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Oct. 8, 2007 by Judy

That Brazilian Maui Pineapple You’ve Got There Might Be From Mexico.

During the four days of September 11, 12, 13 and 14, 2001 (yes, THAT September 11th), the scales fell from my eyes. You see, for four days there were no flights into or out of the islands. In addition to all the usual things that didn’t ship in here—tired lettuce from California, hard plums from Oregon, pale mealy tomatoes from Texas, dented grapes from Brazil, exhausted cherries from Washington (and toilet paper from wherever toilet paper comes from)—there were all the things that couldn’t ship out. And lucky, lucky us. We got to keep, and eat, the baby lettuce mixes from Upcountry. The huge and buttery avocados from Huelo. Taut, flavorful bananas from Haiku. Fish caught off Lahaina and Paia and Kuau. Gorgeous, deep red tomatoes from Kula. And, OK, nobody had toilet paper--but in a pinch, if it came to that, well, there are banana leaves.

For about four days we got to see what it is we grow here, and catch here, and send away from here for other communities to feast upon. Produce and other food that flies away to the hotel strips in Waikiki, to the specialty markets in Los Angeles and Portland and Seattle. For about four days, while we waited to see what would happen next, we ate really well.

And then the flights returned and with them, the mealy tomatoes and the limp lettuce.

I had already been thinking about island sustainability, and I have to admit that this little window into what could be really gave me hope. Unlike Japan and some other island nations, I think that we could feed ourselves and our families and guests here, with our own efforts, our own hands, our own tomatoes. And I think we should start moving in that direction, soon.

Here’s a thought: the current population of the State of Hawaii hovers somewhere around 1.2 or 1.3 million. We’re kind of a mobile population and a lot of humans flow through here, but that’s a fairly close estimate. Now, when the Cook and La Perouse and Vancouver expeditions came here in the late 1700s, the estimated population was AT LEAST THAT. Some historians put the number even higher. You have to mentally redistribute the population a bit, as in those days, unlike now, Oahu did not have the undue burden of supporting nearly a million people all by herself. But still, it’s a fascinating thought—300 years of tumultuous change and the population sort of settles out the same (but not demographically, as Native Hawaiians make up only about 2% of the population now)(yikes). But think: that ancient population managed to feed itself without the help of imports from the continents on either side. We may someday be called on, again, to figure out how that’s done.

Here’s a fun little number for you: here in Hawaii we currently import about 85% of what we eat. That’s right, that means that we only feed ourselves with 15% homegrown, homemade foods. Remember, part of the reason for that is that we ship some of the best of what we do away. Who would we be, what quality of life would we have, if we let the continents take care of themselves and kept the best of our best for ourselves?

One way you can dip your toes into that kind of eating is to try to eat local—and by that I mean not only avoid chain restaurants (unless they buy local as much as possible and can prove it), but also buy your own food from one of the Farmer’s Markets. I’m a huge fan of Farmer’s Markets—not only because you can wander around eating as you go (try doing that in Safeway) but because you get to see the fabulous healthy bounty of real food, food that was on a tree, in the ground, or in the ocean just last night or this morning. My favorite Farmer’s Market in the whole world is the one held in Hilo on the Big Island every Wednesday and Saturday. Go in there and it’s like Eden under a tent. Take 20 bucks and come out with more produce than you can carry, as well as homemade, home baked, home crafted yummies of all descriptions. If you’re going to the Big Island, don’t miss it.

Here on Maui there are a few Farmer’s Markets scattered about, some of them in counterintuitive places like the two malls in Kahului. Look for one on the corner of Vineyard and Main in Wailuku, and on the north end of South Kihei Rd. in Kihei, across from the Canoe Hale. Here’s a schedule I plucked off of the Maui Visitor’s Bureau website:

Honokowai Farmers Market on Lower Honoapiilani Rd. across from Honokowai Park ?Monday, Wednesday, Friday, 7 am - 11 am?? 'Ohana Farmers Market at Kahului Shopping Center by Ah Fooks Supermarket, Ka`ahumanu Blvd.?Wednesday, 6 am - 1 pm?? 'Ohana Farmers Market in Queen Ka'ahumanu Center, Ka'ahumanu Blvd., Kahului?Friday, 8:30 am - 2:30 pm ?? Kihei Farmers Market at Suda Store location on N. Kihei Road?Monday, Wednesday, Friday, 1 pm - 5 pm?? Wailuku Farmers Market in County parking lot on Market Street?Monday-Friday, 8 am - 6 pm

And for a story on a farmer producing locally for the locals, check out the Rob Report in this week’s Maui Time Weekly—here’s the online link: Rob Report

Another place to revel in just-picked, just made items is along the road to Hana. Fruit and smoothie stands abound, some of them vividly painted and busy with business, some of them understated and sweet—tables in a yard with a handmade sign and an ‘honor box’. I sat with an Auntie for half an afternoon near Hana as she told me how all the kids in the family scour the jungle for fruit for her fruit stand, as well as work the trees in all the family yards. She fanned herself and her sleeping grandchild as the cars shooshed by on the road, everyone in a big hurry to get to Hana so they could turn around and hurry back. I munched my way through tart, divine passionfruit and perfect apple bananas while a sweet-eyed dog slept on my foot.

But back to the pineapple.

Pineapple was brought to Hawaii in 1901. Before that it had been cultivated most widely in the West Indies and South America, from which it originates. It’s a bromeliad, a tropical, wet-loving plant. Historically, pineapple was big business in Hawaii. However, its influence has faded in the last few decades as countries with larger ag lands and bigger ag infrastructure have outpaced Hawaii in output, and because of that greater output, have out-competed Hawaii in prices on the world market. And so it has come to pass that you can find Mexican-grown pineapple in Safeways from Kahului to Kihei.

Until the next world event parks the planes for a while.

See you at the Farmer’s Market.

Until next blog,


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