Driving up the mountain from town early Saturday, the air thinned and cooled as we snaked up the highway. Up above Pukalani, behind the Kulamalu Town Center near Longs, the scene was already pretty crowded for 8am on a Saturday morning. We braved the early morning alarm and the crowd of motivated customers after hearing wonderful tales about the abundance of diverse vendors peddling the freshest veggies, delicious prepared food, and interesting arrays of baked goods, plants, and cut flowers at the Upcountry Farmer’s Market.
Farmer’s Markets, far from being a trendy new thing, are actually a return to tradition, before shipping lines and industrial farming practices created supermarkets and distanced us from the beekeepers who collected our honey, the farmer who grew our daily fare, and the butcher who slaughtered our animals. Farmer’s Markets around our state and the nation have sprung up to connect farmers directly with their customers, creating a shared space for the exchange of healthy, fresh food, and community, and filling one of the holes modern practices have created.
The Upcountry Farmer’s Market contains an eclectic variety to meet the needs of the diverse community it serves. From produce to baked goods, raw to vegan to gluten-free, prepared food ranging from Korean, Thai, Indian, and beyond, and fresh fruits and vegetables of every tropical color, dimension, and variety – this market will hook you up.
Besides the goods, the best part of the market is the wholesome, cheerful vibe. This can especially be felt between the vendors, who emphasize community over competition. During our stroll through the market, vendors encouraged us to check out their friends down the row, talking each other up, and called to each other, joking and sharing news, product, and customers.
In terms of practicalities, some good practices for a visit to the farmer’s market are to BYOB (bring your own bags), and know that part of the process is talking story with your local vendors. Earlier is typically better at any market, especially because many vendors sell out quickly. You might also want to stash some cash for vendors who don’t accept credit cards.
Armed with our canvas bags and dollar bills, we started off needing some initial fuel for our journey so followed our noses to Uma Dugied’s space for Indian food. With no discernable sign or prices, this one-woman show had a line that snaked around her tent, which is usually a good sign. “What would you like, love?” she asked, turning her bright smile on us when it was our turn. Hidden in her big metal pots, she had curries, dal, and other savory, perfectly spiced goodies, with many vegetarian options. We ordered some samosas and moved on, looking for something to drink.
We ended up at the Maui Jun booth, which is kombucha made from green tea and raw Hawaiian honey, according to the enthusiastic and welcoming proprietor Taryn Leigh, who encouraged us to sample everything. Her rainbow of drinks included Kula Strawberry Jam, Lilikoi Tumeric Ginger, and Root Beer. “It’s like honey champagne,” enthused Leigh. It was – delicious and bubbly with fresh flavors.
Right next door, Justin Orr from HI Spice let us pour samples of his hot sauce all over our samosas from Uma. His flavors ranged from Mango Banana to Tumeric Ginger and Smoked Scorpion. Using a variety of local ingredients, like Kula raspberries, pineapple, and dragon fruit, Orr crafts “flavors you don’t see elsewhere,” he said, telling us how he emphasizes flavor over extreme spiciness: “I’m not trying to nuke your face off,” he joked, showing us the heat scale on the back to determine hot sauce tolerance quotas.
From there, we ran into our friends Emma and Trip, who were also out strolling for goodies. “We come here every week,” Emma told us, showing us her basket full of fresh broccoli and pointing us toward some of her favorite booths.
Auntie Pi‘ilani drew us in next. “I have to bring the food Hawaiians eat,” she told us, showing off her wares of poi, kalo, haupia, handmade kulolo, and mamaki tea. In addition to the traditional foods, Auntie Pi‘ilani also offers ho‘oponopono card readings to help people gain a deeper understanding of their present circumstances. The ancient practice is meant for reconciliation, often directed by traditional healers. “It’s like opening the telephone line to the operator,” she said, describing her intuitive reading process.
The next stop through the crowded market was Coconut Willy, one of the hallmark vendors of the market, and my sister’s classmate, who has been vending at the market for 11 years, “back when it was at Eddie Tam,” he told us. He describes the amoeba he picked up while surfing in Indonesia that led him down the coconut-lined path. Nothing helped heal him, except fresh raw coconut water: “I was blessed by the power of the fruit,” he said, and was called to share it with his community. He opened a young coconut for us with his machete.
Right next door were the Byrd sisters of Waiakoa Wildflowers, who grow flowers on their family land in Kula. Zena and Tessa also play music and hand-stitch leather bags. Another set of sisters, Ashley and Lisa of Petaloom Flower Co., also sell handcrafted bouquets of flowers they grow themselves.
Our choose-your-own adventure ended at the Pono Grown Farm table, where there was a beautiful array of fruit and vegetables grown a few miles away in Olinda. Using organic methods, their team of farmers produce a seasonal array of fresh, colorful fare. This day, leeks, carrots, beets, cabbage, taro, and bananas, among others, were on offer.
With the sun rising behind us, and the swelling crowds of families and couples thronging around us, we made our way back to our car with a bag full of veggies, stomachs full of snacks and samples, and a sense of community lodged deeply in our hearts.
Upcountry Farmer’s Market is located at the Kulamalu Town Center near Longs Drugs right above Pukalani, next to the football field. Check it out on Saturdays, 7am-11am.
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Photos courtesy of Lantana Hoke