Big Island Hawaii Farmer’s Markets and Co-Ops
Some of my best memories of this gastromic journey through the Big Island, Hawaii was enjoying the abundance and community spirit of the Island’s Farmer’s Markets. Farmer’s markets and flea markets are everywhere in Hawaii. Some of them are true, certified markets; some are farmers banding together in a parking lot; others are lone stands on the side of the road.
There are so many places to buy fresh vegetables and fruits on the Island; I have included a guide on the bottom of this post, that highlights most of the farmer’s markets on the Big Island. I will highlighted three farmer’s markets and a farmer’s co-op that I feel best represented the local family farms. On the mainland we tend to think of farmer’s markets as an occasional event or a place that granolas/food geeks frequent. In Hawaii, farmer’s markets are simply a way of life for the local population.
The Big Island, Hawaii is more than tropical fruit!
“The Big Island, Hawaii is endowed with a varied climate, tropical and temperate, and wide varieties of tropical and temperate vegetables are grown on the island. It produces over 80% of the state’s head lettuce crop, 70% of the Chinese cabbage and celery crops, over 50% of the daikon crop, 36% of the cucumber crop, and 20% of the tomato crop.”
Waimea is the primary vegetable-growing area on the island. There are about 30 farm businesses engaged in growing vegetables on 800 acres of land. The vegetables grown in Waimea including lettuce, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, carrot, broccoli, cauliflower, daikon, sweet corn, cucumber, eggplant, pepper, radish, Italian squash and onion.
In the Mt.View area, tomatoes and cucumbers are produced while the adjoining Volcano area produces Italian squash and cauliflower. The Kona area produces tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, peppers, and watercress. Almost 6 million pounds of chinese cabbage, 1.5 million pounds of tomato and cucumber, 1.7 million pounds of daikon, and 1 million pounds of celery and lettuce are produced per year from these areas. These vegetables are available in Farmer’s Markets in Hilo, Waimea and Kona, and other supermarkets throughout the island.*Extracted from: http://milo.pacificprotech.com/bigislandag/vegetables.html
The Waimea Farmer’s Markets
The Waimea Farmer’s Markets are considered to be the premiere farmer’s market on the Big Island, Hawaii. Since Waimea has a moist climate and higher altitude, it excels at growing vegetables and fruits. Waimea does not attract many tourists, therefore its farmer’s market is geared towards serving locals.
Waimea Town Market
The market sells everything from local vegetables, fruit, plants, and flowers, to fresh cooked food and artisanal craft food. The day we visited the market, the northern part of the Island was being hit by a major storm. As we got there, the crowds were driven away and some vendors were taking down early. I asked one of the vendors if this is typical, and he just laughed and said, “The only reason we get these beautiful vegetables is because of the rain, come next weekend when we don’t have a storm and this place will be packed! That is, unless it rains.” He proceeded to give a big belly laugh, acknowledging the variability of the storm.
Even with the limited attendance, I got a great feel for the local culture at the farmer’s market. We interacted with a couple of locals who told us that they visited this market once a week for vegetables. The produce vendor Kekela Farms had a fresh selection of locally grown produce including purple potatoes, carrots, sweet onions, lettuce, cabbage, daikon, parsnips, broccoli, and squash. Waimea is the Island’s vegetable garden, and much of its produce is featured on local restaurants’ menus.
I sampled a couple of their leafy greens and they were so flavorful that I didn’t think they would need salad dressing. I asked the farmer when it was picked, and he said, “Everything here was picked early this morning, our vegetables never sit around.” There is something to be said about eating really fresh vegetables — the flavors are really amped up, and you can actually taste the influence of the local soil imparts on the natural flavors of the vegetables.
One of my favorite artisanal craft food vendors was “Honomu Jams and Jellies.” This vendor uses organic fruits grown at Akaka Fall Farms and does not use water, preservatives or high fructose corn syrup! Natural ingredients result in awesome flavors. This vendor featured over 30 types of jams, jellies and butter.
I purchased the standard coconut syrup and tried it on my macadamia nut pancakes — delicious! The syrup had a wonderful coconut flavor and clean aftertaste. I also added a tablespoon of it to a dark rum drink I concocted this past weekend. All the ladies loved it. Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker…in this case, you have the benefit of both!
I had a great experience at the Waimea Farmer’s Market, even with the rain. If you are coming for the farmer’s market, be sure to look at the weather report. No matter what the weatherman says, always bring a jacket; the weather changes quickly in Hawaii. On the plus side, there are great rainbows.Parker School
65-1224 Lindsey Rd
Kamuela, HI 96743
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Waimea Homestead Market
I did not get a chance to visit this Farmer’s Market due to a busy itinerary, although I will be covering it in this post because it is one of the most respected markets. This Farmer’s Market started in 1992 when a group of five families came together to bring produce from their family farms to a collective market . Since their humble start, the market has grown significantly to include additional vendors such as agricultural, horticultural and nursery producers. The focus at this market is agricultural items, keeping the market pure to it’s roots.
The pictures from the Homestead Market and some of the Waimea Town Market were taken by local food writer Joan Namkoong, who visited the market to take these awesome pictures! Please visit her site as well to get a local’s perspective of the Island http://www.shareyourtable.com. She has been instrumental in growing the farmer’s markets on the Hawaii Islands and is an accomplished writer with several published books including, “Food Lover’s Guide to Honolulu.”
