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).
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.
The Kailua High School athletic program will tend to a Thanksgiving imu and is offering space inside for trays of food.
Food goes into the underground oven on Nov. 24, emerging the next morning steamed full of luau flavor.
Cost is $15 per large foil tray. Food — such as whole turkeys, roasts or pork butt (meat chunks should have three deep cuts in them), sweet potatoes, taro or luau leaves — must be thawed, seasoned and well wrapped in foil. Drop in pan and wrap again in foil. Weight limit per tray is 25 pounds.
Reservations due by Nov. 17. Make checks payable to Kailua High School and send to the school, 451 Ulumanu Drive, Kailua 96734. Write “Attention IMU” in lower left corner of the envelope. Include your name, telephone number and a self-addressed, stamped envelope so a confirmation ticket can be sent to you. To be included in an e-mail list for future imu, provide e-mail address as well.
Call 266-7910 or 728-7389.
» 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,”
PO’IPU — Damage from heavy rains and floods and the resulting repairs were the basis for the selection of this year’s Outstanding Water Conservationists by the Kaua‘i Soil and Water Conservation Districts.
Rodney and Karol Haraguchi, Hanalei Valley taro farmers, were selected as the East Kaua‘i SWCD honorees for their outstanding work in conservation and protection of the Hanalei Valley water resource, said Ted Inouye, representing the East Kaua‘i SWCD.
The presentation was made before the 49th annual Hawai‘i Water Works Association convention, Thursday, at the Grand Hyatt Kaua‘i Resort & Spa.
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
KAHULUI – Maui Nui Botanical Gardens will host a kalo (taro) workshop Sept. 4 to 6 led by Hawaiian cultural practitioner and mahi’ai (farmer) Jerry Konanui as part of its new education program, “Ulu Ka Hoi” (to grow interest).
This three-day event will educate local farmers and practitioners on the varieties of kalo available, techniques to identify these varieties, proper cultivation methods and cultural applications. Participants also will have the opportunity to learn innovative wood- and stone-sculpting methods using modern equipment.
Space is limited and daily fees apply. Call 249-2798 to reserve a place.
WAIHEE – At its mouth, the Waihee River was only around a foot deep Monday afternoon – but that was good news to Scott Fisher of the Maui Coastal Land Trust.
Fisher was monitoring conditions in the first hours after Wailuku Water Co. restored water to the river, carrying out the terms of an order by the state Commission on Water Resource Management in June that the company return 12.5 million gallons per day to two of the four streams that make up Na Wai Eha.
Fisher said the water in the river was at about the same level it would typically be during the rainy season, and it was noticeably colder than it would normally be on a mid-August day. The water restoration would almost certainly mean healthier plants and animals in Waihee River, he said.
Wailuku Water Co., which diverts the stream for users including Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co., had opened some of its diversion gates at Waiehu Stream on Monday as well.
Commission member Dr. Lawrence Miike, who oversaw the contested case hearing, originally recommended that half of Na Wai Eha’s water be returned to all four streams. But the other commissioners did not agree and no water was returned to the Iao and Waikapu streams below their diversion points, while less water than he recommended was returned to Waihee and Waiehu streams.