, something the Shimabukuro family has been doing for more than 30 years.

And when it comes to cleaning? No automated scrapers, synthetic powders or cleaners for these Waianae farmers. They get out buckets of water and disinfectant and start to scrub.

“It might be old-fashioned, but it seems to work well,” says Lois.

So well, in fact, that a respected veterinarian from Georgia, visiting the farm on behalf of the USDA, commented not only on the “calmness” of the chickens, but on the fresh, clean appearance of the eggs.

“He thought we had washed the eggs as well,” says Lois. “And he said he could feel the trade winds blowing through the buildings.”

Ka Lei Eggs has two locations, 3585 Waialae Ave. and 439 Kalihi St., where they sell for around $3 per

dozen. And Ka Lei Eggs are available at select Island grocery stores including Safeway and Don Quijote.

You also can buy fresh Island eggs directly from Peterson’s Upland Farm and from local egg farmers at weekly farmers markets.

Happy - and safe - local eating!

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