If you plan on visiting the farmer’s markets in Waimea, be sure to look at the weather report. No matter what the weatherman says, always bring a jacket; the weather changes quickly on this part of the Island. I personally watched a couple tourists, still in their flip flops and tank tops, get soaken-wet in the thunderstorm. There is a reason some of my pictures of the market had to be retaken by Joan, my camera got wet during the storm! Even though it is 85 degrees at your resort in Wiakoloa Village, Waimea is a different climate zone and you might get chilly. If you don’t follow my advice, at least you have your beach towel ;). On the plus side, there are great rainbows in Waimea, when the sun comes out.
64-759 Kahilu Road located at Kuhio Hale Building
Waimea, HI 96796
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Keauhou Farmers Market (Kona)
Further south on the Island, in Kona, the farmer’s market selection starts to get a little more tropical. You begin to see more tomatoes, cucumbers, lychee, and avocado, bananas and tropical fruit. We stopped at the Farmer’s Market in Kona, off Ali Drive.
Be advised: there is a flea market/produce market nearby that also sells farm fresh produce, although the one further south is a certified farmers market.
You will find an extremely nice collection of farmers selling awesome fruit and vegetables. Walking around this market is a cross-section of locals and tourists. If you like people-watching, this place is for you! For the locals, the farmer’s market seemed like the old town center were you stop to catch up with each other over big smiles and laughter. Tourists from all dialects seemed to be enjoying themselves as well, as they were awed over novel produce and as they took in the local culture.
I ate myself silly on fresh lychee and avocados from this market. I seriously think that I ate the best lychee I’ve ever tasted from the Kona Farmers Market. It was juicy, sweet and had really nice aromas. Living in southern California, we have great access to imported lychee, although there is nothing like eating lychee that slept in the trees the night before. I ate almost 30 of them in one day! I actually went back to the Farmer’s Market for more.
I also tried the biggest and freshest avocado I’ve ever had at another stall in the market. The avocados were the size of a baby’s head! Seriously, they were the Mr. Universe of avocados! One of the vendors was a 90+ year old woman selling lettuce, avocados and fruit. I was picking through her avocados, looking for a ripe one to eat with lunch. The lady touched my hand and said,
“Aloha, let me show you to how to select…pretend like you are cooking a steak. If it is soft like a rare steak, too ripe… If it is soft like medium-rare steak, then eat today… Hard like medium-well steak , eat tomorrow… Hard like a frozen steak, don’t buy…. only good for throwing at thieves.”
She gave me an smile and thanked me with a “maholo” for my purchase. When I got back to my room I made fresh guacamole, using the skin of the avocado as a bowl! I then scooped my Hawaiian guacamole using the freshly made Kona Chips we picked up in Captain Cooks. Somehow my wife and I managed to eat the entire giant avocado.
*Keauhou Farmers Market every Saturday morning from 8am to 12noon – Keauhou Shopping Center, 78-6831 Alii Dr., Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.
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Fruit and Lei Stands on the side of the road
Some of the best fruit comes from farmers who sell their fruit and vegetables via the “honor system” from the side of the road. We stopped three times for roadside goods: once for passion fruit, once for papaya and once for leis. Yes, I got lei’d on the side of the road by my wife…hehe. The bad part is that she tried to make me wear it around town, but I refused….
Kona Pacific Farmer’s Cooperative
Like more tourists who visit the Kona Pacific Farmer’s Cooperative (KPFC), you are on your way to Kealakekua Bay to see the Captain Cook Statue (Captain Cook fell victim to cannibalism, by the way, but that’s another blog post entirely). Nestled along Napo’opo’o road is the KPFC visitor’s building. This compound not only has a visitor’s center, but a coffee mill, roaster and self-guided tropical farm tour.
If you are a foodie, this is a must-try location. This is the largest Kona Coffee Cooperative in the United States and is owned and operated by 32 family farmers, who specialize in Kona coffee, macadamia nuts, chocolate, and tropical fruit. When we visited, the shop was manned by an extremely friendly and knowledgeable worker, who offered us over 20 different samples and explained each one in great detail. My favorite foods at this shop included their Peabody coffee (expensive, but worth very cent), Jackfruit and all types of macadamia nuts.
The coffee mill and roaster is a very large operation that would be impossible for a struggling family farm to run by themselves. Although with 32 other like-minded farmer members, the Co-OP is achieving longevity and financial independence by sharing their strength. The Co-op has been processing Kona Coffee and selling it to the public since 1910. This operation processes over two-million pounds of coffee cherry a year! WOW.
The coffee, fruit and nuts are not cheap here, although you are getting the absolute highest quality and maximum freshness. Also, the “Kona Blend” that you might pick up for a couple bucks at the ABC shop is not really 100% Kona — it is typically a blend of coffees, including some that might not come from Hawaii. Coffee purchased at this co-op is the real thing, and if you are a fan of coffee and have a discerning palate for higher end coffee, I do recommend visiting this location to experience their variety of high-quality, farm-fresh products. Their coffee, made from 100% hand-picked Kona No. 1 grade or better beans, is farmer owned, grown, and processed.
*82-5810 Napo’opo’o Rd
Captain Cook, HI 96704
Special Thanks for Joan Namkoong for the pictures of the Waimea Farmer’s Markets!
Link to the other Hawaii Gastromic Journey Posts
- Hawaii Gastromic Journey Part 2 – Hole in the Walls, Mom & Pop’s
- Hawaii Gastromic Journey Part 3 – Big Island, Hawaii Farmer’s Markets and CoOps
- Hawaii Gastromic Journey Part 4 – Wine, Honey and Coffee, Hawaii’s Artisanal Farmers
- Hawaii Gastromic Journey Part 5 – Sketchy, But Awesome! Carts, Shacks, Dives
- Hawaii Gastromic Journey Part 7 – While Visiting Volcano Park, Awesome Things to Eat
- Hawaii Gastromic Journey Part 6 – Fine Dining (coming Nov, 2012)