I recently had a remarkable experience at Maui’s O’o Farm, an organic farm that lies on eight acres of pristine land which has been sustainably maintained and biodynamically cultivated. It is a true “farm-to-table” experience, starting with learning about the plants and trees on the property and the vision of the chefs, owners and farmers, to tasting the end result amidst organic gardens and the misting forest of Waipoli.
They’ve been around since 2000 when surfing buddies turned successful restaurateurs, Louis Coulombe and Stephan Bel-Robert purchased upcountry land with a citrus and stone fruit orchard and a few coffee trees. By upcountry, it means that they’re above the ocean and there’s a bit of a micro-climate that exists as a result.
While I was driving to the farm, the sun was beating and I was sleeveless but by the time I reached them not even 30 minutes later, I was ready to put on a light jacket and the air was cool and misty.
Today, O’o Farm matures with Hawaiian coffee and fruit trees, rows of lettuce and garden vegetables, greenhouses with flavorful tomatoes, herbs and flowers that supplies upscale Lahaina eateries Pacific’O, I’O, The Feast at Lele, which I wrote about, and Aina Gourmet Market.
Its northwest exposure and 3,500 foot elevation on the slopes of Haleakala provide a breathtaking view as well. Nearly every distinctive bio-ecosystem is represented in Hawaii, so imagine the diverse number of trees and plants that can be found across all of its islands.
Ancil Clancy (above), is responsible for all things “trees,” so we went on a journey with him to learn about what he brought in, was caring for, and why. He grew up on a ranch and barley farm in Monterey County around gardeners and has worked in forestry and agriculture his entire adult life.
Trees need a different kind of care. “A tree is much longer crop,” he says, “you wouldn’t treat a three year old like a ten year old, right?” He understands the cycles of trees and that’s where he puts his emphasis, from macadamian nut and mulberry trees to brown turkey figs, avocados and coffee plants.
They have 1,150 coffee trees on the farm but they also grow a diverse number of others, including fuju persimmons, white sapote (known as the tropical pear), citrus orchard (5 varieties of lemon), lime, tangerine, tangello, pamello, mandarine orange, kafir lime (yum, love these), buddhist palm, almonds, loquat, peaches, plus, stone fruits, pink verigated lemon and more.
Below is coffee cherry:
We took a stroll through the citrus grove:
“We don’t over irrigate here, but it is harder to grow summer-only vegetables and fruits here, such as tomatoes, cucumbers and squash,” says Richard. It was clear that he was passionate about organic farming, sustainable living and taking care of the land. He spoke about how the so-called sustainable movement started in the early nineties.
Prior to farming, he was a food and beverage manager, so his role at O’o Farm is a perfect fit for the marriage of his food and restaurant skillset with his farming background. Sometimes he spends time at Pacific’O Restaurant in Lahaina, the owner of O’o Farm, acting as the Farm Ambassador. What a cool title I thought when I heard this. Pacific’O obviously uses the food that is produced on the farm, so they’re strong believers in sustainable food and farming and organic living.
Some of the fresh dishes they offer on their menu includes a tropical ceviche, oysters served over a wakame salad garnished with sesame aioli and radish sprouts, as well as fabulous salads such as a sesame seared fish with island salad greens or their roasted Maui onion goat cheese salad served with a smoked tomato dressing.
While I didn’t get to try it, check out this delicious sounding pasta dish which they recommend pairing with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc: Pasta Ele Ele, a blackened fish served over whole wheat spaghetti, tossed in a cilantro pesto, organic green papaya, shitake mushrooms, fennel and a mango creme fraiche. Wow!
The land is lush and green and nearly everywhere you look, there’s something to grab off a tree and eat.
Ancil referred to the wood chipper tractor sitting smack in the middle of the gardens as the “backbone of the composting operation.” It’s their carbon source for all their composing; the goal is to get rid of the nitrogen ion the farm.
As a person who loves wood — the smell, the sight, the feel of it — I could have spent a whole lotta time hanging out with the volume of wood chips on the grounds, as odd as that sounds.
There’s something about the feel of wood, especially when its right next to the earth that makes you feel grounded somehow.
Combine that with cool fresh clean air and an environment that is full of lush plants, vegetation, trees, fruit and vegetables and you’re bound to feel more connected to the earth.
In their garden, they have arugula, kale, purple asaka, mustard, spinach greens, tatsoi (a mild nutty flavored mustard green), carrots, root vegetables, kohlrabi, eggplant and more. Root vegetables apparently grow well in their climate so it’s no surprise that they perform well says Richard.
They do border crop the garden with marigolds to keep the pests away. We were encouraged to sample a bit of everything as we picked garden greens for the salad we were going to dive into at dinner, including edible flowers. My favorite were these scrumptious dragons whisker shoots. Love love love them!
We then were introduced to JJ’s Kitchen, the chef on-site. Essentially his kitchen is the garden, nestled outside among it all. He cooks lunch for guests there several times a week. Take a look at his culinary palace:
Below chef JJ Johnson sauteeds some vegetables on an open flame. Like the other members of the team, he has a passion for all things organic and cooking. Prior to coming to Hawaii, he had 22 years experience in Seattle restaurants, Campagne, Place Pigalle, Matt’s in the Market, Tilth, and Whole Foods Market, where he ran a cooking school there and on private yachts.
It wouldn’t be complete without coffee. As they like to say, “unlike other coffee blends, Aina Gourmet Coffee is a single origin coffee offering unique characteristics derived from the land and offering Aloha in every cup.” Below are the machines and the team that make it all happen.
Then it was time to eat what we just learned about, experienced, and saw, outside on a blue pine tabletop milled on the premises, with eucalyptus benches.
Starting with a little fruit.
The food was SO fresh and so delicious that I could have gone back for fourths and fifths had I not been able to move after my second round. The “chicken-fried” tofu with sea salt was quite possibly my favorite.
The menu du jour that we sampled included: Fresh Hayden Mango slices (from Lahaina) & Kula-grown Strawberries, Raw O’o Farm Vegetables (Kohlrabi, Red Beets, Baby Carrots, Rutabegas, Chiogga Beets, Watermelon Radish), Just-picked (by us) Garden Salad including O’o Farm lettuces, Arugula, Sorrel, Nasturtium Flowers, Purslane, Tat Soi, Purple Osaka Mustard Greens, Fresh-baked Ciabatta Bread with Extra-Virgin Olive Oil & Organic Balsamic Vinegar for dipping, “Chicken-Fried” Tofu with Multi-Colored Beets, Rutabegas, Red Russian Kale, Siberian Kale, Swiss Chard, Rutabega Tops & Beet Greens, Wok-Seared Monchong with Stir-Fried Kula Onions, Baby Carrots, Kaffir Lime Leaf & Juice, Olive Oil & Purple Shiso Leaf, and to top things off, Homemade Dark Chocolate Truffles with Agave Nectar & Hayden Mango slices with their Aina Gourmet Coffee (Maui-grown, Red Catuai #16). Whoahh Nelly, right?
Below is a video of Ancil telling us a story.
Below, we learn about their coffee process.
More videos in general can be found on the We Blog the World YouTube channel.