Goats become heroes on Kauai

SUBHEAD: Many people who've lived in Hawaii all their lives don't know what being a farmer is like. Image above: Customers line up at Kunana Farms booth at KCC's Saturday farmer's market. By Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi on 14 February 2010 in the Star Bulletin - (http://www.starbulletin.com/travel/20100214_goats_become_heroes_in_kauai_tour.html)

Peggy's favorite treat is banana peels. Precious loves being a midwife. Sweetheart craves attention and has no qualms about butting everyone else out of the way to get it.

Ryan Wooton knows the idiosyncrasies of each of the 40 milking goats at his family's 15-acre Kauai Kunana Dairy, the only dairy on Kauai. All of the goats have names and distinct personalities. From their milk, the Wootons make eight varieties of gourmet cheese, including marinated artichoke, sun-dried tomato and garlic chive chevre. They also manufacture goat milk soap, shampoo, lotion and conditioner.

The dairy is a partnership between Wooton; his parents, Bob and Louisa; and his wife, Sarah. In addition to the cheese and beauty products, they sell free-range chicken eggs, certified organic produce and a host of items made from them, including pestos, salsas, vinaigrettes, guacamoles, juices, cookies, breads and granola. Hives yield honey and beeswax for lip balms, lotions, salves and soap.

A weekly two-hour tour led by Wooton and Sarah sheds light on all aspects of the bustling, multifaceted business. "We started the tour in 2008 to give visitors something different to do and see," Wooton said. "We've found that people are interested in learning where their food comes from. We begin by serving fruit bread with honey, lilikoi goat cheese and lemonade. We grow or make everything that participants taste on the tour."

Launched in 1999, Kauai Kunana Dairy is an outgrowth of the farm that Bob and Louisa started two decades earlier. They primarily grew tomatoes and greens back then. Today their family cultivates hundreds of varieties of fruits, vegetables and herbs ranging from beets, basil and bananas to lesser-known tomatillos, kohlrabi and tat tsoi.

Guests can taste anything that catches their eye as they stroll through the grounds. Wooton and Sarah explain the best ways to prepare them and also describe the sustainable practices that earned the company a Green Business Initiative Award from the Kauai Rotary Club last year.

"For instance, all of our mulch comes from tree and hedge trimmings around the farm," Wooton said. "We make 90 percent of our fertilizer out of mulch and goat and chicken manure. We no longer buy plastic bags to pack our customers' purchases at the farmers markets. Instead, we use recycled bags or sell reusable bags at our wholesale cost. We also reuse cardboard boxes as weed suppressants in the aisles of our gardens, where they eventually compost."

During the tour, participants see the gardens, orchards, beehives and jungle that's home to 70 free-range chickens, but the highlight, no doubt, are the stops they make at the goats' pens. Friendly and curious, the animals always come to the fence to greet guests and nibble on branches from nearby hedges that they bring.

In one pen are the pregnant does; in another are the "milking mamas"; in a third are Luther the buck and little ones no more than a year old. At least 100 babies are born at the dairy every year between February and May. Only five females are kept for breeding and milking purposes; the rest are sold.

"Visitors on one tour saw twin goats being born right before their eyes," Wooton said. "Sometimes we see babies that are just a few minutes old. We bring out kids that are several days to several months old so guests can pet them, hug them and get a memorable picture with them."

Kauai Kunana Dairy is sanctioned by Animal Welfare Approved, a nationally recognized certification program that sets and monitors strict animal welfare standards. An AWA representative inspects the company annually to ensure the goats are treated humanely, have plenty of shelter and pasture, and are not fed any antibiotics or hormones.

Five breeds of goats produce 10 gallons of milk per day (35 gallons during the summer). In the "milking parlor," tour-goers learn how the goats are milked. They also view the areas where cheese and other products are made. Their visit concludes with a tasting of several delicious items.

Wooton says the tour gives people the opportunity to experience life on a family-owned farm that promotes sustainability and proper stewardship of the land and animals.

"It's also a great option for kamaaina," he said. "Many people who've lived in Hawaii all their lives don't know what being a farmer is like. Just about the only things in your closet are boots, jeans and T-shirts. You work long hours. At the end of the day, you're dirty and exhausted. More often than not your body aches, but you feel like you've accomplished something good. You shower, eat dinner, go to sleep early and get up early the next day ready to do it all over again."

Phone: (808) 651-5046. Advance reservations are required.

E-mail: ryan@kauaikunanadairy.com

Web site: www.kauaikunanadairy.com Video above: Homegrown Revolution - Radical Change Taking Root (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCPEBM5ol0Q)


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