Where Farmers & Food Form A Community
As I drove up the hillside I had a hard time coming to terms with my destination. I had turned off the radio a few miles back as the reception was a torturous crackle; this had left me with the sound of the wind and the grind of my windshield wipers pushing aside the steady drizzle.
I looked out my window; the clouds were low and grey, the grazing cows did not look happy - even though the grass looked lush. The sheep and goats did not appear to be overjoyed either, it was true Highland spring weather, the only thing was, I happened to be traversing the roads on the Big Island of Hawaii not Scotland!
My mission was to visit Kekela Farms in Kamuela, a five-acre parcel of land that grows with organic practices and produces some of the most eye-catching, pallet-pleasing produce you will find anywhere. I had seen some of their lettuce in the kitchen at the Four Seasons when I was visiting a few days before, the Exec Chef and supporter of all things local James Babian connected me with owner Paul Johnston. A couple of days later I set off from the sunny coastline and climbed to 2500 feet above sea level to make my house call.
Paul has been grown produce all of his life, but it is only over the past few years that his passion has become his profession. Prior to the nurturing and delivering of produce, Paul was a doctor delivering and nurturing babies…
His original goal was to raise crops that did not compete with neighboring farms, initially he toiled with berries, but those same neighbors encouraged Paul to switch to a predominant crop of baby lettuce, the local cash crop.
As we walked the land I was struck by the diverse agricultural gems that were coming to life, a dozen lettuce varietals grew alongside crops I would not have expected to see, fennel and chard, artichokes and celery root, sterling European crops, not the tropical spread that I had expected. Paul is one of those farmers that a chef just loves. He is smart enough to grow crops that pay the bills, but passionate enough to grown the unexpected and connect with his customers to grow upon request. “They are not real money makers,” he explains “but they are fun to grow. Over the year we sow thirty different vegetables harvesting over one hundred varieties”.
In addition to selling to the Four Seasons, Hyatt and Fairmont, Paul has his own farm stand twice a week, located at the edge of his property, it’s a trek to get there, but that does not discourage the locals. He also spearheads a local farmers’ market where he asked me to join him the following Saturday, he promised to buy me breakfast if I showed, but from what I had seen, I needed no incentive.
Waimea Town Market is made up of a dozen or so stands. In a region where nearly everything is gauged towards tourists it was amazingly refreshing to see something alive with the community, local people shopping, local farmers and artisans selling – neighbors helping neighbors thrive. Paul introduced me to everyone, despite the damp morning, the vendors were like rays of sunshine, so warm and welcoming, I instantly felt like I belonged. Their offerings are delicious; homemade pâté de fruit, dried tropical fruits, a chef cooking waffles and eggs, rustic breads baked on site in a mobile wood burning bread oven, and shining like jewels - the produce of Paul Johnston’s vegetable stand.
I reflected on my discovery. This was not Hawaii as I knew it, the sandy beaches and tourist shops had been exchanged for rugged, lush landscapes, roaming livestock, bountiful farms and a community gathered by a market’s crafts. And even though it was a cool, damp day, I thought my smile could not get any bigger until Paul reminded me, “hey I owe you breakfast”.
The Kekela Farm Market
64-604 Mana Road
Tuesday & Friday Afternoons 2pm – 5pm
Waimea Town Market
at Parker School
Saturday Mornings 8am – 2pm
By: Jeremy Emmerson
Jeremy is a British born, Texas living, professional chef of twenty-something years. He is the founder/publisher of GlobalChefs.com, kinda cheeky, somewhat dyslexic, but pretty much an okay sort of guy.