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open mind, empty stomach

travel, food, and fun

I had been a very inactive member of my university system’s Slow Food Chapter, Slow Food KCC (Kapiolani Community College), but things changed when I received an email about a Maui trip. Maui is my favorite island in the Hawaiian archipelago and there was no way I could pass on a club subsidized ag-tour. Our wonderful president, Gida and culinary student/amazing person Wendy did all of the work setting up this great trip. Thanks ladies! Wendy has an auntie with a beautiful house/protea farm in Kula that she was kind enough to let us stay at for the weekend.
We arrived in Lehue at about 9 am and our first stop was Roselani Tropics Ice Cream. It’s a family owned and operated ice cream maker/Coca Cola bottler and we received a tour and got to sample some of the product. Sweets aren’t really my thing and I don’t touch soda unless there’s booze in it, but it’s always good to see a local business hanging in there.
Our next stop was Ulupalakua Ranch, a part of Maui Cattle Company. The story of the ranch was as beautiful as the views. Ranching has a long history in Kula and the current owners of Ulupalakua have written one of the best chapters. Thousands of acres have been protected from development, native plants have been reintroduced, electric prods and whips are not used, rotational grazing was implemented, and alternative energy is used to power the facility. There is also a winery on the premises, which we got to tour and sample. This was the first time in my life that I couldn’t finish pours at a tasting. The stuff was horrible. We had lunch at the restaurant and, unlike the wine, it was very good.
From the ranch, we proceeded on to Shim Farm. Casey Shim looks like he is about 106 years old and does all of the work on the farm himself. He is a retired school principal, Army officer, and a really happy guy. He refers to his home/farm as “utopia” and I believe him. He produces coffee and flowers, has 2 horses and grows a variety of fruits. I really enjoyed our short time at his little farm and didn’t want to leave.
For dinner, we returned to Wendy’s aunt’s house and cooked together. Being the only non-pro/pro-in-training, I relegated myself to salad duty and let the experts do their thing. Dinner was delicious. The steak prepared by our special guest, chef at the Honolulu Convention Center and great guy, Jacob Silver was a real treat.
The next morning we went to the Maui Community College Swap Meet/Farmers’ Market. It was geared primarily towards tourists and a lot of the “farmers” were selling produce that came from the continent.
Next, we went to Maui’s hippy enclave, Paia and had pizza for lunch at Maui Flatbread Company. I had eaten there on a previous trip to Maui and, once again, it was good. We had a brief stop at the fledgling Maui Olive Company. A family has taken advantage of upcountry’s unique climate and started an olive orchard. The trees are only one year old and will not produce fruit suitable for making oil for another 2 years, but it looks very promising.
Our next stop was another one of Wendy’s auntie’s houses, Upcountry Farm Specialties. Wendy’s auntie and her husband, a retired Swiss chef, own and operate UFS. They were a very intelligent, happy, and welcoming couple. It was evident that there was a woman’s touch here. Casey Shim’s utopia seemed like the creation of lone man with ADD compared to this well organized, meticulously maintained operation. Don’t get me wrong, I liked both very much, but they were different. UFS grows coffee, christmas trees and a variety of exotic fruits and vegetables. The unique microclimate of upcountry Maui enables them to grow nearly everything imaginable. There was a peach tree growing next to a pineapple plant and, during the winter, they can actually grow brussels sprouts in Hawai’i!
After we tasted a variety of jams and spreads at UFS, we went to Surfing Goat Dairy. Surfing Goat seemed very commercial after our previous trips to small operations, but was still enjoyable. We got to tour the facilities, milk goats, and sample cheese.
We went ‘home’ and caught a beautiful sunset before the hour long drive to Star Noodle for our splurge meal of the trip. Star Noodle is the hottest new restaurant on the garden isle and we were all looking forward to it. The chef has weekends off and wasn’t there for our meal. I’m hoping this is the reason why things were not cooked properly and that our experience was an exception. The menu comes from all over Asia and looks extremely promising. The problem with our meal is that things simply weren’t cooked properly and that is what matters in the end. The service was great and we got to tour the kitchen, but the meal itself was a disappointment.
Wendy’s Auntie’s house is located just 30 minutes from Hale’akala, and I couldn’t be that close and not watch the sunrise. Only one of my traveling companions was willing to wake up at 4 am to make it to the summit in time for the birth of a new day. Charles and I went up and witnessed a beautiful sunrise, then enjoyed the scenic drive back to the house. It was Easter Sunday and everyone worked together to produce a delicious easter brunch.
After brunch we went to Alii Kula Lavender and got to walk around their lavender farms. It wasn’t really my thing, but the grounds were pretty. From there, we went to Haiku Maui Orchids to check out a self sustaining tilapia pond and orchard farm. Flowers aren’t really my thing, but there were some pretty cool/exotic ones.
The ‘happy ending’ to our trip was Maui Brewing Company. Our gracious host came to give us a tour/tasting on Easter Sunday and it was really enjoyable. As much as I love Kona Brewing Company, MBC is the REAL local brewery in Hawai’i. I was fortunate enough to sit next to a non-drinker for the sampling portion and managed to get a very solid buzz on. We went to MBC’s nearby restaurant for our last supper and had more delicious beer with a good meal.
This was an amazing three days and, by the end of the trip, all of us were seriously considered moving to Kula. Each place we visited offers similar tours and I highly recommend checking at least some of them out when in Maui.

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