Going to Market

Sunshine Markets are a great way to meet the locals

By: Kim Steutermann Rogers

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Visitors will love the diversity
at Kauai’s farmer’s markets.
The sky looks like rain, so the coordinator of the Kauai Sunshine Market in Kapaa sounds the bell early. Folks can browse, but vendors can’t sell until the bell rings at any of the county farmer’s markets that rotate around the island. Stalls of homegrown fruits, vegetables, herbs and tropical flowers line both sides of the parking lot at Kapaa New Town Park on the island’s east side. Avocados, papayas, bananas, pineapples, grapefruit, rambutan, lemons and limes line buckets and baskets. Green onions, ginger, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, basil and beets adorn tabletops.

Sonia King buys an armful of red ginger and a spray of orchids. Gay Davis scoops up a bouquet of totsoi (Chinese flat cabbage). Leia Melead heads straight to Moloaa Organica’s stall and makes her purchase from piles of collards, kale, arugula and organic mixed greens. Women push babies in strollers, stowing sweet corn, alfalfa sprouts, star fruit, parsley and cilantro in the strollers’ storage baskets. Children drink from coconuts.

Tony Lydgate sometimes sells produce from his eight-acre Steelgrass Farm, but today he is shopping.

“The farmer’s markets are an opportunity for visitors to expand the boundaries of their culinary experience,” said Lydgate. “We have a diverse ethnic population on Kauai, so they’ll find a variety of fruits and vegetables.”

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Table of avocados at a farmer’s market
Variety is one reason to experience one of Kauai’s farmer’s markets. Freshness is another.

“This beautiful tropical island imports 90 percent of its produce,” Lydgate said. “The bananas in local grocery stores come from Costa Rica. Sweet peppers come from greenhouses in Holland.”

Kauai grocery store managers want to carry local produce, which is inarguably much fresher than the produce that arrives “on a barrel of oil,” as Lydgate put it, but the grocers need a guaranteed supply and a multi-million-dollar liability insurance policy from their vendors. Both requirements pose problems for local growers, who are more backyard farmers than commercial operations.

Enter farmers’ markets. The seven county-sponsored Sunshine Markets give backyard farmers a place to sell the fruits of their efforts. Because of their popularity, it’s a good idea for clients to arrive on time, or even early if it looks like rain. Then, too, they should bring an umbrella. If it’s sunny, wear a hat. Carry a handful of dollar bills for easy transactions. And bring a basket or bags.