Made in Hawaii Fest celebrates homegrown items
Janis Tanga is leading the parade to “keep it local.” Infusing sugar and pounding pesto, she sources every possible element of her ingredients and packaging from other Hawaii businesses.
Tanga’s company, For J’s Hawaii, will be one of the 446 vendors selling their wares at the 18th annual Made in Hawaii Festival.
A repeat vendor and president of the Hawaii Food Manufacturers Association, Tanga has witnessed a major shift in the products labeled “made in Hawaii.” She says the term means far more than the old days of “loving hands at home” creations, glue-gunned together on the folding table in the garage.
MADE IN HAWAII FESTIVAL
Where: Blaisdell Arena and Exhibition Hall
When: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday, Saturday; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday
Cost: $4 ($1-off coupons available at First Hawaiian Bank locations on Oahu)
Info: 533-1292, madeinhawaiifestival.com
This year 84 new vendors will sell at the festival. Tanga says all of the artisans work hard to comply with the rules of the show. She encourages newcomers but agrees that living up to the “made in Hawaii” promise isn’t easy.
The laws regulating products require that 51 percent of the wholesale value of each product be manufactured, assembled, produced or fabricated of materials made in Hawaii.
Meeting the criteria is tough for screen-print artists who must buy T-shirts made in China or, if they are lucky, from a mainland U.S. factory.
For designers, fabric is also a challenge since fiber plants, like cotton, are not native to Hawaii. The best they can do is order yardage, pay shipping and print fabric in the islands.
Hawaii has little package manufacturing, Tanga notes. She orders bags and bottles through a Hawaii company and prints her product labels locally.
“I’m not telling my secret, but I infuse Maui sugar with a savory blast of mango, lychee and pineapple, all local,” Tanga says.
For J’s runaway favorite, Macadamia Nut Basil Pesto, is made with Big Island Maunaloa macadamia nuts and bushel baskets of fresh basil from the Kapiolani Community College farmers market. The olive oil? Tanga shrugs and says, “Too bad we don’t make it in Hawaii.”
FIRST-TIME VENDOR Rex Moribe says his new product, Da Secret Sauce, is actually an old favorite.
“Remember when every island restaurant or drive-in had a bottle of chili water on the table?” he asks.
Moribe’s company is dedicated to bringing chili-pepper water back to stores, countertops and the dinner table. His glass bottles aren’t produced in Hawaii, but Moribe has multitudes of folks growing chili peppers.
PacifiKool owner Cheryl To produces ginger syrups using both Hawaiian and Thai ginger.
“Hawaii is the only state producing ginger as a commercial crop, but now I am wishing for mango and lilikoi puree to be produced commercially,” she says. Her new drink is called Super Kool, made with Hawaii island spirulina, PacifiKool ginger syrup, fresh mint and carbonated water.
David Young says he grows his own. A first-year festival artist and author of the book “Na Mea Makamae,” Young left the construction industry to carve gourds in the old Hawaiian style.
He might be the only Made in Hawaii entrant locally sourcing all his materials, growing gourds in his Hawaii island backyard. He uses ancient techniques of etching a design on the green gourd skin and filling the gourd with dye to bring the design to the surface. For intricate model canoes, he uses uncommon native wood0 from downed trees, including hala, naio, milo, kolea and olopua.
From Hanapepe, Kauai, author and artist Joanna Carolan will thrill taste buds with her Aloha Spice Co. coffee-spiced grilling rubs, created in an old Waimea plantation house she says she “sourced” from under a wrecking ball.
Backyard family business takes on a whole new meaning when Kainoa Penaroza calls his Hawaii island aunties and says, “Plant more.”
Puna Noni is, by his description, a noni product that doesn’t stink, adding, “our family has always used noni to stay healthy.”
He uses beeswax from Hilo to produce noni body care products. His plastic bottles, caps and seals come from Aloha Bottling, but he bemoans the fact that oils still must be ordered from mainland sources, adding the high cost of shipping to an already handmade, non-production-line product.
The Made in Hawaii Festival is row upon row of handmade, irresistible treasures. In the arena the food booths waft the fragrance of coffee grown from Kau to Kauai. Celebrity chefs, including Nico Chaize, Chai Chaowasaree and Ron DeGuzman, make tantalizing dishes using local products with the Department of Agriculture’s Seal of Quality rating. Sitting is a treat when celebrity entertainers, including Jerry Santos, Melveen Leed, Kuana Torres Kahele and others, perform in respite moments for tired feet — all for a bargain ticket price.
–Lynn Cook / Special to Star-Advertiser