Dig farm-fresh foods? Be part of growing interest on Maui

Dig farm-fresh foods? Be part of growing interest on Maui
Maui County Farm Bureau’s on a mission to honor its future leaders, cook up tours, demos and contests for Agricultural Month in September
September 25, 2011
By CARLA TRACY – Dining Editor (carlatracy@mauinews.com) , The Maui News
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Mauians love his ripe, juicy Kula strawberries and his sweet, round Kula onions. He’s even launching a pumpkin patch in October, complete with a corn maze or labyrinth, for those in the Halloween state of mind.

But Chauncey Monden, 38, of Kula Country Farms, is not your typical farmer.

In fact, the average age of a Maui farmer is 62.5. Before they age more and retire, we’d better get the younger generation excited about that field, or Maui’s farming lifestyle may just go the way of the dinosaurs.

“It’s a hard life,” says Monden. “With weather, bugs, water bills, taxes, rocky soil, sloped ground, farmlands being sold off, houses encroaching, dust and competition with Mexican and other farmers, it’s tough.”

“There’s a lot of regulations that are difficult to comply with, then you have to market yourself. I don’t have all of the answers. I just know, you’ve got to love it.”

The Maui County Farm Bureau wants to see younger farmers such as Monden have a viable outcome. That is why they named him and 15 others “Future Agricultural Leaders” on our island as part of its September campaign.

The MCFB is also sponsoring a slew of activities that include farm tours, cooking demos, contests, school programs and more through the end of the month.

“We do this campaign because we believe that agriculture matters on Maui,” says MCFB Executive Director Warren Watanabe. “We continue to drive the message of Maui ag’s important role to our economy, culture and heritage, as well as everyday lifestyle.”

The campaign was launched during the Wailuku First Friday event earlier this month. It will ignite interest at its culmination event Saturday at the 89th Maui Fair in Wailuku with the Maui Fire Department Chili Cook Off, featuring Grown on Maui produce and Maui Cattle Co. ground beef.

“Hosted by the Maui Fire Department, the eighth annual Chili Cook Off has grown to be quite a popular, fun and colorful event,” says Maui Fair publicist Carolyn Nishimura. “Monies raised by spectators purchasing sample cups from the various teams will be donated to Shriners Children Hospital Patient Transportation Fund.”

Now, let’s get some background on these future leaders and then we’ll talk about the other events:

THE NEXT GENERATION

Kula Country Farm’s Monden is a fourth-generation Kula farmer. So tilling the soil, riding the tractor and being in the cool and clean outdoors is in his blood.

“When I graduated from high school, my dad sent me off to college and didn’t want me to come back. He knew what a hard life it is to be a farm- er,” says Monden.

So he went to college, graduated with a degree in Finance from the UH- Manoa campus, married his wife, Teena, a native of Kaneohe, and they had a child.

“We kind of wanted to raise our kid on the 55-acre farm and my dad was getting ready to retire, so we returned here to do it. It’s been about 12 years now. We grow strawberries, snap peas, beets, beans, sweet corn, long daikon and Kula onions all on our farm that’s on the makai (ocean) side of the highway from Rice Park in Kula.”

They’ve got a cute-as-a-button farm stand there and it’s getting more orange every day with a huge assortment of pumpkins. But if you want to take a pumpkin tour, reserve a spot soon as it’s filling up fast.

“My wife just put in a children’s garden area this year. It’s for kids to know how different plants grow. We have a bunch of gourds. We’ve been harvesting Indian corn and we’re setting up a corn maze. You’ve got to get creative. The farm stand is really helping us out. We also deliver to stops such as the YMCA with bags of fresh produce for pickup.”

How does he perceive the future of farming here?

“To get to the younger set, we need to tell them that it’s going to be rewarding. It has to be viable. I think big questions are: Will they give us a discount on water? Reduce our taxes? Will they differentiate between fake ag and real ag? You know, the guy with two acres and one banana tree getting all of the breaks. It’s got to change.”

Hokuao Pellegrino, 32, is the cultural-resource specialist for Noho’ana Farm in Waikapu, which grows kalo, the Hawaiian name for taro. Kalo is a starchy tuber pounded to make poi; it’s also processed into crunchy purple and white chips, and its leaves are wrapped with meats and fish in the popular Hawaiian dish, laulau.

“When did I get into farming and how? I started farming kalo when I was 18 after I discovered two uncommon native kalo varieties growing in an abandoned ‘auwai (irrigation ditch) in the Waikapu Valley,” he says.

