Farm to table has become all the rage in the last few years, and for good reason. Many people want more than just a meal, and they want to eat it with a clean conscience, knowing that is was made in a kind and sustainable manner. High above the bustle of Maui’s beach scene is a charming farm tucked into the green countryside that embraces this belief.
O’o Farm in Kula is a charming farm perched on the hillside, peeking out from the billowing fog that often frequents their land. My friend and I were met by our guide, Ancil (who has the job title of tour guide, server, bus boy, barista and composter) at the entrance and joined by a very friendly couple from Oregon. Most tours range from 8-20 people, but we were lucky to have a more intimate group. The moment the farm tour started, it became very apparent how much this company truly respects the land they farm on. These 8 1/2 acres sit 3,500 feet above sea level and they have found themselves growing a “culinary adventure”. From olives to coffee beans to stone fruit, this mediterranean climate is able to produce items not usually found on a tropical island. Funnily enough, they’re too cold to grow many of the tropical fruits, and the rainfall is only about 30 inches a year. They’ve found some success with growing subtropical fruits, however, like cherimoya and loquats. On the tour, you’ll get to pick some of these straight off the tree. Taste testing doesn’t get fresher than that!
Ancil pointed out the surrounding forest of wattle trees, known for being a huge pest to grow around but also being very beneficial because of its high nitrogen levels that it transfers to the soil. These trees didn’t hold much significance until I found out that they nearly saved the upcountry lifestyle after a widespread Kula fire wiped out almost all of the vegetation in the early 1900’s. Today, these trees are used for the wood fire stove and are chipped up and used in the compost.
This farm was actually the brain child of Pacific’O Restaurant in Lahaina, who are dedicated to serving local and sustainable dishes. They were running into an issue on acquiring what they needed and keeping their commitment to local produce, so they got creative and started their own farm to cut out the middle man. We walked down lines of citrus trees, winding through rows of swiss chard, mustard greens and candy stripe beets. Their herb garden would win in any contest and their edible flowers were as beautiful as they were tasty. However, their pride and joy was a small red berry on a tree.
Coffee is a passionate topic for many, from a morning necessity to slowly sipping it to ascertain notes of mocha and cherry. This farm family started their coffee hobby by roasting their own beans in the tool shed. What began as a small interest has now become ardent pursuit of the perfect cup o’ joe. Their stunning roasting house, which is built with recycled wood, sees these lovingly grown beans from bean to cappuccino. It’s rare to drink a cup of coffee on the land that the beans were grown, roasted and brewed!
Ancil regaled us with a plethora of unique facts about goats being the first to discover coffee beans, the fool-proof method of lasagna gardening and O’o Farm’s future in olive pressing. On cue with our grumbling stomachs, he handed us over to the chef in the rustic outdoor kitchen. Looking perky considering his 6 am arrival at the farm, Chef Daniel proudly showed off his basket of freshly picked fruits and vegetables that would be a part of our dining experience. The colors, the fragrance of lemongrass and kaffir lime drifted our way.
After Chef Daniel entertained us with the impending feast that he’d be preparing, Ancil reappeared and guided us to their roasting house to get up close and personal with their passionate pursuit. Their passion is in good company, as coffee is the second most traded commodity after oil. And now O’o Farm is jumping into the competitive coffee ring and entered the 2015 Cupping Competition, a prestigious statewide competition that crowns someone with the coveted Grand Champions of Hawaiian Coffee award.
The lunch bell rang and we made our way over to the buffet, where skillet crispy tofu mingled with candy stripe beets, yellow beets and rainbow carrots. A dish brimming with juicy brined chicken was next, paired with blood oranges, kaffir lime, rutabaga and hints of rosemary and cardamon. The fresh catch of the day was Monchong, which was perfectly moist and flaky. This delectable dish boasted flavors of caramelized Florence fennel and elephant garlic with lemongrass and kaffir lime leaf. We proudly piled on a mixed green salad and citrus vinaigrette from the bounty we had just picked from the garden. Lastly, and possibly my favorite, was the wood fire focaccia bread, still warm from the stove.
We relished in each bite, and the freshness of each dish was so apparent and appreciated! As the fog slowly started rolling in, perfectly timed french press coffee pots were brought out for our sipping pleasure, and was paired with house made dark chocolate truffles.
This culinary experience was more than just a fun time or a great meal. It connected us to the entire process from the growing to the picking to the cooking to the eating. For anyone that wants to take home once in a lifetime memories that include more than just the beach, this is a must do!
To read up on another commentary of this incredible farm, visit this O’o Farm Review.