Kaua`i’s resident “foodie,” Marta Lane, writes about farms and restaurants in local publications and just released her first e-book, “Tasting Kaua`i: From Food Trucks to Fine Dining, A Guide to Eating Well on the Garden Island,” available on Amazon.com. The following is an excerpt from her personal story published in the book “Kaua`i Stories,” a collection of 50 stories about life on the Garden Island by Pamela Varma Brown.
“Living on Kaua`i and writing about the island’s farmers has introduced me to a wide variety of tantalizing fruits and vegetables. More importantly, it has opened my eyes to an artful way of living. Before I moved here, I knew that produce grown on small, family farms was labor-intensive because these farmers work with nature, rather than against it. But until I tried it myself, I had no idea how much work farming actually is.
Two months after I moved to Kaua`i, I took a 12-week organic farming class in Kilauea taught by veteran farmer Jillian Seals, a young dynamo, who also cares for three children and her husband. We students were obligated to work on the farm for 10 hours every week and attend lessons for five hours each week.
Our class started in a big, red barn where Jillian would ask how the gardens looked. In the beginning, we didn’t take notice. Afterward, armed with clipboards and pencils, she led us into the gardens where we examined the plants that didn’t look healthy, noting which section they were in, what types of bugs were on or near the plants, and if the plants were weepy, full of holes or brown in color. Today, my eyes automatically scan a farmer’s garden, noting its health with a quick glance.
The romance of working in a garden filled with birdsong, balmy weather, rustling coconut palms and the sound of waves crashing into the nearby cliffs quickly faded. My legs were achy and restless as I spent hours squatting over rows of hand-tilled dirt, pulling weeds or planting hundreds of seedlings. The heat radiating off the red soil that stained my hands caused sweat to trickle into my eyes.
Since attending that farming class, I have tried many exotic Kaua`i fruits. Perhaps the most alien-looking thing I have tried is the mildly sweet dragon fruit. It’s about the size of a man’s fist, with neon pink skin, and pointy green leaves. These cactus fruit bloom under moonlight and fruit from late July to October. At $6 to $8 each, they are pricy but worth it. Their fragile white flesh, almost like a watermelon, and crisp kiwi-like seeds, are exquisite. I like to chill them in the refrigerator, cut them in half and eat them with a spoon.
From Anahola to Moloa`a and Kilauea to Hanalei, Kaua`i’s North Shore holds the heaviest concentration of Kaua`i’s organic farmers. They don’t grow organically because the label brings them higher prices; small farms barely cover their operating costs. They do it because they believe that protecting delicate ecosystems, the land, sea and people from chemical pesticides and fertilizers is the right thing to do.
Kaua`i’s year-round growing season means farmers markets are always bursting with a colorful selection of sweet and juicy fruit including mango, pineapple, avocado, mountain apple and star fruit. If you’re at the market and you see a strange looking fruit, be brave and try a sample. Farmers are happy to share. Enjoy tasting Kaua`i.”