Grown Here Not Flown Here: Napili Flo Farm with Monica Bogar
Monica Bogar is a self-taught soil geek. At first glance, it would seem ironic that she owns Napilo Flo Farm, which is an aquaponics operation. In fact, Bogar has engineered a very unique and proprietary system at her farm that utilizes every resource: soil, water, worms, fish, nutrients and bunny poop, all with several upcycles in between.
“Before I started farming, I was really into the soil,” says Bogar. “I was making my own compost, treating the soil as a living organism. Once I got that down, I got the whole ecosystem going in my garden. From flowering and budding stages to the knowledge that tomato grows good with basil, and all of the reasoning in between.”
Napili Flo is a specialty farm on the upper northwest side of the island. There, Bogar is the MacGyver of aquaponics. She’s crafted her own closed loop system that uses nutrients in the fish ponds to grow the plants. The soil is organic and watered by the ponds, and her vermi-garden even feeds the fish. She describes aquaponics as the marriage between aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (raising plants in nutrient solutions), but she adds her own twist.
“I would look up a lot of stuff online,” Bogar says of her soil research. “I would ask other farmers. It’s still a lot of trial and error. I practice crop rotation and companion gardening to keep the soil balanced for the next cycle. For example, legumes send nitrogen into the ground. Then the next crop can be a plant that requires a lot of nitrogen.”
Bogar has eked out space around the family land and home, where it’s all about efficiency and utilization. In her commercial operation, she raises micro greens from red shiso, basil and celery to red amaranth and cilantro, and lots of watercress. The watercress is sold micro, petite and in full grown tips. She also grows edible flowers, marigolds, begonias, Johnny jump ups, viola and nasturtium.
Some of them are quite tasty. I grabbed a begonia petal and popped it in my mouth. A surprising blast of citrus flavor erupted from such a light petal. What’s more, the marigolds are piquant–their texture and taste are nearly incongruent.
These exquisite and delectable additions to farm-to-table dishes have local chefs clamoring for these beauties. It’s the same for the micro greens–young veggies lend delicate texture and flavors to dishes, and provide a nice finishing touch as well as foundation seasoning. I could literally eat handfuls of her watercress. I’m not alone, either: chefs like Mark Ellman, Isaac Bancaco, Sheldon Simeon, Francois Milliet, Pulehu Sous Chef Wesley Holder and Jojo Vasquez love to use them. You will find Napili Flo Farm products in the cuisine of Mala, Leilani’s, Star Noodle, Pacific’o, Lahaina Grill, Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas, Pineapple Grill, Andaz, Migrant and Plantation House.
Bogar searches and buys only non-GMO organic seeds. Her soil is organic as well, fortified by her homemade compost. Waste is a consideration in all her designs, and she says she recycles and reuses everything at least three times before it gets retired. She also has catchment containers, and other obvious signs of her ingenious recapturing of resources dot the farm’s landscape.
“All my ponds catch water and I catch water off the roof,” says Bogar. “In all of my operations, I try to figure out how to reduce waste. The idea behind the the closed loop aquaponics is it does not lose water. Everything on this farm gets used two or three times. I upcycle, and designed the system to utilize effectively.”
Bogar’s interest in growing started with the humble family garden. To this day, she still grows what she wants to eat, and sells bumper crops at the Napili Farmer’s Market. She says that during the winter months everything takes a bit longer to grow, but come February she will be back to the market on Wednesdays.
Napili Flo grows and sells tomato, eggplant, lettuce, kale, Asian greens, lilikoi, garlic, chai, mint, rosemary and basil. You will also find her with fresh wheatgrass flats and a juicer selling shots. The wheatgrass, grown with the Napli Flo brand of aquaponics, has amazing flavor that she attributes to her specialized soil and system. You can also find her wheatgrass shots at agriculture events like Ka’anapali Fresh and the Ag Festival.
Her worm farm, aka vermi-composting, is so successful that she sells them on Craigslist. Bogar is also raising rabbits for food–another sustainable project in her garden. She shares the proteins with family and friends, and says it’s an ongoing protein revolution. She captures their vegetarian droppings for the soil and saves pelts for future use. As usual, everything gets used.
Her operation is compact, but even her loftiest goals don’t include a giant machine driven operation. She says her farm shouldn’t need to burn fossil fuels to grow. Keeping her carbon footprint small is part of her biggest dream.
“In a perfect world I would love to have two to three acres,” says Bogar. “A one-acre green house is my dream. I would have a bigger crop and grow a lot more food. Just big enough before I would need heavy machinery. I wouldn’t want to have to depend on fuel.”
All Photos: Sean M. Hower