Hawaiʻi Island Farm Favorites

Lehia Apana

Editor's Pick, Featured, Misc.


Prior to settling into the farmer life, I was obsessed with seeing the world. I’ve lived in Chicago, Rome and Sydney, and backpacked my way through Europe and Southeast Asia, only coming back home to Maui for the required holiday check-ins.

Fast forward to 2020. These days, leaving home and the farm for even a day or two sounds like more trouble that it’s worth. Who’s going to water the plants? Or feed the chickens? What if something breaks, or if the neighbor’s animals get loose again and eat our crops? Or what about [insert any number of unexpected and wacky things that can happen on a farm]?

Farmer anxiety is a thing, and I’m pretty sure I feel it every time I think about leaving town. So when a high school friend announced that he was getting married on Hawaiʻi Island, of course I was excited, but also a bit nervous to be away from home. Well, the proverbial sky didn’t fall—a friend fed the chickens and kept an eye on the farm, and upon our return, everything was where we left it.

Rather than a hassle, this time away from the farm turned out to be exactly what we didn’t realize we needed. It was packed with farm visits, market explorations and a chance to connect with other growers.

Take a virtual visit with us by scrolling down.

We arrived at Kona Airport around midday, and our first stop happened to be just five minutes from the airport. The Vanillerie is a small vanilla farm that also offers tours of their operation, which begins and ends at a small but impressive gift shop.

Each one of those bean-shaped fingers is a vanilla pod.

The smells! Once the tour guide opened these doors, everyone got an incredible whiff of curing vanilla.

Our farm already includes several fruit trees, and we’re always on the lookout for new varieties. With that in mind, one of the goals for our trip was to find and sample as many unusual fruits as possible.

We had recently purchased a finger lime tree, and since neither of us had tried one before, we were pretty excited to find some at the Keauhou Farmers Market. The fruit is oblong and contains tiny caviar-like pouches filled with juice (photo above). We took a bit of a gamble by purchasing an unfamiliar tree, but we figured that since it’s essentially lime in a unique form, we were safe. After our finger lime taste test, we were extra excited to get home and plant our young tree. The Keauhou Farmers Market is small but impressive; check it out 8 a.m.-noon Saturdays at Keauhou Shopping Center.

Like its name suggests, the inside of this fruit resembles blackberry jam. I failed to snap a photo of the fruit’s insides, but it’s basically a gooey black spread filled with flat seeds.

This madrono fruit looks like a small, shriveled lemon on the outside. The inside contains a soft pulp that resembles cotton candy and has mild lemon taste.

It was fun to try some unfamiliar fruits, but by the end of our farmers market experience, we agreed that the only one we would plant ourselves is the finger lime. Good thing, ’cause we had one waiting at home ready to be put into the ground!

As chance would have it, we were in town on the same day as the reopening of the Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden (pictured above). This was a pretty cool surprise, and we only knew about the event after flipping through the local newspaper while waiting for our rental car the previous day.

The Garden had been closed for five years due to budget constraints, and this reopening celebration featured speakers, cultural demonstrations, displays and more. We were excited to tour the gardens, which was packed with many of the Polynesian crops that we have planted or planned for our own farm.

Since our farm is relatively young, we need to use our imagination when picturing what our future food forest will look like. We were super excited to turn a corner and arrive at the spot pictured below, which includes a row of ʻulu (breadfruit) trees planted amongst other food, medicine and utility crops. “This is what our farm will look like!” we agreed. It was pretty darn exciting.

Our next stop was by far the highlight of our trip. We visited Eva Lee and Chiu Leong at their tea farm in Volcano (photo above). I’m not kidding when I say this place took my breath away, and I literally had to tell myself to exhale upon entering their tea farm. Eva and Chiu are tea pioneers, and they’ve not only created an amazing farm, but have mentored other farmers across the state and beyond.

Eva was gracious enough to spend the afternoon with us. She did most of the talking, since I’m pretty sure we just followed her around with our mouths wide open in disbelief. (Seriously, her farm is like something from a fairytale.)

We’re standing outside the tea processing area, which doubles as Chiu’s pottery studio. Talk about living the dream.

We’re so inspired by Eva and Chiu. For them, it’s not simply about growing tea as a cash crop. They approach farming from a cultural perspective, and have a reverence and appreciation for tea that exceeds its monetary value.

Eva went above and beyond to expose us to various methods of growing tea. After touring her farm, we hopped in the car and headed for Volcano Winery to visit fellow tea grower Alex Wood. Tea at a winery? Yes, amongst the neat rows of grapes are tea plants. The winery sells tea, and even mixes it into some of their limited-edition wines.

With our inspiration at an all-time high, we soon bid farewell to our host, promising to keep in touch. We headed back to Maui with huge smiles and lots of ideas. So if you’re a homebody farmer (we’re guilty) who is constantly tackling that never-ending to-do list (also guilty), just know that sometimes the way to get ahead is to take a step back. For us, a trip to Hawaiʻi Island was just that.