The Cabral family has run a ranch on Maui for generations, but it wasn’t until 2020 — in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic — that the family started to process their own pasture-raised and grass-fed meat, after one of their daughters was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
“The past few years were quite life-changing for our family,” said Farron Cabral, wife to third-generation farmer and Ranching Manager Jeremy Cabral. “It was a huge blow for our family at that time and we struggled at first to get a handle on the disease. After scouring the internet, chat groups, books and personal DMs (direct messages), we found that eating low-carb and high-protein was what worked best for our daughter and really our whole family.”
Because their daughter’s life “literally depends on what she eats,” they want to ensure that she has the highest quality of meat available, said Farron Cabral.
“We are proud that our cattle only eat grass and graze in our pastures their whole life,” she said. “The bright side of the pandemic is that our family got to spend a lot more time together in the pasture.”
The Cabrals are selling their pasture-raised and grass-fed meat, eggs and bone broth through Project Mahi’ai, a recently launched online marketplace that was built to support the community in a farm-to-table lifestyle and is helping families like the Cabrals promote their products.
“Project Mahi’ai gave us a hui or family to be a part of,” said Farron Cabral, who handles the ranch’s finances and marketing. “It’s amazing working with other farmers and ranchers and although just starting out is super daunting, having that ‘ohana with you, lifting you up, makes it so much easier. It’s been so uplifting working with others in Project Mahi’ai and I am so thankful for their wisdom and just sharing ideas together, I really appreciate all of them.”
Despite the many challenges facing ranchers and farmers today, such as drought, feral ungulates, invasive species and rising prices for ranching material and shipping, the Cabral family said it’s been worth it to keep the ranch’s legacy alive.
Cabral’s Ranch in Haiku was established back in the 1960s by brothers Stephen and Joe Cabral. The brothers separated through the years to create their own ranching operations, but Stephen Cabral stayed in Haiku until his passing in 2014.
Jeremy Cabral, the grandson who grew up working on the ranch, has since carried the torch — all operations are managed by him, as well as the fencing work, brush management and rotating cattle.
“Growing up, Jeremy just felt like his work on the ranch was what you were supposed to do,” Farron Cabral said. “When his grandfather passed away it really brought on a heavier responsibility or kuleana to carry on his grandfather’s legacy and keep the ranch going.”
After meeting all the necessary health and safety requirements, Cabral’s Ranch only started selling meat this year and reached out to Project Mahi’ai, an online marketplace for fresh products and produce provided by local farmers, which launched in December.
With an initial enrollment of eight farmers and ranchers last year, the Amazon-style distribution system was created to connect mostly Native Hawaiian cultivators who want to provide fresh produce, meats, eggs and dairy products to the community.
Project Manager and Keokea farmer Theresa Hi’ilei Martinson said that the number of farmers and ranchers has since expanded to about 20.
“I have been having so much fun meeting these amazing farmers and growers of food and others in the community who are passionate about increasing sustainability on Maui,” Martinson told The Maui News on Saturday.
Funded by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs through nonprofit Pa’upena Community Development Corporation, the program received an additional grant to expand operations further.
Among 12 recipients across the U.S., Martinson said that Pa’upena CDC was the only nonprofit in Hawaii to win a grant of $10,000 from the Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative, Strengthening Native Programs and Feeding Families Grant Program under the Colorado-based First Nations Development Institute.
She said these funds will support new Project Mahi’ai efforts to distribute ‘Ai Pono boxes, beginning June 10 through December, for eligible families of Native Hawaiian descent.
“These boxes will include an assortment of beef, poi and/or steamed taro, veggies, fruit, jams, tea and honey all grown and raised on Maui,” she said. “The boxes are meant to kokua during a time when we as kanaka especially face the rising costs of food, rent and gas. Hopefully these boxes will alleviate stress to our community, continue to build us up as a people and encourage agriculture growth.”
Martinson is also hoping to include vegetable and plant starters in the box to “further increase families’ ability to grow their own food.”
As of January, Project Mahi’ai also began funding a booth for all its participating farmers and ranchers at the Maui Sunday Market in Kahului, lifting the financial burden for many small cultivators looking to sell their products.
And, most recently, the community-supported agriculture-style boxes filled with local goods and produce are being distributed for purchase to the community, said Martinson, who was at the Cabral home on Friday in Wailuku helping to pack the orders before driving them to consumers.
As of Sunday morning, the online marketplace had a variety of fresh produce from Maui farmers, like Coco Farms and Enomoto Farms; herbal teas from Polipoli Farms; guava jam from Erlingalye Farms; as well as bone broth, free-range chicken eggs and grass-fed ground beef from Cabral’s Ranch.
“Being so new to the game has definitely been challenging, but having the support of Project Mahi’ai to help promote and sell our beef has helped us a lot,” Farron Cabral said. “Since our whole family eats this meat and we are now providing it as a high-quality good to our Maui community we want to ensure that the meat is as clean and healthy as possible.”
Still, their pasture-raised and grass-fed cattle do get treats from time to time, she added, like local organic produce that is safe for them to eat and ti leaves, which they think help to lower stress levels and make them happy.
“For both Jeremy and I, being Native Hawaiian, born and raised in Maui can come with its own set of challenges to overcome,” she said. “We are truly grateful for a program that recognizes the invisible, and sometimes visible, barriers and aims to truly help those who need it.”
Cabral Ranch products can be found on the Project Mahi’ai website at projectmahiai.net, or follow them on Instagram at @cabralsranchmaui.
More information and applications for the upcoming ‘Ai Pono boxes can be found at projectmahiai.net.
* Dakota Grossman can be reached at [email protected]