The Hawaiian island chain is essentially a series of dormant and active volcanoes that continue to shift and grow due to their location above a ‘hot spot’ on the earth’s tectonic plates. Lava becomes the land and the soil is filled with one of nature’s most powerful fertilizers, volcanic ash. Hawaii is also host to 10 out of 14 of the world’s climate zones, creating a variety of environments ideal for gardening and farming. That said, an estimated 85%- 90% of Hawaii’s food is imported to the most isolated islands on the planet. Without getting into commodities and the politics over food trade, it can be said that eating local in Hawaii and encouraging local food production is an essential effort in reducing waste, discouraging climate change and promoting sustainability. Need another reason to try eating local in Hawaii? Maui is harvesting a clean, colorful and flavorful bounty of produce that can only be found in our unique tropical environment.
Where it all begins
I visited Oko’a Farms, which is located in the ‘upcountry’ town of Kula on Maui, to see a local produce farm in action. Kula is perched at 2,000 feet above sea level, on the fertile slopes of the world’s largest dormant volcano, Haleakala. It is here that Ryan and his family till the soil and cultivate over 80 varieties of fruits and vegetables.
The farm runs off grid, using the abundant solar energy along with many other unique self sustaining methods such as feeding compost to the chickens who produce eggs, washing the veggies and recycling the water into nearby crops, housing bees who pollinate the plants and then harvesting the honey. Ryan is always experimenting with new crops on the 28 acres of farm land that he has worked for the past 12 years. He is growing black raspberries, ice cream beans, peanut butter fruit and jicama to name some of the more unique varietals. I also learned that cassava is a grain free starch with a ton more nutrients than the potato and that okra flowers are a relative of Hawaii’s state flower, the beautiful hibiscus.
Oko’a Farms supplies their organic, fresh and oh so clean produce to many Maui restaurants on the farm to table train, at 4 farmers market locations each week and by delivery to local residents. Interested in touring the farm yourself? Contact Oko’a Farms and they will make it happen.
It is here (the farm) that it all begins. The following are just some of the places that you can source locally grown ingredients and eat local in Hawaii while on Maui:
Visit a farmer’s market to shop for your stay
Oko’a Farms produce is sold weekly at the Upcountry Farmers Market on Saturdays, at the Queen Ka’ahumanu Center market on Tuesday and Fridays, and at the ‘Wednesday Farmers Market’ in Kula. It is here that many local restaurants plan their menus for the week, with Oko’a Farms seasonal produce as the star of the dish.
Be warned, some of the roadside ‘farmers markets’ on Maui are notorious for selling a mixture of locally grown and Costco purchased items. Visit one of the authentic markets listed above (Napili Farmers Market is another awesome one) for the real deal. They are also a great place for souvenir confections, lunch, live music and meeting some really cool residents.
Have a farm to table meal cooked for you
How about skipping the busy restaurants and hosting a unique farm to table meal in the comfort of your Maui home or home away from home? Maui Personal Chef sources the finest local ingredients to create unique dining experiences catered to any dietary concerns. They also offer cooking classes so you can learn more about the bounty of locally harvested produce and how to cook delicious farm to table recipes for yourself! The best part? No shopping, prepping or cleaning necessary so you can spend more time socializing with friends and family while an expert chef with great personality creates your magical farm to table spread.
Grab lunch at a farm to table cafe
Fresh, local ingredients aren’t just a fine dining experience. Many Maui chefs are making farm to table meals and eating local in Hawaii accessible at reasonable prices in casual settings that don’t require advanced reservations.
Satori is one of the newer food trucks on the scene, serving up vegan sushi in the country town of Makawao. Utilizing all locally sourced, seasonal ingredients, the menu is always changing. Satori rolls are gorgeously colorful and feature interesting flavor combinations like lilikoi (local passion fruit) spicy tuna and ‘da kine’ hand roll with local dragonfruit. They also rotate seasonal produce in the ginger pickled veggie side dish which comes with all orders.
The man behind the dream is Morgan Miller. He built the food truck from scratch, with a few edits along the way, making this a true labor of love. Morgan noticed a need for ‘top tier, quality sushi that can be enjoyed without the high end and timely dining experience’. By utilizing organic produce from local farmers and specializing in fresh Hawaiian fish, he has taken traditional Japanese sushi principles and merged them with healthy island fare to create a unique evolution of sushi which is in many ways friendlier to the island and supportive to the people who catch and grow food here.
Not your average vegan restaurant, Moku Roots is located in sunny Lahaina town and will ‘squash’ any preconceived notion you have about a lack of flavor or protein (have you tried coconut bacon?) in vegetarian food. Committed to minimizing environmental impact, this award winning business aims to be ZERO WASTE in everything they do. Instead of traditional to-go containers, leftovers are wrapped in ti leaves, food waste is composted and fed to the chickens on their nearby farm, who in turn provide eggs back to the restaurant (yes there are a few non vegan menu options). Even the oil used to cook their food is locally sourced from Maiden Hawaii Naturals, the company who brought you a million sunflower selfies from Maui. There is a huge sense of community in this small café, a whole lot of good vibes and good intentions that make eating here even more delicious. Daily specials vary according to what’s in season but Raw Pad Thai is always on the menu and features 100% locally sourced produce including cold zucchini noodles, carrots, shredded cabbage, green papaya, macnuts and avocado. I would take this over traditional pad thai any day.
Find out what it means to be ‘foam to table’
Maui Brewing Company has grown immensely in the past few years and become the largest craft brewery in the state of Hawaii. One of their main values is being ‘fiercely local’ and you will find that through not only their beers (and newly added canned spritzers and cocktails) but also dining at their numerous restaurants. These guys take sustainability seriously, take note of the roof covered in solar panels at their Kihei brewery and the locally inspired menu. The grain used to make the beer is recycled into farm feed and those very animals come back to the brewery restaurant, landing on your plate in the form of a smoked brisket sandwich served on a locally baked bun. To accompany that foam to table sandwich, try their newly released series of POG brews which celebrate the seasonal harvest of pineapple, orange and guava. Daily menu specials revolve around the fresh catch provided by local fisherman. Paired with a ‘Maui Lime’, ‘Mango Milkshake’, ‘Coconut Porter’ or ‘Pineapple Mana’ brew you’ve got symphony of local flavors called lunch.
Treat yourself to a night out, farm to table style
The Mill House restaurant is located at Maui Tropical Plantation, surrounded by farmland, against the breathtaking Waikapū Valley and an epic choice when eating local in Hawaii. The grounds of the plantation are worth a stroll to check out the old sugarcane equipment, feed the many ducks and fish or hop on board the ‘tropical express’ for a farm tour by train and learn about all the crops growing on this beautiful estate. Many of the fresh ingredients used in the onsite restaurant are grown on the plantation, with others sourced locally from places such as Oko’a Farms and Oprah’s Farm (yes THE Oprah provides fresh produce from her upcountry estate). The kitchen and bar apply an innovative approach to eating local in Hawaii with fresh, local ingredients that honor the cultures of those who emigrated to work in Maui’s sugarcane industry. Many sustainable protocols and practices are implemented here, such as minimizing food waste by increasing the variety of offerings on the menu and developing a thriving composting program for the active farmland. This is a great place for innovative cocktails or a tasteful farm to table dinner.
Whether dining out, lunching on the go or cooking in, there are so many great options to choose from when it comes to eating local in Hawaii. Your taste buds will thank you, you can feel great about supporting local farmers and you’ll probably meet some really interesting new people along the way.