Malana Kea said she met her husband and business partner, Kees Kea, on her father’s dairy farm in Southern California in 1979.
“He came knocking on the door and never left!” she joked. “What a fool!”
Thirty-five years later, the two will soon be passing down their knowledge of dairy farming to their children with the creation of a new dairy and cheesery on the Big Island.
Malana Kea said she learned to make cheese while in her father’s homeland of Holland, and her husband, who is also from Holland, says it’s just in his blood.
“I’m the seventh generation in the dairy business. My great-grandfather started in the Netherlands in the early 1700s,” he said.
The Kea children hope to follow in their parent’s footsteps. Cornel Kea, 19, is studying agriculture at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, and will help with the dairy and his sister Alida Kea, 20, studying business at Portland State University, will assist in the cheesery operations. Malana Kea said her son, John-Patrick Kea, will provide maintenance around the farm. The other daughter is a nurse on the mainland and will visit periodically, she said.
The dairy, Mauna Kea Moo, will house 200 milking cows and 100 dry cows. The cheesery, Dutch Hawaiian Cheesery, will sell hard cheeses, eventually in different flavors, and will be called “Hamakua Cheese” and “O‘okala Cheese.”
The names come from the location of the farm, in the Ookala district by mile marker 33 on the mauka side.
Kees Kea said he moved to the Big Island in the early 2000s, when he became a partner at Island Dairies, which has since been renamed to Big Island Dairy.
He said the family had planned to open the dairy years ago, but had to wait for approval from the state Board of Land and Natural Resources to lease 1,395 acres of former sugar cane land for the dairy.
Recently the state approved the lease, a process that took five years.
“Finally,” Kees Kea said of the long-awaited approval.
The lease will be for 35 years at an annual rent of $20,500 for the first 10 years. Kees Kea said the cost of the dairy farm is “roughly” about $2 million, and the cheesery costs about $1 million.
The dairy will be one of only a few in the state.
Michael DuPonte, Hawaii County extension livestock agent on the east side of the island, said that could be an advantage for the Keas.
“Right now its very lucrative because there are only two left in the state,” he said. “There’s an opportunity. It all depends on the price of milk.”
DuPonte said he’s been working with the Keas on a marketing plan, which includes options to sell the milk to Meadow Gold, the military, schools and individually.
Kees Kea said they will do their best to make the products organic, and will not be planting any genetically modified corn on the land.
Malana Kea said she wants to make products that Hawaiian residents can call their own.
“We’re going to be proud of it, and we want Hawaii to be proud of it, too,” she said. “That’s what’s nice about Hawaii, it’s our state and it should be our product,” she said.
Kees Kea said the state Health Department already approved their animal waste management plan, and he anticipates the lease documents will be finalized this week. Operations could begin as soon as 2015.
Email Megan Moseley at firstname.lastname@example.org