“I became a kalo farmer due to the kuleana (responsibility) bestowed upon me by my ancestors who were kalo farmers on kuleana ag lands in the ahupua’a (a complex Hawaiian division of land in a pie shape from the top of the mountains to the sea) of Wailuku and Waikapu.”

“I was inspired by and learned from many farmers such as Kyle Nakanelua of Wailuaiki, Paul and Charlie Reppun of Waiahole, Jerry Konanui of Puna, Morgan Toledo of Waipio and Anna Palomino of Hoolawa.”

Maui’s “future leader” learned from the best of them, and he has a vision to guide others. But he knows why the average age of farmers is so high and that he has to handle the next generation with kid gloves to get their interest.

“Farming is hard work and today’s generation is taught not to value it in our current society. My vision for growing Maui’s next generation of farmers in Hawaii starts with education,” says Pellegrino of his dream,”through the development of a K-through-12 DOE and private-school agricultural program.”

“Maui’s elementary-school students focus on the importance of where and how food grows via school gardens; middle-school students develop pono or ‘righteous’ natural resource management practices through project-based learning; and high-school students acquire ag-related skills and begin to set goals for a specific career track in Hawaii agriculture through college and career guidance,” he explained.

Another person tapped as one of the 16 future agricultural leaders in Maui County is Ryan Luckey, the executive chef of Pineapple Grill in Kapalua.

“The role of a chef in buying local, well, it starts by asking for local first,” Luckey says. “A lot of chefs may just order produce from their purveyors and not even specify that they would prefer local over a U.S. or international market.”

But Luckey always ensures he specifies the “H-1” standard when ordering.

“Getting on the phone once a week with my farmers or my distributors, is another way, just keeping in touch, asking what is in the ground, what is on its way, that way I can always plan a dish around what is abundant at a particular time. It is basically up to the chef to make sure he/she is getting what they want. You have to ask the questions and never assume. If I say I use local, I better back it up and keep my contacts near and up to date on what I am doing in the restaurant.”

Luckey will join the lineup of other Maui chefs who have been cooking up a storm at Whole Foods Market Maui in Kahului recently in the month-long Agriculture Awareness campaign.

His cooking show will top off the demos Monday from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. in the store. His featured dish is a signature at Pineapple Grill and it’s off the scale in taste, aroma and presentation.

Come and watch Luckey make ahi, crusted with wasabi peas and pistachios, which he serves with coconut-scented forbidden rice, garlic-Asian greens and exotic mushrooms in wasabi-soy butter.

Other chefs who did cooking demos earlier this month were Tylun Pang, executive chef, The Fairmont Kea Lani; Garret Fujieda, executive chef, The Westin Maui Resort & Spa; and Caroline Schaub, chef, O’o Farm. Coming up at Whole Foods Market Tuesday will be a demo by the Maui Flower Growers Association.

“I have also been involved with Warren and Charlene Ka’uhane in helping plan and coordinate our Maui County Ag Festival over the past two years, and plan to help again this coming spring, specifically in the Taste Education formats, to help get our ohana and keiki aware of what we grow in Hawaii, and why we should eat more local produce as well as products,” says Luckey.

“The next-generation farmers have inherited familiar issues from their predecessors, but they are acting in fresh, hands-on ways to find innovative solutions,” says Watanabe. “We can’t wait to find out more from them.”

Born and raised on Maui, Walter Evonuk says he is a third-generation farmer who derives ideas from a degree in architecture obtained in the Bay Area.

“I find a deep satisfaction in producing products that nourish myself and others,” Evonuk says of his crisp leaf lettuces, aromatic herbs and specialty beans. “I wish for Maui to be able to feed itself with fresh produce grown primarily locally.”

Tom Mason is the Youth Development Agent for the UH Hawai’i College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.

“When students learn how to integrate current, emerging trends in technology into traditional agricultural practices of the past, they can consistently improve upon managing our natural resources wisely,” says Mason. “And (they can) meet increasing consumer demands in ecologically and personally responsible, sustainable ways.”

The new Haliimaile Pineapple Co’s president and CEO, Darren Strand, 38, explains why the average age of a Maui farmer is so high.

“Land leases are expensive and short term. Land purchase with the hope of returning on investment with an agriculture business may not be possible and many of the available areas to farm don’t have consistent availability of water.”

