PHOTOS: RICHARDSON/OAHU ISLAND NEWS
FARMER'S MARKETS: HAWAII'S LIFELINE
Oahu Island News
It’s February, the month of roses, candles, and chocolates, not to mention
heart-shaped tomatoes, all available at Oahu’s weekly farmers’ markets.
The tomatoes are an heirloom variety called “oxheart,” explained Jeanne Vana,
horticulturist and manager of North Shore Farms. She brings her tomatoes to the
Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation markets, Saturday mornings at Kapiolani Community
College and Thursday evenings in Kailua.
“I kind of like to change the colors with the seasons, so you’ll see a lot
of pink,” said Vana, “Weather permitting.”
Farmers’ and open markets abound on Oahu. The People’s Open Market Program,
sponsored by the City and County of Honolulu, has 25 market sites and more than
1 million customers a year. That’s up to 3,000 customers a day at the
program’s busiest site on Kaumualii Street, according to program supervisor
Ned Yonemori. Most recently added to the schedule are Sunday markets at Kapolei,
Royal Kunia, and Waikele.
“We’re pretty maxed-out,” said Yonemori. “We’re seven days a week.”
Other farmers’ markets operate once or twice weekly in areas including Hawaii
Kai, Waikiki and downtown Honolulu. Most offer some combination of vegetables
and fruits, flowers and crafts. The KCC and Kailua markets are distinctive
because they offer only Hawaii-grown produce and food products.
Margo Goodwill of Waialua shops at several markets here and on the neighbor
“There’s asparagus, there’s eccentric things like beets and pomegranates,
there’s wonderful cucumbers, in season there’s papayas, there’s corn and
potatoes,” Goodwill enthused, “And it literally feels like it’s from the
hands of the people that grew it.”
Fresh and good
Amy Hammond of Kaneohe was buying organic sweet corn at the Kailua market on a
recent Thursday. When she buys at a farmers’ market, she said, “I know
it’s going to be fresh and it’s going to be good. Plus, I could buy it in
small quantities too, where if you go to the grocery store you feel like
you’re buying a whole lot at one time.”
A few feet away, apple bananas were selling briskly at Theng’s Farm stand.
“King” Thephsourinthone, a tall 20-something man clad in a grocer’s apron,
waited on customers. Someone asked Thephsourinthone when the bananas were
picked. “These were picked about four days ago,” he noted, as compared to
supermarket bananas, which might be harvested up to a month in advance. When
they are this fresh, he remarked, “You’re going to get the full taste of the
banana. It’s not going to be bland.”
At the Kailua market, shoppers start milling around the farm stands before the 5
p.m. opening time. Right on the hour, someone blasts a loud air horn and
suddenly everyone springs into action. After a half hour, cooking aromas start
to fill the air – barbequed ribs, spicy chili, the seductive smell of garlic
– and people gravitate toward the concessions. Families huddle around benches
and share samples. Some just sit and enjoy the live music; one recent evening, a
duo from Wiki Waki Woo played steel guitar and ukulele, singing oldies like
“Ukulele Lady” and “Pineapple Princess.”
Jeanne Vana’s tomato stand is one of the busiest. Customers line up to try the
fried green tomatoes (she displays a copy of the Fannie Flagg novel “Fried
Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Café”
near the checkout stand). Vana prepares hers with a local twist.
“We use panko (Japanese bread crumbs) instead of corn meal, and it’s crunchy
instead of soft,” she revealed, “And you cook it in a wok instead of a
Then there’s the green tomato pie.
“Apples can’t be grown here in Hawaii,” noted Vana, “So we came up with
something that can grow in Hawaii, which is the tomatoes. It has the same
texture and taste and it’s better than green apple, [which] makes the best
In addition to salad greens, herbs and meats, the Kailua and KCC markets offer
fresh flowers: orchids, hibiscus, torch ginger, heliconia and other tropical
varieties. Lucy Hiraoka of Hiraoka Farms brings roses along with the farm’s
vegetables and greens. Hiraoka said she plans to have red roses for
Valentine’s Day, but there may be fewer blooms than usual because of the
January cold snap. Ordinarily, she doesn’t have much demand for red roses.
“Most florists have your standard red, pink-whites or lavender,” she said.
“We try to go for fragrance or brighter colors because people here in Hawaii
usually like color in their house.”
Later in the spring, Hiraoka plans to sell winter roses, spring gardenia,
sunflowers, and others.
Chocolate lovers looking for a Valentine’s Day indulgence can find several
options at the Kailua market. Chocolate hearts, chocolate-dipped strawberries
and a “Chocolate Decadence Tart” are available at the Sweet Shop stand.
Caterer and pastry chef Joslyn Benne also recommends the Raspberry-Chocolate
At Hawaiian Fudge Sauce Company, spoon up samples of Kona coffee and
macadamia-nut variations on “tutu’s original,” then compare it with the
company’s premium product, made from “100% estate-grown Hawaiian
Two Saturday markets on the North Shore offer products made and grown in Hawaii.
The pace is slower, in contrast to the high-energy city markets. In the parking
lot at Sunset Beach Elementary School, the North Shore Country Market sells
Hawaii-made crafts and food: flowers, shave ice, grass-fed beef burgers from
North Shore Cattle Co., shell jewelry, tie-dyed shirts and, perfect for this
month, heart-shaped pillar candles in pastel colors. Artist Jessica Wall creates
the candles and collects local shells that are embedded in designs around the
At the tiny Waialua Farmers’ Market, fruits and ethnic vegetables are for
sale; the local atmosphere is free. At the site of the old Waialua Sugar Mill, a
small group of immigrant farmers, former sugar workers, sell produce from plots
of land they lease from Dole Foods Hawaii. The arrangement was made when the
sugar mill closed in 1996 and the workers were left jobless. The Waialua
Farmer’s Cooperative was formed to help the workers make the transition to
Edith Ramiscal, president of the Waialua Farmers’ Cooperative, stated that her
goal is to expand the farmers’ market to more of a community market and to
bring more business to Waialua.
“I grew up in Waialua and I’ve seen it go downhill, so I’m trying to help
this town out. I’m interested in helping the town out and keeping it
country,” she said.
“We want it to be kind of a tourist destination because after all, Waialua
Sugar Mill was the hub of Haleiwa, Waialua, Waimea, Mokuleia. … We want people
to experience this,” Ramiscal declared. “And this is how Hawaii was born,
with the immigrant farmers, the immigrant laborers that came in.”
On Saturday mornings, the Waialua market sells out in a couple of hours: apple
bananas, tomatoes, garlic, lima beans, taro and more exotic produce such as
kabocha pumpkins and katuday.
David Ancheta, standing near his family’s vegetable stand at the Waialua
market, noticed a shopper puzzling over a bag of katuday. He offered some
suggestions for preparing the edible white flower. First, you cook it a little
bit, said Ancheta. “Then add spices, tomato, vinegar and salt, whatever you
like,” he added. “Good for blood pressure.”
“I learn about the vegetables as I go along,” commented Goodwill, who shops
weekly at the Waialua market. “I try to experiment with new ones at least once
a month, and they tell me, oh, this gets boiled, this gets stewed, or you cook
this with pork, it’s really good.”
“The farmers’ market is a little bit social too, although you don’t talk
too much before the market because you have to go get the goods,” she added.
“But it’s a nice, social way to start the weekend.”