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February 28, 2013
Honda Tofu, in Wahiawa, my hometown, is the oldest tofu maker in the USA. It started in 1917, and they are the third generation to continue doing this on Mango St. We came to film a pilot called "Family Ingredients," coming soon. Dennis, Dulcie, and Mom. Dennis's brother Neil is actually my classmate from Leilehua.
Behind this sign, we witnessed Dennis going through batch after batch, grinding the soaked soybeans, steam-cooking them, grinding and straining them again to get the soy milk, then adding the coagulant to thicken it before pouring it out, then pressing and laying it out onto the cold water, and finally cutting it into blocks. It is truly an artisanal product, and a lot of hard work. We got to taste steaming hot soy milk just coming out from the pipe, and warm fresh tofu---just awesome having it so fresh.
Sad to say, there will be no fourth generation to take this over. They say they will probably stay on for four more years, as a tribute to the grandfather, so that it will make 100 years. No one in the family wants to do it. Such is the case for a lot of our farmers and ranchers. The average age of our farmers is about sixty and over, all aging together, and having children that are questioning whether or not to continue with the family business. They watch their parents work so hard, for a diminishing return as the cost of doing business rises. The cost of ingredients, feed, fertilizer, and the freight to bring it to Hawaii, are all increasing alarmingly. Top that off with the fact that this generation has so many other avenues to explore and options for careers outside of the farm. They get educations at colleges and universities and pursue their degrees and dreams, and a lot of them are not studying farming.
If only we could buy a hundred times more so that they could make more money, and then maybe someone would see it as a viable enterprise for them to continue on-------then again, Dennis can only produce so much, and is not interested in really doing more than he already has on his plate.
We buy tofu from them for our restaurants, it's great to support the community that I grew up in, and it's great to see old mom and pop businesses stay in business in a time when they are disappearing so fast, and with that, our past, and a little bit of our community culture.