I wouldn’t say that I’m big into organic or even healthy foods, not normally at least. It wasn’t until I was in college when I first started to appreciate vegetables and even now we have a testy relationship. That’s why even I was surprised when I was excited to eat a plate of fried tofu and edible flowers at one of the best farm to table experiences in the world.
One of the most unexpected surprises I enjoyed on Maui was the driving. For an island I did a lot of driving and not once was I ever bored by the constantly changing scenery; from rainforests near Hana to vast fields of sugar cane blowing in the wind closer to shore. That’s why I didn’t mind the half hour drive from the luxurious shores of Wailea to the highlands of Maui and the impressive O’o Farm.
O’o Farm began in 2000 as the brainchild of two Maui restaurateurs who wanted to offer high-quality, Maui grown ingredients to their diners. In that time they’ve transformed eight-acres of Maui upcountry to a working model of sustainable farming and eating. Of course I didn’t know any of that when I pulled up into the driveway of the farm to join about twenty other visitors for a unique tour and lunch.
Soft-spoken farm manager Richard Clark was our guide for the day. This gentle soul looked as if he walked out of an LL Bean catalog in his pressed, powder blue sweater and broad rimmed farmer’s hat. He looked better in his work clothes than most people usually do at their best and just exemplifies the incredible attention to detail that is reflected in every facet of the farm.
We were there to see the farm in action, but Richard made it clear that we would also be picking our lunch along the way for Chef JJ Johnson to prepare. As we walked through the neat rows of lettuce and tomatoes, the views kept demanding my attention. There in the distance was one of the most amazing scenes on the island; the valley spread out below us and the surf could be seen in the distance. This was tropical perfection in every sense of the world, but not in the way you’d imagine. No palm trees or surfers clutter the upcountry of Maui, instead it’s American expats who are just looking for a better way of life. A strong, pioneer-like work ethic is the order of the day instead of lazing about the beach.
It was a lovely day, as most are on Maui, and even I was surprised at the quality of the produce on the farm. I tried an edible flower that tasted like garlic and amazed myself by enjoying the experience. A skeptic by nature I’ve never believed that fresh, organic produce was any different from what I can find at the grocery store, but O’o proved me wrong in less than an hour. I know, you probably don’t believe me and I wouldn’t either, but it’s true; nothing beats the taste and flavor of produce made with love and attention in small batches.
It’s not all edible flowers and cabbage though, the farm is also continuing the tradition of fine Hawaiian grown coffee. Most coffee connoisseurs know the reputation that Kona coffee has, and with good reason. Hawaii is unique in the United States in having just the right soil and weather conditions to produce truly exceptional coffee. It was with this in mind that the owners of O’o Farm decided to start growing 100% Maui coffee, which is just as rich and flavorful as Kona.
Finally, the tour concluded and miraculously Chef Johnson had quietly prepared our lunch. Looking at the huge dishes of food I was a little skeptical, but decided to throw caution to the wind and try it anyway. I heaped portions of tofu and salad greens on my plate and sat back to enjoy a leisurely lunch outdoors under a canopy of trees. And you know what? It was amazing. The tofu was flavorful and when served with the fresh greens created an explosion of taste and flavor.
I sat there with friends, sharing a glass of wine, laughing and gazing out across the island wondering if life could ever be better than at that moment. And that is the true pleasure of a great dining experience, more than the taste and health benefits, it’s all about the ability to enjoy it with friends and to create a moment that will be remembered for a lifetime.