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Mel Matsuda & Clyde Fukuyama
Mel Matsuda & Clyde Fukuyama

Talk about gentleman farmers. Up until they formalized their partnership and incorporated their farm business in 1995, Clyde Fukuyama and Melvin Matsuda were used to doing business with a handshake. In fact they still do some business that way today.

Both are third-generation family farmers who grew up as neighbors in the close knit North Shore enclave of Kahuku. Both had other options before coming back to work their respective families farms in the early 1980's. Fukuyama had been helping farmers as a junior extension agent with the University of Hawaii. Matsuda had been a karate instructor on the Mainland.

In 1985, the two were offered the opportunity to grow watermelons in Australia. Because they had grown up together and knew each other well, it was their first handshake deal. Fukuyama says, "Mean while we were just farmers. None of this signing or binding contracts. It was quite an adventure."

Sweet Potatoes
Sweet Potatoes

While they were successful in growing good melons, the two soon found that the feasibility of transporting the fruits to market was not so good. Matsuda says of the Australian venture.

This was the most significant reason they ended up partnering back in Hawaii, again on just a handshake.

Matsuda says, "I think, after that, between Clyde and I was a gentlemen's agreement. We farmed independently, however, we would share in the profit equally, instead of pursuing two separate businesses. He had his farm and I had mine." Fukuyama had been growing papaya, eggplant, watermelon and corn, and Matsuda grew watermelon, some corn, bananas, bell peppers and bitter melon. They decided to partner on certain crops.

Kylie Matsuda - 1980's
Kylie Matsuda - 1980's

"After a period of time, because it was working out really well as far as doing these ventures together, we thought, why not just merge the whole operation together? Again, it was this loose, handshake kind of deal' says Fukuyama. However, they made it official in 1995. Going to an attorney they knew in Haleiwa to draw up the papers and Kahuku Farmers Inc. (in 'Waialua) and Matsuda-Fukuyama Farms Inc. were born.

'When the "Waialua sugar mill closed down in 1996, the partners embarked on an aggressive expansion. Today they lease lands from the Campbell Estate, Dole Foods Inc, the State of Hawaii and Kamehameha Schools. Their combined acreage has grown from about 80 acres to more than 300 acres.

Fukuyama says, "When we were doing papaya back in Kahuku, when we were doing 10 acres, we thought that was kind of big, but now, for Dole, we were doing something like 100 acres, So, from a small operation to more of a plantation-style, I think that really transitioned us to grow on a bigger scale." The number of employees has also grown, from about eight in 1995 to 40 today. Kahuku Farmers and Matsuda-Fukuyama Farms pay 100 percent of their employees medical insurance, started a 40I(k) and may look into employee ownership down the road, Fukuyama says, "I think because we grew up on a farm and because we actually did all the harvesting and fertilizing and now we're becoming owners and managers of our own operation, We can relate to our workers, So I think we have more compassion and appreciate them more, because we know what it's like to be out there in the hot sun harvesting the crop." Being a bigger operation has not necessarily meant a bigger bottom line, Matsuda says, while sales have more than doubled over 10 years, the partners biggest challenge is to turn a profit.

Kylie Matsuda - 1980's
Kylie Matsuda - 1980's

They decline to reveal their annual gross sales, because they think people have misconceptions about what the numbers mean, Says Matsuda: "Because we're an expanding business, it's very expensive to get to where we are trying to go to, so all our monies are used for equipment, expansion, more labor, capital for running the business. We run a really lean thin line right now, but we're expanding every year."

Their business has diversified somewhat too, besides owning and operating farms, the partners help to manage irrigation systems in the North Shore area, by maintaining the ditches and filters that carry water from lake Wilson in Wahiawa. They also have partnered with a third farmer in the ownership of a large expensive tractor. They share it for their farms and contract out for it's services. Once again this was a handshake deal.

They are doing something right.

Matsuda says, "I think, after that, between Clyde and I was a gentlemen's agreement. We farmed independently, however, we would share in the profit equally, instead of pursuing two separate businesses. He had his farm and I had mine." Fukuyama had been growing papaya, eggplant, watermelon and corn, and Matsuda grew watermelon, some corn, bananas, bell peppers and bitter melon. They decided to partner on certain crops.

Their business performance has earned Kahuku Farmers Inc. and Matsuda-Fukuyama Farms Inc. the distinction of being named the SBA family owned small business for the City and County of Honolulu in 2005.

Matsuda's daughter Kylie is now the fourth generation farmer in the family, She works in accounting and developing new ventures. The partners say agri-tourism is the next step. Chances are good that some of that business will be done with a handshake.

Says Fukuyama: "We come from the same background and we have the same values. We can work things out in a positive way and I think that really helped us move forward."


Kahuku Farm - An entity of Matsuda Fukuyama Farms

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