Strand started farming as a teenager and as a young adult he worked on a ryegrass farm in the Willamette Valley of Oregon to help offset the costs of college.

“I worked for the Del Monte Fresh Produce on its pineapple plantation on Oahu for five years before moving to Maui to work for Maui Pineapple Company in 2005,” he says.

“Then when Maui Pineapple closed it doors at the end of 2009, several of us, including Rodrigo Balala and myself, felt strongly that there was a niche to continue to growing and selling the wonderful Maui Gold pineapples with a leaner, more focused approach.”

He attributes his success to local contributors, the amazing commitment and skill of his work force and the unbelievable support in the marketplace by local consumers.

“That’s why we have been successful at continuing with our Maui Gold operations.”

Other “Future Leaders in Agriculture” honorees on Maui are Claire Sullivan, who does the community relations for Whole Foods Market Maui in Kahului; Rick W. Volner Jr., of Hawaii Commercial & Sugar Co.; Pomai Weigert of Alii Kula Lavender Farm; Bryan T. Otani of Otani Farm; and Lynn DeCoite of L&R Farm on the island of Molokai.

“I love to see things growing and to watch people enjoying what we grow,” says DeCoite of her sweet potatoes.

“I spend my days planting, cultivating and harvesting my tubers, and I am passionate about supporting all agricultural endeavors in my Molokai community.”

“Agriculture is deep-rooted and brutally honest,” Weigert says.

“We are in this business so we don’t lose it. And part of that is to keep the money in the community, on the island and in the state.”

“These future agricultural leaders are committed to continue the farming legacy of Maui County,” says Watanabe. “Aware of the challenges facing Maui agriculture today, they have the skills, the energy, and the vision to chart clear, new pathways for thriving island communities – all with local food production as the key.”

Here are some way you can support local ag:

SLOW FOOD MAUI

The Slow Food Maui Taste Education Series is co-chaired by publicist Ka’uhane and Chris Speere, program coordinator for Maui Culinary Academy at the University of Hawaii Maui College campus in Kahului.

Slow Food Maui presents its eighth session: Poultry with Bobby Santos Wednesday in two sessions in MCA’s Paina Building.

“Having grown up with chickens, ducks and pigeons, Santos knows firsthand how to care and raise domestic poultry,” says Ka’uhane of the retired MCA instructor, who, by the way, was spotted back at the college last week filling in for one of the other teachers.

“Bobby is also an expert in poultry fabrication (butchering) and a practitioner of traditional food practices and culture,” says Ka’uhane.

Part One: Introduction to poultry breeds and raising and caring for poultry runs from 5 to 6 p.m.

Part Two: Introduction to chicken/ poultry fabrication will run from 6 to 7:30 p.m. and you get to sample Maui chicken, cooked, of course, served with salad.

This year’s final session is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 26. Ralph Giles and Daniel J Southmayd, owners of Catering From Soup to Nuts, will help you plan the perfect dinner party.

“Let these catering experts provide practical advice from meal planning and cooking to table settings, hosting etiquette and more,” says Ka’uhane.

Register and pay online at www.slowfoodmaui.org.

LOCALICIOUS

Localicious, Dine Out Maui is a restaurant promotion that was designed to boast ag sales by serving local food. It was created as a three-course menu, but now chefs create their own Grown on Maui salad and set their own price, while pledging $1 from the sale to Growing Future Farmers fund that is managed by the nonprofit Agricultural Foundation. So eat healthy and you’ll benefit a future farmer.

Participating restaurants are: Hula Grill; Duke’s Beach House; Ko at The Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui; Honu Maui by Mark Ellman; and Pacific’o and I’o.

“Maui chefs have a direct influence on Maui ag and its sustainability due to our broad customer base and our ability to showcase the quality of Maui-grown products,” says Jenna Haugaard, the general manager of Flatbread Co. in Paia on the North Shore.

ENTER A CONTEST

Tell your story about what you cook day to day and include a photo and you just might be one of two families to win a two-night stay at Fairmont Kea Lani Maui in Wailea or the Westin Maui Resort & Spa in Kaanapali. But enter now as winner will be announced on Oct. 3.

You also get breakfast or lunch for four and a one-hour cooking class in the Grown on Maui – Home-cooked Meals contest. For more details go to www.mauicountyfarmbureau. org.

“When we fully appreciate what it takes to farm and what our farmers provide, we will all want to purchase from the local farm. And that is all it takes,” says Watanabe.

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