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Abstract

Lettuce bridges the gap from niche specialty crop to relatively inexpensive health food. As the highest value vegetable crop in the United States, it has a significant place on the American plate. In Hawaiʻi, lettuce is the top 12th overall agricultural commodity, and the highest value vegetable product in Hawaiʻi. While growers in the continental United States make most of their profits from head (iceberg) lettuce, specialty lettuce has more than double the value of either head lettuce or Romaine and is the fastest growing lettuce sector in Hawaiʻi. Additionally, far more acres are dedicated to specialty lettuce than any other lettuce type in Hawaiʻi. The goal of this paper was to explore why specialty lettuce has such a large market share in Hawaiʻi, by interviewing farmers and organizers and by using statistical data provided by the United States Department of Agriculture. We conclude the structure of high-value lettuce production is driven by the nature of Hawaiʻi agriculture, which is primarily made up of small farming operations that cannot compete with the economies of scale from imported lettuce, and instead require a market niche with a price premium to survive.

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