Megan Kono, a Carson College OMBA student, gives an interview about Farm to Car, a drive-thru farmers market she started during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photos courtesy of Megan Kono)

Farm to Car: Megan Kono’s MBA Training Fuels Oahu’s Agriculture During COVID-19

By Mia Gleason

Bags of produce ready for pick-up.
Bags of produce ready for pick-up.

Megan Kono works for the Hawaii Farm Bureau, a nonprofit representing the local farmers and ranchers in Hawaii. As a general manager, she oversees five farmers markets on Oahu. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the farmers markets to close temporarily, Kono drew on her WSU Carson College of Business Online MBA training to craft a solution.

“Farmers needed a way to sell their products to pay for rent, water, seeds, and other expenses,” Kono says. “For many of our farmers, the markets were their only source of income.”

Kono created Farm to Car, a drive-thru farmers market after she noticed the Starbucks’s drive-thru remained open.

Farm to Car allows customers to use the Farm Bureau’s online marketplace to select produce from their favorite farmers, pre-pay online, and have the produce loaded to their vehicle.

The program started April 1 with 200 orders and has expanded to three locations serving about 1,000 customers per week. “People can purchase fresh-grown, local produce from the safety of their home,” Kono says.

Making the decision to pursue an MBA

A Farm to Car delivery.
A Farm to Car delivery.

Kono started as a community relations manager with the Hawaii Farm Bureau in 2017. Six months later, she was promoted to Oahu’s farmers market general manager, which led to her decision to earn an MBA.

“I stumbled through managing six farmers markets with over 150 vendors and four employees with no supervisory background,” Kono says. “After one week in the new position, a conflict with a customer ended with my employee quitting on the spot. As I walked to my car, I knew there was probably a better, more professional way to handle the situation. I realized I was not yet fully equipped to handle this job. I needed formal training, along with experience, to gain the skills to advance in my career as a leader.”

After researching top MBA programs, Kono says WSU’s Online MBA program shined for several reasons: affordable tuition, high ranking among other MBA degrees, and an accommodating schedule for full-time workers and timeline for completing the degree. The Carson College’s outstanding student advisors and the supportive faculty confirmed she made the right choice, Kono says.

Applying MBA training to her work at the Farm Bureau

Kono says each class she has taken so far in the program helped her prepare for the launch of Farm to Car.

“Creating a business proposal, marketing it to our targeted audience, managing our finances to ensure profitability, and creating a productive and supportive team all stemmed from the OMBA program,” Kono says, “not to mention other skills like stress and time management.”

Kono says her biggest takeaway came from her most recent class, Managerial Leadership and Productivity with Jesus Bravo, WSU Tri-Cities clinical assistant professor. Understanding how to better manage people to create an effective team was crucial for Kono.

“My main goal was to empower a team that wasn’t afraid to give feedback, show respect, and care for one another. I also wanted to lead a team that had fun and was proud to give back to our community,” Kono says. “I could directly apply what I was currently learning, including motivating different people in different ways.”

Farm to Car benefits farmers and the local community

The Farm to Car program has been so successful that farmers often sell out of products within two hours of the online store opening. With the help of their sponsors, the Farm Bureau can give 100 percent of the proceeds to the 30 farmers selling on the online marketplace.

“The support has been overwhelming,” Kono says. “After proposing the Farm to Car business plan and vision to Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, he gave us a venue to use, scheduled a press conference to announce the program, and donated $10,000 to help start it up.”

Thanking customers for their purchases.
Thanking customers for their purchases.

Soon after, other sponsors donated another $10,000 to support Farm to Car.

Being able to help her local community during COVID-19 makes Kono proud to be a Coug. Watching her idea go from paper to real life has felt surreal, she says.

For people living on an island where about 80 percent of foods are imported, the COVID-19 pandemic is a reminder of what an important role farming and sustainability plays in their lives, Kono says.

“Hawaii has a rich history of agriculture, and many of our great-grandparents immigrated generations ago to work on the sugar plantations,” she says.

Kono is excited for the future of agriculture in Hawaii.

“Getting my MBA will help me continue to grow, look for challenges, and set goals,” Kono says. “My long-term goal is to become a CEO of a company that strives to serve our local community while investing in sustainability. I’m excited for what’s to come.”

Learn more about the Online MBA program.