Eleven months after founding the Hawaii NoniPower Cooperative we experienced our first bump in the road—some paper shuffling bureaucrat on Oahu seized our brand-new encapsulating machine. Without so much as an email or a phone call, a government “psychic” or “remote viewer” perceived that we would be using the encapsulating machine for illegal purposes and seized it. We, they implied, but never came right out and said it, “were drug dealers.” Evidence, they had none. But who needs evidence when you have at your command six powerful little words, “your paperwork is not in order.” Oh, how we tired of hearing those six words, especially since they never came with instructions on how to get our paperwork in order.
Now, in the interest of full disclosure, a customs officer did fly over—unannounced—to pay us a visit. Hoping (we surmised) to catch us perpetrating an illegal act. The remote viewer, after all, had sensed our involvement in something underhanded. But, alas, the officer arrived only to find the doors to the factory chained and locked.
No one answered his Sheldon Cooper-like knocking on the large metal factory door.
Knock knock knock, “U.S. Customs,” knock knock knock, “U.S. Customs,” knock knock knock, “U.S. Customs.” … silence … Unaware that a customs officer would be dropping by, we had locked up and gone to lunch. How criminal of us.
Many government officials, after having their repeated knocking on doors go unanswered—and without a battering ram in their budget—wish they had a PD-100 Black Hornet 2.
A drone so small it fits in your hand and can “take a peek” inside most buildings. We imagine our visiting customs officer was wishing he had a drone as he stood there staring at the factory doors, realizing that he had just flown two hundred miles for nothing.
Don’t misunderstand us, in no way do we support big brother using drones to spy on us, nor do we feel sorry for the customs officer’s wasted time, but we can’t help but wonder if our encapsulating machine would be humming away right now filling orders instead of sitting in a warehouse somewhere—like debris from Roswell—had the customs officer been able to “take a peek” inside our factory without us there to let him in.
A locked-up factory, a vivid imagination, and a bureaucrat with more authority than common sense led to the seizure of our encapsulating machine. Adding the Hawaii NoniPower Cooperative to the ever-growing list of small businesses unjustly harmed by government regulators. Small companies, after all, are the low hanging fruit in the government regulation game. Companies our size can’t afford to challenge a regulator’s actions in court. Seize equipment purchased by Amazon or Apple, on the other hand, and not only will the action be challenged, but it will also drag on for years in courts. Even customs officers don’t want to spend their 9 to 5 in court. It’s so much easier to “regulate” the little guys and wear them down in red-tape and double talk.
Our case was explained in government-speak that is beyond the grasp of mere mortals, it’s so convoluted it would baffle the likes of Einstein and Hawking.
You see, even though the encapsulating machine is somewhere in Honolulu, it isn’t considered to “officially be in the United States.” How can the encapsulating machine physically be somewhere but not be there? Could it be that Customs is in possession of a black ops antigravity device? Something that keeps the encapsulating machine hovering, so it never touches the ground? Is there a distance above the ground at which nation-state boundaries disappear? Who knows? All we know is that the encapsulating machine is not in our factory and probably never will be and that the machine’s status of not “officially” being in the U.S. is worthy of inclusion in Ripley’s Believe It or Not!
With our encapsulating machine in limbo, we had no choice but to get out of the “capsule business” (thank you U.S. Customs) and focus instead on selling our product in bulk to other businesses.
It took months and all of our resources but, eventually, we secured several bulk orders. Large orders. How large? 580,000 pounds of noni large. We had survived the loss of the encapsulating machine and were moving forward. The future was looking bright again, right up until we hit our second bump in the road—Madame Pele.
If tornados race across the land like cheetah and hurricanes come through like a herd of stampeding elephants, Madame Pele—for the most part—advanced across lower Puna like a bale of tortoises, often taking hours to advance a mere one hundred yards. Starting and stopping on an unpublished schedule, making it impossible to predict where the lava would head next or how quickly it would get there.
