Maui Part II: The Island’s Bountiful Agriculture and Aquaculture
Napili FLO Farm
If former massage therapist Monica Bogar has her way, Maui restaurants will some day spotlight organic snails on their menus.
After all, there’s already a waiting list of restaurants eager for the mollusks she is growing aquaponically in ingenious systems devised by her and her Uncle Tony. I had a chance to visit their homestead on the west side of the island, during my trip to Maui, courtesy of the tourism and conventioner’s bureau.
An urban farmer for the past 12 years, Bogar started her Napili FLO Farm a year ago. She now sells her microgreens, edible flowers and watercress to Maui restaurants such as Star Noodle, Hula Grill, and Pineapple Grill, the latter where Isaac Bancaco is chef and a huge supporter of hers.
Pick you way through Uncle Tony’s backyard to find a miraculous series of tanks — built from scavenged items, including styrofoam boxes, old fish tanks and a grandson’s former wash tub. “We are aquaponics dumpster-divers,” Bogar says proudly with a chuckle.
Indeed, it’s rather amazing what they’ve created here with a series of closed, sustainable systems, in which tanks of tilapia sport growing beds on top, with each in a sense feeding one another. Waste from the snails and tilapia, which she and her uncle also raise, fertilize the watercress, strawberries and even tomatoes they grow that are connected to the tanks. Moreover, her microgreens are fed with manure from her rabbits and chickens.
A mere one pump is needed to provide water to the highest tank, the run-off of which then drips down to the tank below, and so on and so on, until it is recirculated through the system again.
The next time you visit Maui, keep your eyes glued for Monica’s snails on restaurant menus. It does take as long as five months for snails to grow to size, though. So, just be patient for them to start making their appearance.
In 2004, Canadians Gerry Ross and Janet Simpson converted her father’s property in Maui to an organic farm after he passed away.
Maui residents couldn’t be more pleased at the results, as the 16-acre Kupa’a Farms grows a plethora of pristine produce that is so coveted that it sells out every week at the Upcountry Farmer’s Market. The couple also are the only ones to grow commercial garlic on Maui. They have won awards for their coffee, too.
Their farm is a lush wonderland of 40 different types of fruits and vegetables. Look around to find huge heads of lettuces, avocado trees, papaya trees, mango trees and plenty of taro.
I even got to try a fruit I’d never seen or heard of before — an ice cream bean. Native to South America, it resembles a banana or plantain. Peel it to reveal segments of white, slightly cottony flesh with a big seed inside each one. Take a bite and you’ll be mesmerized by how sweet and juicy it is, not to mention how it actually does have the flavor of vanilla ice cream. Amazing.
Flowering trees have been planted to encourage pollinators on this organic, sustainable and biodynamic farm. Their sugarcane also is used to sweeten the home-made passion fruit juice they sell at the farmer’s market.
Farm tours are available. You can also enjoy Kupa’a Farms’ produce in dishes at Market Fresh Bistro.
Maui Grown Coffee
Who can travel to Maui without enjoying — and bringing back home — some great coffee?
The Maui Grown Coffee Company Store is your one-stop shop for some of the best coffee around to buy brewed in cups or as green or roasted beans packed in bags.
I was lucky enough to enjoy a tasting with Jeff Ferguson, vice president of Maui Grown Coffee, which is the grower of Ka’anapali Estate Coffee in the West Maui Mountains near historic Lahaina. The 500-acre estate produces about 400,000 pounds of coffee annually.
They’re also the only growers of the Maui Mokka Peaberry, originally from Yemen and considered one of the world’s most highly rated coffees.
Only 2 percent of the estate’s small Mokka crop results in the peaberry, one round seed inside of the coffee cherry or fruit rather than the usual two. The rare coffee is smooth, chocolate-y, and yes, quite a lot like mocha in taste.
Sixth Annual Maui County Agricultural Festival
Maui is awash with farms that grow fabulous produce, which brings me to the main reason I was visiting the island — to help judge the annual Ag Fest cook-off , in which 12 chefs and 12 farmers were paired up to each create one spectacular dish using a featured main produce ingredient.
Some of the spotlighted products included breadfruit, taro, English peas (which, yes, can be grown on tropical Maui, albeit at a higher elevation where it’s cooler), and Napili FLO Farm’s aforementioned snails.
On an especially torrid afternoon, my fellow judges — which included esteemed Hawaiian Chef Peter Merriman, and popular Canadian travel blogger, Ayngelina Brogan of BaconIsMagic — and I tasted dish after dish to come up with the one that best showcased a Maui-grown ingredient.
There was much back and forth. But in the end, we chose the tempura whole baby rainbow carrots dressed with a sweet soy glaze and furikake by Executive Chef Tylun Pang of the Fairmont Kea Lani Maui Resort.
New this year to the festivities was a live cook-off, in which six Maui head chefs, faced off two by two, against one another to create a dish in all of 30 minutes using Maui coffee and a “mystery basket” of ingredients that included kabocha, pandan, flank steak and peppers.
We judges felt for the chefs, who had to cook under the fierce, broiling sun without an iota of shade. As the rays beat down, they scrambled over hot burners to finish their dishes as Merriman and Chef Sheldon Simeon of Star Noodle provided commentary of all the action.
These dishes were much more difficult to judge, as they were all executed quite well for the most part.
But it was the flank steak with mushrooms, a creamy corn sauce, pomegranate, chiles and a coffee espresso gastrique that won us all over in the end. Executive Chef Jojo Vasquez of the Plantation House had created an incredibly elegant dish under quite trying conditions that we applauded mightily. Until next year’s Ag Fest crowns a new winner, he’s got bragging rights.