The facts surrounding Hawaii’s food industry may be astonishing to some: The Aloha State imports roughly 90% of its food at an estimated $3 billion per year. Should a disaster strike—as that false missile alarm in 2018 so potently reminded many—it’s estimated there would be only enough food to sustain the islands’ 1.4 million residents and 9 million annual visitors for five to seven days.
According to The Washington Post, “Even the grain that feeds the cows on the islands’ two dairy farms is shipped in.” And all of this is to say nothing of the tremendous carbon imprint that importing food to the islands has; as writer Todd Woody puts it, “There’s a high environmental price to be paid for relying on a 747 or 40,000-ton ship as your food truck.”
The upside of all this? Agriculture on Maui and through the chain of islands is positively booming, while Hawaii Governor David Ige has proposed to double agriculture production by 2030. From boutique farms and privately-funded permaculture orchards to organic cattle ranches, the people of Hawaii are coming together to not only malama ‘aina (care for the land) but to also work towards a sustainable future.
Here are 9 Maui farms that nourish Maui—and are endeavoring to reach that aim:
Located 3,500 feet above sea level, it’s no wonder that O’o Farm savors some of the most stellar bicoastal views available. Its elevation, coupled with the cool temps it provides, gives the eight-and-a-half-acre space just the right conditions to grow myriad organic goods, from sorrel lettuce and Kaffir lime to lemongrass and Maui coffee.
Sustainably maintained and biodynamically cultivated, O’o—the brainchild of surfing pals Louis Coloumb and Stephen Bel-Robert—supplies The Feast at Lele, Aina Gourmet Market, and Pacific’O with cucumbers, chard, cilantro, arugula, Wild Pohaberry, and more, while their luncheon tour, complete with picking your own produce, redefines farm-to-table.
“Love for the ‘aina” isn’t mere talk for Kumu Farms: Working directly with the community and some of the top restaurateurs on Maui—including The Mill House’s Executive Chef Taylor Ponte and culinary star Roy Yamaguchi’s venues—Kumu Farms utilizes its 60 acres of farmland in Waikapu to feed the people of Maui and to work towards a green, viable future.
In addition to their Strawberry Sunrise non-GMO papaya—which, as the farm says, put them on the map—Kumu Farms cultivates 35 crops ranging from candy-stripe beets and eggplant to guava and hardy greens.
Surfing Goat Dairy
Situated in the savannah that comprises part of lower Kula, Surfing Goat Dairy may seem theme-park novel to some, what with its gate of surfboards, baby goats hopping to and fro, and tours that include the chance to feed the farm’s charming creatures.
But Surfing Goat Dairy provides far more than mere entertainment: As the purveyors of what is arguably the island’s biggest supply of goat cheese—creamy delights that consistently win awards (and was served at President Obama’s inauguration dinner)— Surfing Goat Dairy is not only a staple on shelves both standard and gourmet, but also on menus ranging from The Mill House and Nalu’s South Shore Grill to Humuhumunukunukuapua’a.
And while their cheeses please eaters near and far, they’re also beloved for their dark chocolate truffles with goat cheese ganache.
Spanning 3,600 acres on the tranquil eastern side of the island, Hana Ranch feeds Maui’s meat-eaters with their grass-raised cattle. Seasonal fruits and vegetables are also cultivated on the vast land, with items sold at farmer’s markets and the Hana Burger Food Truck.
Faithful to their commitment as “responsible stewards of the land,” Hana Ranch avers that they’re not just a sustainable business but a regenerative one, “actively working to make the land and our community better each day.”
Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm
New niche farms have Ali’i Chang to think for setting the bar on what’s possible in island farming. Presenting 55,000 lavender plants—and 45 varieties—his creation, Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm, has become a Maui landmark, offering visitors and kama’aina with not only a majestic haven on Kula’s slopes but also the island’s grandest source of the subtle, lovely herb.
Their bath and body products are a staple in many Maui homes, resorts, and spas, while their culinary delights—from lavender strawberry pepper jam to lavender honey—are featured in several restaurants and markets.
Ono Organic Farms
Kipahulu might be best known as housing Seven Sacred Pools and Pipiwai Trail—arguably one of the most enticing (and beautiful) hikes on the island. But the region, just past Hana, has maintained its position as one of the most agriculturally rich parts of Maui with plantations both large and small. Ono Organic Farms epitomizes this, presenting 300 family-owned and operated acres that produce coffee, jackfruit, banana, star apple, avocado, sapodilla, papaya, and more.
Having got its start in 1972, it’s considered one of the leaders of Hawaii’s organic movement, with its owner, Chuck Boerner, having been a founding member of the Hawaii Organic Farming Association. “We feel it’s our responsibility to perpetuate farmers,” says Chuck’s wife, Lily, who, with their 70-plus team, grow bananas for Whole Foods stores throughout Hawaii.
Think chocolate and you might picture the Ivory Coast, where 70% of the globe’s production is grown. But Hawaii’s vitality in the cacao industry, with its tropical climate and excellent growing conditions, may well rise in the coming years—and Hana Gold might just help that become a reality.
One of the first cacao plantations in the islands, the orchard—located on Maui’s remote Eastern coast—supplies islanders with treats ranging from Molokai sea salt chocolate to their uber-popular Kokoleka Bar, which is infused with Tahitian vanilla.
Against pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, the husband-and-wife-run farm also engages with the community, working with the cultural retreat center Ala Kukui to offer chocolate making to residents.
Visit Maui Tropical Plantation in Central Maui and chances are you’ll be swept away by its lush surroundings. Part of that awe is thanks to Hoaloha Farms. With four plots of land—three in Wailuku Country Estates and one above the plantation—the farm’s premier crop, taro, underscores why this region once held the largest continuous taro orchard in Hawaii; six varieties of kalo now grow on Hoaloha in beautiful abundance.
(The farm also cultivates lilikoi, okra, tomatoes, zucchini, bananas, macadamia nuts, and more.) Diners can get a taste of the farm’s splendor at a number of venues, including The Mill House, Star Noodle, Aloha Mixed Plate, Leoda’s Kitchen & Pie Shop, and the Old Lahaina Luau.
Located on Haleakala’s mist-tipped slopes, Oko‘a Farms prides themselves on “full-circle farming”—they create their fertilizers and compost, irrigate their 12 acres from their own tilapia farm, and nurture the goats, chickens, and ducks on the property. The result? 60 different types of organic fruits, vegetables, and herbs, including purple carrots, chayote squash, daikon, raspberries, jicama, and wild alpine strawberries (its diversity ought to not come as a surprise: One of the farm’s founders, Ryan Eareheart, served as the produce manager at health food store extraordinaire Mana Foods for over a decade).
One of the chief suppliers for Fork & Salad—a bustling Central Kihei spot that serves epic salads—the family-run outfit chose the name of their farm because oko‘a translates to “whole, complete, entire”—the most apt word they could find to convey their commitment to sustainability. To which we say, let’s keep that spirit going.