Umi Martin of Kaua‘i is balancing life as a farmer and store proprietor. A former taro farmer who has begun a new venture of growing fruits, Martin opened Umi’s Store in Waimea in 2014 with his wife and co-owner, Ka‘iulani.
“I had to put the farm aside when we opened the store,” he recalls. “The first year I worked every day, almost every single shift. It was pretty intense. … Now there’s balance. I spend most of my days on the farm and I work most of the night shifts” at the store. Even the couple’s two children, ages 6 and 9, help out. “They both stock at the store and they both pull weeds at the farm,” Martin said.
The store opened at a site familiar to those on the Westside. Bucky’s Liquor and TV operated there for about four decades, says Martin, a former employee. “Everybody grew up going to Bucky’s,” he said. “It’s right across the street from the high school. … It was just one of those community stores that was part of the town.”
After the closure, he had heard from former customers that they missed having a store there, so he thought, “might as well open it back up. Everybody’s still asking for that store. And, you know, I would say maybe a good 60 percent of my customers is Bucky’s customers, maybe more.”
“I love it,” he says of his business being a part of the fabric of the town. “It definitely makes you feel part of the community.”
Among Umi’s Store’s offerings are snacks, ice cream, cold drinks, beer and ammunition for hunting. “We just really carry the stuff that the community looks for. That’s why we sell bullets because we’re the last stop before you go into the mountains,” where pigs, deer, goats and birds can be found, Martin said.
The idea of opening a store arose when he realized his day job was interfering with his ability to farm. Umi’s Store offered a chance to work nights instead. And it also plays into his plans to one day turn his harvests into juice and sodas and sell them at the family’s storefront. Long-term plans include making juices and smoothies sold out of a food truck.
For now, Umi’s Farm is working off 5 acres of its 20 acres of state land in Kekaha.
Martin said he is “fully planted on those 5 acres.” What is he growing there? “It’s all fruits,” he said, adding, “Right now I’m focusing on mangoes and citrus and avocados and acerola,” a fruit high in vitamin C.
Martin says the “goal is to be planted” on the whole 20 acres. He is starting with 5 acres to lessen costs for the first few years as he expects it’ll be three to five years “to get the first good harvest to come in.”
Right now his main focus is growing mangoes using Ultra High Density Plantation techniques under a grant from Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education. Those techniques allow for higher yields and require less labor, Martin said. For starters, Martin said he planted 350 mango trees on a little more than a half-acre of land, while his goal is to plant 550 mango trees on 1 acre. By comparison, he said: “Now most people plant 50 to 70 mango on an acre. Even that is high. It used to be 35 trees per acre.”