Board Of Directors


Grif Frost (61) has been married for 40+ years, has four adult children and 5 grandchildren. Global MBA from Thunderbird Graduate School of International Management, Grif, with his wife Noriko, started, built and sold 40+ businesses in Japan, Oregon and Hilo, Hawaii. All of his businesses have involved investors and board of directors. In 2014, Grif stumbled over the consumer cooperative business law in Hawaii, and as he read what you could do within the law, felt like this was the best form of business organization, ever. Expecting there to be lots of consumer cooperative businesses in Hawaii, he was astounded to find only one had been established, back in 1983, when the law was first adopted. Grif began testing how to open successful consumer cooperative businesses in Hilo, and to date has helped established 20+ consumer cooperative businesses. Grif, an innovator, has identified various practical business challenges with the consumer cooperative business structure, and within the law, has come up with a number of solutions which solve those challenges. For example, too many cooks in the kitchen. This innovative form of consumer cooperatives is called a CoOp. The consumer cooperative business structure was first used in the U.S. by Benjamin Franklin in 1752, and that business still thrives today. The CoOp structure helps people work together to turn challenges into opportunities, always thinking of what is best for everyone involved, instead of what is best only for themselves. 1+1=3.

Vice President

Eric Swilley joined HTC in April, 2018, as Vice President and Operations Director, leveraging experience from his 20-year career in Information Technology Operations Support. A native of Florida, Eric brought his family to The Big Island of Hawaii in the late spring of 2017 in search of a more fulfilling lifestyle after spending 15 years working US Federal defense projects both overseas and in the DC beltway. A Nuclear Engineer by education (University of Florida, 1994), Eric has built a wealth of technical skill, professional discernment, and operations acumen through his experiences at companies such as Lucent, EDS, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, Amazon, and Bechtel.

In 2018 Eric founded Mana Property Development (MPD)—a local property development startup that focuses on building value in under-utilized agricultural properties through strategic residential and commercial crop solutions. MPD’s mission is to develop “sustainable agriculture solutions at the nexus of ecological balance and social responsibility.”

MPD is partnered with HTC and provides the CoOp’s operational capacity (land clearing, grading, planting, maintenance, plucking, processing, and facilities renovations).

When not at work, Eric spends time with his two young children and wife exploring the wonderous Hawaii Island, fishing in the coastal waters, or just playing in the grass with their dogs.

Secretary / Treasurer

Takeshi Akatsuka is the Vice President of Akatsuka Orchid Gardens. He oversees the management of operations for the greenhouse, shipping and retail divisions.  Akatsuka Orchid Gardens was established in 1974 and has been a prominent fixture of the Volcano community. Takeshi was born and raised on the Big Island and left for college on the mainland which provided invaluable experiences & personal growth.  

Prior to joining the family business, he worked in financial management and analysis within the technology and private equity industry.

Takeshi holds a B.A. degree in Economics from the University of Washington where he also met his wife Corinne. They have a young daughter.

Takeshi Akatsuka joined HTC in July 2016 and serves as Secretary and Treasurer. 

Chief Tea Officer

Jason McDonald is the founder of The Great Mississippi Tea Company, which produced 4 top award winning teas in the 2015 Tea of the United States Awards.
He also recently won a Silver Medal in the Global Tea Championship in 2017 for his 'Mississippi Queen' green tea and, again, in 2018 for his 'Delta Oolong' (Silver Medal).
Jason’s teas are featured at The Rare Tea Counter and The Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon at Fortnum & Mason Picadilly location in London and The Cultured Cup in Dallas. His teas are quickly becoming the “gold standard” for US tea quality and production.
Jason is a founding member of The Hawaii Medicinal Tea & Herb Cooperative and a co-founder of The United States League of Tea Growers.  
He has been an industry collaborator with multiple grants for tea research from the USDA in conjunction with research universities.  
He has traveled extensively to tea growing regions to gain hands-on experience in order to distill information from various tea producing regions into a working model for US production.  
He, along with his husband Timothy Gipson, splits his year equally between Mississippi and Hawaii experimenting with tea growing methods, researching tea growing in various conditions, and developing sustainable business models for tea production on a larger scale for the US. 

Processing Director

Timothy (Timmy) Gipson is co-owner of The Great Mississippi Tea Company in Brookhaven, MS. 

Timmy has created various award winning teas over the course of the last 6 years and is a founding member of The Hawaii Medicinal Tea & Herb Cooperative. 

He has extensive knowledge in growing, processing, and blending specialty teas for the US and global markets. 

Timmy blended HawaiiTea.Coop’s Mele O Kilauea tea which is available at Akatsuka Orchid Gardens in Volcano Hawaii. 

Timmy splits his year, along with his husband Jason McDonald, between Hawaii and Mississippi. 

Technical Advisor

Nigel Melican, a crop scientist by training, has clocked up 39 years’ hands-on practical experience in the tea industry, initially as a peripatetic field and factory technical trouble-shooter with Unilever Research and, since 1990, as owner of his tea technology consultancy company Teacraft, and his specialty tea e-commerce company Nothing But Tea.  

Nigel has extensive experience in all facets of the industry, assisting tea producing clients in 31 countries – from green tea feasibility in Australia to tea extracts in Zimbabwe – and is proud to boast having manufactured black tea on six of the world’s seven continents.
He believes that the 5,000-year-old tea industry is now facing unprecedented changes and is fascinated by the opportunities they offer. With an eye on the future he now concentrates on helping to develop non-traditional tea growing origins – in USA and Europe in particular – and innovating to solve the novel challenges of growing fine specialty teas under some very marginal climatic conditions.
Nigel is co-founder of the US League of Tea Growers, co-founder and President of the recently formed European Tea Society, an International Advisor to the American Specialty Tea Alliance, and is the 2018 recipient of the John Harney Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his significant support to the tea industry’s growth, innovation and education.