nirm-field-crop.jpgAtebara Chip Company is a perfect example of the maxim that “necessity is the mother of invention.”

As the first chip company in Hawai‘i, Atebara Chip Company started off with the tried and true potato chip, but founder Raymond Atebara was soon forced to look for a local substitute for the potato when they became scarce during WWII. Turning to local farmers for kalo (or taro)—a traditional Hawaiian staple crop—gave Mr. Atebara a steady supply and birthed the world’s first commercial Taro Chip.  New chips from other local staples—sweet potato and breadfruit—followed.

Necessity might have initially dictated that Raymond Atebara turn to local sourcing, but today, Atebara Chip Company-Hawaii Island Gourmet owner Nimr Tamini is planning and planting for the future.

In Hawai‘i today we talk a lot about “when the ships stop coming” and about how to hedge against possible future food shortages.

 “Increasing agricultural production in Hawaii is one of the fundamental keys to becoming more sustainable,” says Tamimi, “We have a true lack of farmers on this island and in the state.”

Atebara Chip Company-Hawaii Island Gourmet is trying to help remedy that situation by creating a market for locally grown food. The company grows its own sweet potatoes and taro, and contracts with ten other local family farms to supply the taro, sweet potatonimr-chips-crop-fixed.jpges, breadfruit, ginger, macadamia nuts, chili peppers and other ingredients that it needs for its chips, cookies, mac nuts and chocolates.  

Chipping into the Local Economy

One of the common criticisms that Hawai‘i residents have about “buying local” is that is more expensive—which is not always the case and is often worth the price in terms of increased quality and service. In a recent letter to the editor in a local paper a resident accused local businesses of price gouging local people.

Production is expensive for a small, local business like Atebara Chip Company because the volume is so small compared to a multi-national industrial chip company. Large industrial snack food producers buy potatoes, oil and bags by the boatload, whereas a small company like Atebara ships in small quantities of ingredients to Hawaii on pallets, and purchases locally grown inputs as much as possible.

“When people purchase our local chips, 80¢ on the dollar stays here in Hawai‘i to fuel the local economy. Compared that to about 10¢ on the dollar that stays here when you buy a national brand.  Our products are hand made and hand packed, so most of our costs are local labor, and our tax dollars stay in Hawaii, too.” says Nimr Tamini.

During times like now, when the national economy is in crisis, keeping local money in the economy and keeping local people employed is more important than ever.

Changing the World, One Chip at a Time

Businesses like Atebara Chip Company-Hawaii Island Gourmet are trying to change the game here in Hawai‘i—from an import-based economy to one that is based upon locally owned, diversified and profitable family farms.

nimr-gift-shop-crop-fixed.jpg In addition to increasing demand for farm products through purchasing, Tamini is working on educational partnership with local schools to help get more students interested in becoming farmers and to demonstrate that it can be a rewarding and profitable career.

Feeling Chipper?

Sustainability—growing and sourcing local food, reducing energy usage and carbon footprint, committing to zero waste, and investment in the community—is a way of life for Atebara Chip Company-Hawaii Island Gourmet.

So, the next time you are having a snack attack or looking for a unique locally made gift, think about doing your part to “chip in” to island sustainability, one chip (or cookie or chocolate!) at a time.