In early May, the noni farmers were telling us that their farms were “OK” and not in Pele’s path. “The lava is miles from our farms.” Come mid-May they were still saying, “There is more than enough noni ripening to meet your needs.” Their words were comforting. The noni trees were still standing. They should be able to harvest soon, and then we could fill all of our orders. But as May turned to June, the farmers called and said, “Access to our noni trees has been cut off by lava.” We searched for alternate routes to gain access to the noni, there had to be another way in. There wasn’t.
As June was coming to an end, we got the heartbreaking news, “lava has covered everything.” Sixty acres of nearly ripe noni was gone, buried under twenty feet of lava. Some farmers lost their homes as well as their farmland. And we still needed 400,000 pounds of noni.
We scoured the island picking up all the noni fruit we could find. We were fulfilling orders, but it was slow going. Luckily our buyers were very understanding. They, like the rest of the world, had watched as lava crept toward the ocean engulfing roads, homes, and farmland along the way. Our safety was of greater concern to them than their orders—for the time being—and we appreciated that.
Unfortunately, the lava triggered a more significant third and final bump in the road—price gouging. Before Madame Pele’s visit to lower Puna, noni was going for twenty-eight cents a pound. Now, with over 1,600 acres of farmland covered in lava, the price was running as high as fifty cents a pound. Hawaii’s price gouging law, which prevents price increases during a state of emergency, only applies to retail sales. With all of our existing contracts priced on the assumption that noni would cost no more than thirty cents a pound, this near doubling in price was causing a critical drain on our resources.
If the odds of being struck by lightning are 1 in 700,000, what are the odds of having your crops destroyed by lava? Or the odds of having the price of your product’s main ingredient double in the span of a few weeks? Whatever the odds, we found ourselves on the wrong side of the equation, we were the One in … and that is not where anyone wants to be—unless of course, you are the One winning $1.60 billion in the Mega Millions lottery.
In spite of all that has transpired, from the seizure to the loss of farmland, to the rapid rise in expenses we have kept moving forward. Just in the past few months, we have acquired three new clients for bulk orders (all taking into account the inflated cost of noni). We know that if we want to continue to grow our client list, we need to find more reasonably priced noni, and the surest way to make that happen is to lease farmland ourselves (outside of Lava Zone 1) and get farmers (that are members of the cooperative) out there planting seedlings. It will cost at least $25,000 to lease land and get the seedlings planted, but we must find a way to make it happen.
Over the next forty-five days, we need to raise funds to lease farmland, so Edison (one of the farmers in the cooperative, standing to the left in the photo above) has a place to plant the thousands of noni seedlings he has started. We also need the resources to cover some of the shortfall that exists when filling the remaining two bulk orders that came in before the price increase for noni. With your help, we can do these things and more.
From the start, we did not want to be just another company. We aspired to create a business where everyone shares in the profits, everyone receives fair compensation for their efforts, and everyone has a say in how the company operates. That’s why we formed Hawaii NoniPower as a cooperative. We wanted to come together and create something that none of us could have accomplished alone and do it democratically and equitably.
We also wanted to create a company that exported more than it imports, something that is rare here on our isolated island in the middle of the Pacific but something more businesses need to do if we are to thrive here in Hawaii.
We have been shipping our products to Japan as well as to the U.S. mainland and will begin exporting to South Korea and China soon. All that is hindering our growth in the B2B marketplace right now is the price of noni. And the only way to lower that cost is for the Cooperative to lease farmland and grow the noni ourselves. Additionally, if we had a new encapsulating machine, one that is able to fill smaller capsules (as requested by our consumers in Japan) we would build out that revenue stream as well, but first things first. We need farmland.
Due to our distrust of and problems with the government (which go far beyond the seizure of our encapsulating machine) we are not seeking any funds from them. To do so would be like asking a bully to lend you lunch money. Instead, we are asking You to help us move past these recent bumps in the road and help get us back on track, back to profitability. We need Your help and the help of your Friends to ensure that the Hawaii NoniPower Cooperative grows to its full potential. You can donate here, or if you would like, you can become a member of the cooperative,
Please share our story with your friends and family. Help us bring more jobs and opportunities to East Hawaii. Help us bring Hawaii Noni to the world.
Thank you so much for your kindness, care, and generosity.
President, Hawaii NoniPower Cooperative