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Buy local. Eat healthy. Innovative farmers in Kula, Maui

Buy local. Eat healthy. Innovative farmers in Kula, Maui

Maui is a great place for farming for a few reasons.  The volcanic soil is rich in minerals, the warm weather allows for year-round production, and the upcountry with its consistent rainfall and sun provides lush conditions that are extremely conducive to farming. Most farms are located on the lower slopes of Haleakala – a dormant volcano – in an area known as Kula. Two amazing Maui farmers located here are Gerry Ross of Kupa’a Farms and Ryan Earehart of Oko’a Farms.

It's lesson time at Kupa'a Farms, Kula, Maui
It’s lesson time at Kupa’a Farms

Gerry Ross, a former geologist, now owns Kupa’a Farms with his wife, Janet.  The two started Kupa’a Farms in 2003 and are driven by providing organic produce that is rich in nutrients and flavor while also maintaining the soil by constantly feeding it healthy compost, replenishing nutrients and keeping the soil alive. They believe in creating a full-circle system that turns what others would consider waste into usable product on the farm. Today, Gerry and Janet are growing a large range of organic produce, that includes fruits, vegetables and coffee.  They also provide volunteer opportunities every Monday morning, allowing other like-minded individuals to come help weed and plant in exchange for a box of produce from the farm.  And for those folks who have a deeper interest in farming, the couple also offers extended stays and work trade opportunities. Gerry’s produce is available to the public for purchase every Wednesday at Waipuna Chapel in Kula.

Coffee flowers at Kupa'a Farms, Kula, Maui
Coffee flowers at Kupa’a Farms

With ecotourism on the rise globally, many tourists go to great lengths – and often great expense – to travel to remote locations and volunteer their work to conserve the environment and to benefit local communities. Visitors to Maui have the opportunity to do the same, but without the expense. Staying in Maui vacation rentals and having your own kitchen to cook the fresh produce received in exchange for your work on a Maui farm is an additional bonus.

Ryan Earehart of Oko’a Farms, a family owned business in Lower Kula, is known for his passion of growing produce that is impossible to find anywhere else on island.  His current fruit selection includes: apple bananas, black raspberries, citrus, longan, rambutan and mangosteen. Oko’a Farms also has a wide variety of herbs such as chives, cilantro, parsley, mint, oregano, nasturtiums, purslane (an edible succulent) and a few local items including aloe vera, rue, spilanthes and lemongrass.  Ryan is an expert in root vegetables.  Yacon, a type of Peruvian ground apple is grown on the farm alongside taro, radishes, turnips, parsnips, purple carrots and cassava. The produce from Oko’a Farms never ceases to amaze the community here. It is substantial, healthy, unique and flavorful. His produce can be found in restaurants all over the island and is available for purchase to the public every Saturday 7 am to 11 am at the Upcountry Farmers Market and every Wednesday at Waipuna Chapel.

Purple cabbage, kale and radicchio on Oko'a Farms, Kula, Maui
Purple cabbage, kale and radicchio on Oko’a Farms

Maui farmers like Gerry and Ryan are transforming and shaping the agricultural community on the island.  Through their passion for honest and authentic farming, they continue to give back to the land, a lifestyle known as, “malama-aina”. The phrase literally translates to “to care for the land” and this way of life is widely embraced by the community here. By committing to organic farming they are not introducing any types of harmful chemicals and pesticides into the local ecosystem.

Beyond the work they do on the farm, they are also very involved in the community.  Gerry offers consulting and design services, an “Agriculture in the Classroom” program which goes into classrooms of all levels from grade school to college level, teaching students about agriculture, opportunities and organic farming practices.  Ryan Earhart with his passion and enthusiasm, continues to educate the community and local chefs on Maui about his unique produce and farming methods.  And with the recent closure of major sugarcane plantations such as HC&S on Maui, Ryan is still growing, harvesting and machine squeezing fresh sugarcane right on the farm.

Kupa’a Farms and Oko’a Farms are on the forefront of the transition from plantation crops to the biologically diverse agriculture. Having the biggest number of climates in the world, the richest soils, and every known form of renewable energy, Hawaii is the perfect home for innovators in farming.

 

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