While we were on Maui for the Maui County Agricultural Festival weekend, we dined at Pulehu at the Westin Kā‘anapali Ocean Resort Villas and met Chef Wesley Holder. He came out at the end of dinner to chat with us and we casually asked him what he had planned for his AgFest dish the next day. He eagerly explained that he would be making “Risi Bisi”—risotto with English peas—and (this is where he got excited) that the peas were grown at Ho‘opono Farm, a West Maui farm nearby. Furthermore, he had helped plant the very peas that were now being harvested for his Risi Bisi. (By the way, check out the Maui News’ photo of Chef Wes making his Risi Bisi at AgFest. Pretty cool.)
I have never had a fresh pea in my life. I’m not terribly excited about the canned variety, although I do really like the dried ones you can get at crack seed shops. Mm, salty goodness. I didn’t even know that peas could grow here in Hawai‘i. Apparently, no one really thought they could. (We heard this a lot on this trip—local farmers are growing things, like blueberries and English peas, that they’d been told would “never” grow.)
“Would you want to see [the farm]?” Chef Wes asked.
He probably didn’t expect that we’d say yes, but we did! I actually felt a little bad about accepting the offer since I knew he’d be working so hard at AgFest, but his enthusiasm for the local farm growing the produce he serves in the restaurant was contagious. And anyway, he was more chipper than I was early Sunday morning when he picked us up. But newly awakened hibernating bears are more chipper than me when I get up.
We drove up, up, up into the hills above Kapalua.
At Ho‘opono, we met farmers Dave Horsman and Manu Akana, who showed us around the farm and told us about ‘Āina Haumana (“Students of the Land”), the non-profit program they run to teach local kids about farming. Dave and Manu bring kids in the Boys & Girls Club up to Ho‘opono to see what it takes to be a farmer. They showed us a new plot of land that the kids had cleared, in preparation for growing new crops which they’ll tend themselves as part of the program.
Dave and Manu were particularly excited because this new plot will make use of an innovative agricultural technique—the land will be planted with native koa trees, which need quite a bit of space between them, and in that in-between space, the students will plant vegetables. It’s a symbiotic relationship in which the trees help fertilize the vegetables and the crops help the trees thrive, plus it returns more of the native forest to the land.
I think programs like ‘Āina Haumana are so awesome—Dave remarked that if they just got one kid out of a hundred who grew up to be a farmer, they would feel successful. I think the impact goes further than having kids want to farm themselves. Even if they don’t become farmers, at least they’ll understand what it takes to grow food and have a greater desire to buy and eat what is produced locally. Plus, as Dave pointed out, it makes them want to eat more vegetables. Because they grew it themselves, they’re interested in eating a vegetable that they wouldn’t want to touch if they only saw it on a plate. (Although, even if I grew a beet, I still wouldn’t eat it…)
Pulehu obtains over 80% of their produce locally; most of it comes from Ho‘opono and other West Maui farms. Ho‘opono is an organic operation with a wide crop variety that they rotate to keep the land fertile. (This Maui News article has a lot more info about the farm and the ‘Āina Haumana program.) You’ll notice in these photos that some of the veggies have bug-nibbled leaves. They don’t use pesticides, so that does happen. The more delicate plants, like these tomatoes, are kept inside a greenhouse.
When we chatted during dinner at Pulehu, Chef Wes told us a story about a diner who had complained that the arugula in his salad all had holes, and he wanted a salad with pristine, un-munched leaves. “I’m sorry, sir,” Chef told him. “But we get our produce from a local organic farm. There isn’t a leaf in my kitchen that doesn’t have a hole in it.” I really admired that a chef at a high-end resort would feel that serving local, organic produce was more important than perfect leaves.
Also inside the greenhouse, the plants we came to see: the English peas! I had no idea that pea plants would be so pretty.
Chef Wes and the Ho‘opono crew had planted just in time to be able to harvest for AgFest.
Of course, using fresh peas means you have to shell them. That seemed kind of cool to me, but it probably wasn’t super fun to be doing it all night before AgFest.
Aren’t these little peas the cutest, though? And they were so sweet! Fresh peas are a total revelation to me. (If you want to see a photo of Chef Wes’ Risi Bisi as served at the AgFest, be sure to check out my earlier post on the event. You can also watch this video from the Kā‘anapali Resort Association of Dave Horsman explaining the dish.)
On the less cute side, I saw this spider hanging around the greenhouse.
Freaky. Click the photo to see a larger version in the gallery. It has all these creepy hairs on its legs. Ugh. But it’s a natural pest-killer, so I tried not to be all girly and freak out about it. I just took a photo and ran away really quick.
And in a prettier corner of the greenhouse area, there were some orchids. Everyone seems to be able to grow orchids but me. I’m pathetic.
If you have any plants you want to get rid of, just let me know. I’ll come over and sit next to them and my toxic plant-killing vibes should go to work.
I would love to have my own vegetable garden, but I am kind of afraid that I would be a pretty crappy farmer. On the other hand, if I did have a garden, it would be at my parents’ house, which means my dad would really be in charge of it on a day-to-day basis (would that make me, like, some kind of plantation owner?) and he is way more competent with the plants.
I love visiting farms, and I am very grateful to Chef Wes, Dave and Manu for inviting and welcoming us to Ho‘opono Farm. Shake and I hope to see them continue to grow and thrive.
If you had a farm, what would you grow?
Disclosure: Sugar + Shake were hosted by the Maui Visitors Bureau, The Fairmont Kea Lani and The Westin Maui. Travel for Shake and accommodations were provided by the hosts, but no compensation was received for this post, and the opinions expressed are strictly my own.