Even during the coldest time of the year, gardener Suky Sung Lee enjoys her taro, the “potato of the tropics.” She doesn’t eat the tennis-ball-size tubers, but rather the strips of the fibrous stems, which she peeled and dried in the sun last summer to make torandae, dried taro strips. She also uses them for yukgaejang, a spicy beef and vegetable soup.
She could harvest her taro roots as well, but those are already available in ethnic markets. Dried taro strips for soup are much harder to find. In the summer she also harvests the outside leaves every few weeks, being careful not to deplete any one plant too much, thereby starving the root.
“If you want to get good roots, you also cut the flowers before they bloom,” said Lee, who gardens at Ocean View Farms, the community garden in Mar Vista. “I take out all the flowers so the nutrition doesn’t go to the flowers for seeds.”
Taro (Colocasia esculenta) is also known as “elephant ears” for the shape and size of the leaves, but the Korean name, “egg from the earth,” is perhaps more to the point. Thought to be one of the earliest cultivated crops, taro originated 10,000 years ago in what is now India and Malaysia, but it has spread worldwide. Although it performs best in tropical locations with high rainfall, such as Hawaii (where it is the basis for poi), it’s also grown in the hills of Nepal. In Japan, taro was once more commonly eaten than rice.
IN YOUR FRIDGE / Farmers’ market managers, Pamela Boyer and Annie Suite have joined hands with local farmers to create Oahu Agri-Tours. There’s no fancy farmhouse or massive farm machinery; what you see is what you get. You’ll experience first-hand how farmers are committed to practicing clean, organic farming.
Poamoho Farms is one of the farms on tour, and guests learn how the fruit orchard uses natural pest management and fertilization methods. Tin Roof Ranch farmers Luann Casey and Gary Gunder butcher their chickens the day before selling them at the market.
Na Mea Kupono wetland taro farm practices old school taro farming methods that most locals don’t even know about. Here you can also watch a traditional poi-pounding demonstration.
At Mohala Farms you’ll see how simple and natural farming is still possible (and still exists).
HANA – The 19th annual East Maui Taro Festival will be held from Friday through Sunday in Hana.
Activities will include traditional foods, arts and crafts, cultural demonstrations, music and hula.
Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., there will be Makali’i voyaging canoe tours and rides at Hana Bay, weather permitting.
Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the festival will unfold at Hana Ballpark with entertainment along with food and craft sales, Hawaiian cultural demonstrations and a nonprofit informational tent.
Sunday from 7:30 to 10:30 a.m., the taro pancake breakfast also will offer loco moco bowls. Tickets are available with varying prices.
At 11 a.m. that day, the National Tropical Botanical Garden-Kahanu Garden and Pi’ilanihale Heiau will be open to tours, followed at 2 p.m. with a Kapahu Living Farm tour in Kipahulu.
For more information, call 264-1553 or see www.tarofestival.org.
When Daniel Anthony first tried selling fresh, traditionally prepared paiai two years ago, he found out that pounding the taro was the easy part.
It was much more difficult to sell it.
Anthony said that before the Department of Health shut down his small business, he was pounding and selling almost 10,000 pounds of taro a year, with another 15,000 a year used in his educational workshops. Now he can’t sell any of it.
“The (Department of Health) told me I couldn’t sell poi off the board,” Anthony said. “It’s not poi, though. It’s paiai.”
Paiai — young, unfermented and undiluted taro ground with a traditional lava rock and wooden board — first came under scrutiny by the Hawaii Department of Health in late 2009 when Anthony was cited for using traditional porous implements that could not be completely sanitized.
But a pair of proposals now before the state Legislature could make Hawaii’s food code compatible with this traditional Hawaiian food preparation practice. The bills would create an exemption for cultural practitioners like Anthony to sell their paiai, provided they sell directly to consumers, attend a food safety class, maintain hand-washing facilities and label their products as traditionally made.
» Where: Haleiwa Farmers Market, at Kamehameha Highway and Leong Bypass near Haleiwa Beach Park
» When: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday
» Call: 388-9696 or e-mail HaleiwaFarmersMarket@gmail.com
Recipe contest (call or e-mail for details), poi-pounding demonstration, talk story with North Shore kupuna, taro farm tours, dishes by Hawaii chefs, makahiki activities and entertainment. Plus, taro submissions to break the Guinness world record (call or e-mail for details).”
In a Hawaiian genesis story, a stillborn baby’s grave site grows the first taro plant, which feeds his younger brother, the first Hawaiian. The tale is at the root of the culture’s reverence for taro, called kalo in Hawaiian.
“Poi and family are one and the same,” says Aunty Betty Jenkins, a North Shore kupuna who is one of the guiding forces behind Haleiwa Farmers Market’s taro festival on Sunday. “Kalo connects us to all Hawaiians, to all of our neighborhood, to all community. It’s very spiritual.”
A new generation is now standing alongside elders like Jenkins to perpetuate taro’s cultural relevance. For Daniel Anthony of the organization Mana Ai, that effort centers on eating. “First and foremost, Mana Ai promotes the eating of taro in any way, shape or form,”
Molokai is blessed with many Hawaiian taro varieties, in part due to the vision of the late Martha and Cowboy Otsuka in seeking out and preserving these legacies. Also, under the direction of Alton Arakaki and Faith Tuipulotu in making huli available each year at the annual Molokai Taro Field Day.
With the advent of drip irrigation and water distribution systems, taro can be grown in areas where it could never grow before. In the past, dryland taro was only grown in the uplands in mulch where seasonal rains were sufficient to bring the taro to harvest.
Most varieties will mature between eight and 12 months, and keeping plants actively growing is the key. Taro loves water, and along with fertilizer, will flourish before your eyes. Dryland taro is distinguished from wetland taro in that the latter grows in water ponds or lo`i. Different varieties were selected for these two conditions. Taking a soil sample of your planting area is the first step in growing upland taro. Call our office at 567-6932 for more information on taking a soil sample.
The biggest challenge in growing taro is weeds