Homegrown Oahu

The farm-to-table movement keeps the island’s culinary heart beating.

By: By Marty Wentzel

The Details

For information about island-grown foods and Oahu’s farmers’ markets, contact the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation.

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Clients visit Oahu for its weather, scenery and culture but, these days, another attraction is turning heads: its food, or more specifically, its innovative farm-to-table cuisine. As more growers take advantage of the destination’s year-round warmth and rich volcanic soil, chefs, restaurants and retailers are clamoring for its ultra-fresh products, resulting in a growing culinary movement that’s paving the way toward island-wide sustainability.

“Because of concerns for the environment and economy, more and more people are doing what they can to support local farmers and locally-owned restaurants,” said Oahu Visitors Bureau executive director Les Enderton. “On Oahu, visitors can dine at world-class restaurants committed to using local ingredients, and they can visit the same farms and markets as our island chefs. Volunteering at a vegetable farm, watching a live fish auction or shopping at a farmers’ market are some of the farm-to-table activities awaiting our visitors.”

George Mavrothalassitis utilizes local ingredients at his namesake restaurant, Chef Mavro.// (C) 2010 Chef Mavro

George Mavrothalassitis utilizes
local ingredients at his namesake restaurant, Chef Mavro.
// (C) 2010 Chef Mavro

Dig In
Practicing the farm-to-table credo is Mao Organic Farms, a five-acre spread known for its leafy greens, herbs, root vegetables, bananas, mangos and citrus fruits. From 9 a.m. to noon on the last Saturday of every month, clients who sign up ahead of time can take part in its program called Get Involved Volunteer Environmentally. The program takes a group approach to planting, weeding, harvesting and learning about organic gardening. Afterward, participants share a potluck lunch accompanied by freshly harvested organic greens.

To the east of the island awaits Nalo Farms, a family-run operation at the foot of the Koolau Mountains. The venture primarily produced herbs until an entire crop of basil was wiped out by disease in 1990. Shortly after, owner Dean Okimoto met with chef Roy Yamaguchi, who suggested Okimoto grow baby greens for his flagship restaurant, which opened in 1988. Now, Nalo Farms supplies some 130 restaurants with 3,000 pounds of its high-quality greens each week.

On the North Shore, 40-acre Ho Farms minimizes its use of pesticides resulting in healthier and better-tasting food. Clients can buy its specialty tomatoes at Oahu stores — such as Foodland, Down to Earth, Malama Market and Tamura’s — and at restaurants, including RumFire at the Sheraton Waikiki. Then there’s North Shore Farms, known for its signature Big Wave tomatoes, which clients can savor in everything from salsa to pizza. Owner Jeanne Vana recently unveiled a new dessert: an heirloom tomato dipped in island-made chocolate.

Catch of the Day
The farm-to-table concept reaches beyond land to anything grown in water. For clients who don’t mind getting up early, the pre-dawn Honolulu Fish Auction is a dazzling — albeit highly aromatic — display of Oahu’s seafood. Local fishermen sell their fresh catch — including ahi, aku, marlin, mahimahi, wahoo, swordfish, opah, monchong and opakapaka — to the highest bidders, primarily chefs and buyers who supply local restaurants and stores.

Water works equal wonders at the North Shore’s Marine Agrifuture, which hydroponically produces Kahuku sea asparagus, a tender and crispy sea vegetable billed as a cancer-fighting “superfood.” Clients can find it at Oahu stores such as Don Quijote and Marukai, and restaurants like the Ola at Turtle Bay Resort.

Sumida Farm, producer of 75 percent of all the watercress in Hawaii, enjoys an unparalleled site containing natural ground springs and an abundance of cool, clear water from the Pearl Harbor aquifer. Each year its 300 tons of watercress go to local markets and hotels, plus restaurants, including Chef Mavro and Hoku’s at the Kahala Resort.

From Cattle to Cocoa
The 1,100-acre North Shore Cattle Company in the Koolau foothills is the largest commercial grass-fed cattle ranch on Oahu. It’s known for its antibiotic- and hormone-free Angus beef, which is dry-aged and featured at the likes of Paniolo Grill at Coral Creek, in southwest Oahu, and Dole Plantation’s burger stand.

For clients with a sweet tooth, Waialua Estate began experimenting with cacao in 1996 as part of Dole Food Company Hawaii’s diversified agriculture program. The estate’s 18-acre North Shore orchard calls on a special blend of beans to create subtle flavors, aromas and textures of chocolate.

The best places for clients to find Oahu’s local products is at the farmers’ markets around the island. Visitors can meet the growers and producers of Hawaii’s diversified agricultural scene and purchase a plethora of fruits, vegetables, flowers, beef, seafood, pastas, jams, jellies, snack foods, honey, baked goods and specialty seasonings. While more markets are cropping up around the island, two are especially convenient to visitors staying in Waikiki: the Honolulu farmers’ market, outside the Neal S. Blaisdell Center, and the Kapiolani Community College farmers’ market, Oahu’s largest. Several vendors and restaurants even serve breakfast food items at the markets, encouraging clients to start the day right — by eating locally.