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Couple buys assets of defunct dairy on Hawaii island

HILO (AP) — The owners of a Hawaii food distribution company have bought the assets of a Hamakua dairy farm that went out of business several years ago.

Chad and Stephanie Buck of Oahu recently purchased the assets of the former Big Island Dairy with hopes of supporting sustainable agriculture, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported last week.

The Bucks own and operate Hawaii Foodservice Alliance, a food distribution and logistics company that distributes dairy and bakery products to Hawaii’s grocers, clubs and convenience stores.

“Having recently experienced the food challenges that were exposed by COVID and Hawaii’s lack of sustainable agriculture, we believe that this processing equipment, infrastructure and farming equipment should be saved, repurposed where able, and used for the benefit of the community and Hawaii,” Chad Buck wrote in a letter provided to the newspaper.

Big Island Dairy was located on land leased from the state. The Bucks are working with the state Department of Agriculture on a lease transfer application.

Buck said, however, they’re “committed to not replicate the industrial-sized dairy operation of years past.”

Buck declined to comment on the purchase price of the assets and cost of the lease.

The previous owners of Big Island Dairy announced in 2018 that they would discontinue dairy and milk processing operations at the Hamakua property. The dairy closed to settle a 2017 lawsuit filed by citizens groups alleging violations of the federal Clean Water Act.

Buck wrote that the land needs to heal. He said it could provide sustainable food and a place of community for the surrounding area.

Buck said an industrial dairy farm would not be suitable. He said he hopes to partner with Hawaii Island agricultural advocates “to develop a sustainable and eco-friendly plan and operations to produce suitable products in the existing facilities.”

Buck said the number of dairy cattle would be limited. Current discussions are for a “boutique” grass-fed operation with 200 head of cattle. Big Island Dairy had more than 1,000 head on the property.

The operation currently is named Hamakua Ag Works, but name brands will be added once production begins. The goal is to move into production in 2022.