Coffee with Tom Greenwell |February 7, 2023

Episode 2: Talking About The Family Farm

Matt Carter: [00:00:05] Good morning, everybody. It’s me again. I’m Matt, and I’m sitting here with Tom Greenwell, the CEO of Greenwell Farms. And how are you doing today, Tom?


Tom Greenwell: [00:00:14] I’m doing great.


Matt Carter: [00:00:14] Awesome. So thanks for everyone for the nice comments on the last video we did. And we’re going to just dig right in. Tom, we’re kind of interested. You’re a this is a fifth generation family farm, correct?


Tom Greenwell: [00:00:26] Yes.


Matt Carter: [00:00:27] Founded in 1850. So as the fourth generation great grandson of the founder, how do you fit in the puzzle of, you know, the Greenwell legacy?


Tom Greenwell: [00:00:39] Well, I’m actually the fourth generation. Ben, my son’s the fifth.


Matt Carter: [00:00:44] Right.


Tom Greenwell: [00:00:47] Well. Grew up, born in Kona and grew up on the island and been in AGG (agriculture) all our life. Actually, I wanted to be an engineer or mechanic or whatever. I like machinery and building things, but my dad decided to become a coffee farmer when he got out of the ranching business, and he forced me into it.


Matt Carter: [00:01:19] He said, You’re going to be a farmer. So I never I never met your dad. But what kind of guy was he like? You know, I’ve always been interested. Norman Greenwell. What kind of guy was he?


Tom Greenwell: [00:01:29] Well, you know, he was really he was innovative, you know, in the ranch, in the dairy business. He was very innovative. He brought the first carton milk to Hawaii. The cartons. We had the dairy.


Matt Carter: [00:01:46] Sure.


Tom Greenwell: [00:01:47] In the ranching business, he he took from the old time rodeo type branding to make it mechanical, basically and faster. And then into the coffee. We decided to get into coffee at his later ages after he got out of ranching. And he said we’re going to mechanically harvest coffee instead of hand harvest. And that’s how he got me really involved. He said I was going to be able to build equipment, you know. And we did. We designed and he was very innovative, like I said. But, you know, he thought about we went up, we got a blueberry harvester. He bought it. He brought it to Kona, we shipped it. We took us about two to three years of trials and errors, and we actually was successful harvesting coffee with it.


Matt Carter: [00:02:45] I see.


Tom Greenwell: [00:02:45] You know, that’s the kind of person he was.


Matt Carter: [00:02:47] How come we don’t use it? Well, because we still handpick our coffee.


Tom Greenwell: [00:02:50] Right. Well, you know, we got when we got into the coffee business, the price of coffee was really low, real cheap. And it was, you know, you. You know, you barely are making ends meet. But thanks for the coffee, the new, the younger generation. They started becoming a super specialty product. Prices in Kona went up and start doing you got losses when you’re picking by machine and we decided that by then my father passed away. But I decided that harvesting every bean by hand off the tree ripe actually made us more money then having the losses from the mechanical harvesting.


Matt Carter: [00:03:41] That makes sense, that makes sense. So this is always a hard question to answer on the on the spot. But is there a particular lesson that your dad kind of gifted to you and said, remember these pearls of wisdom as you go through? Was there something you kind of gained from him in that in that regard?


Tom Greenwell: [00:03:59] Well, you know, I’m going to just say one thing that my dad always told me pay attention. Someday you’re going to have to do it. Remember it.


Matt Carter: [00:04:08] Yeah.


Tom Greenwell: [00:04:08] Well, after he passed away, I’m going, oh God dad, what did he say?


Matt Carter: [00:04:12] I see.


Tom Greenwell: [00:04:15] No, you know, it was all basically, pay attention, do the best job you can, you know, and it turns into, you know, if you do the best you can, you’re going to end up with a higher quality.


Matt Carter: [00:04:31] Gotcha.


Tom Greenwell: [00:04:32] Whatever you’re doing. And I think that’s, you know, hard work. You always told me a man on this seat. Man on his feet is worth two on his seat.


Matt Carter: [00:04:44] Man on his feet is worth two on his feet. I like that. Now you’re are you passing the same sort of ethic onto Ben, who is our fifth generation?


Tom Greenwell: [00:04:53] I’m trying.


Matt Carter: [00:04:54] Trying.


Tom Greenwell: [00:04:55] The older I get, the more I realized my father was trying very hard to. It’s difficult, you know? So it was difficult working with my dad because, you know, father, son. So you tend to blow up quicker at your son…


Matt Carter: [00:05:12] Sure, sure, sure.


Tom Greenwell: [00:05:14] Or at your dad.


Matt Carter: [00:05:15] I get it.


Tom Greenwell: [00:05:16] Yeah, but yeah, no, absolutely. I think, you know, he has, he has the passion and the drive.


Matt Carter: [00:05:24] Now, another question here. I know that you told us a moment ago your your passion has always been in the mechanics. When was it exactly that you started to kind of evolve your dad’s coffee farm into the milling operation? Because, you know, Greenwell Farms is a farm, but we’re also a major processor of 100% Kona Coffee. So that’s where kind of his expertise has come in, but when did that really begin?


Tom Greenwell: [00:05:50] You know, after we about a few years, a couple of years into our first second harvest, I guess we realized that we could become an independent state coffee. Our goal when his goal was when we first started, was just to sell the product to the local processing, processors, co-op. And and so we were we were given an opportunity to sell our coffee directly to Japan, as in the state. So therefore, you got to have your own processing plant.


Matt Carter: [00:06:26] Right.


Tom Greenwell: [00:06:26] And that that’s what sparked it really. Plus here in the industry, nobody was offering what you call it, you know, custom, custom processing. So we couldn’t go to anybody to get it done, so we had to do it ourselves.


Matt Carter: [00:06:44] Gotcha. And now your infrastructure is kind of amazing. What what distinguishes your ability to take the fruit, process it all the way out to green bean and roasted from other mills? Just, you know, what makes us different in that regard?


Tom Greenwell: [00:07:03] You know? It’s not the equipment, really. It’s technique, what you’re doing, right. I mean, we have we come even though we’re trying to hand harvest only the ripest beans. You always have unripe, always have overripes. So we put color starters in to take the color sorts out, the underripes the overripes. So that just elevates the quality. The our process is simple but consistent. And that’s another you know, you have to be consistent. Otherwise every harvest is going to taste different.


Matt Carter: [00:07:43] Right. So what I hear you saying is, although the machinery is important, it’s really who’s running it and their attention to detail.


Tom Greenwell: [00:07:52] Absolutely.


Matt Carter: [00:07:52] Very interesting. That’s amazing. I could literally sit here for the next five hours and talk to him, but he can get a little bit irritated. So I’m going to end it here. We’ll continue this next month. But Tom, thank you so much and have a wonderful February. Happy Valentine’s Day to all the lovely couples out there and aloha.


Tom Greenwell: [00:08:10] Aloha.


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