I’ve never felt as warm and fuzzy about a farm, as I do for Ma’o Farms.
After shopping with them regularly, for a year at the farmers market, I finally made it over to Wai’anae for a farm tour.
Ma’o Farms is not your average farm. They are a non-profit with a mission to empower and train underprivileged youth to become entrepreneurs and leaders. They succeed at this while helping to create a healthier, more sustainable food system in Hawaii at the same time. It creates an opportunity for both the land and the community to thrive. I invite you to learn more about their social enterprise here.
We had two tour guides showing us around the 25 acre farm: Hiwa, the daughter of the owners of Ma’o Farms and Josh, who leads a small team of farmers, doing everything from harvesting to processing vegetables.
We started the tour with a debriefing of sorts, similar to the way the farmers and interns start their day every morning. As we stood in a circle (symbolizing the seamless circle of life) we introduced ourselves, and talked about our intentions for coming on the tour and what we were there to learn.
The first stop was the green house where baby plants get their start. Many of the greens they plant out in the field, and even ulu (breadfruit) trees get their start here, before being transferred into the ground.
The green house provides protection from pests and wind when these plants are still in their most vulnerable stages. Hiwa reminded us that Ma’o farms is situated right in the middle of a crater, which can act as a wind tunnel, with winds sometimes getting up to 50 miles per hour. Wind this strong would rip baby plants right out of the ground if planted to soon.
But, being in a crater has its advantages too. The type of soil here (vertisol) is one of the top three most nutrient dense in the world. Because of its high clay content it gets rock solid and cracks when dry. These cracks allow for more water and nutrients to be absorbed and locked in when wet.
Ma’o has an interesting fertilizing system too. They use bonemeal made from fish bones and a method of burning weeds which puts nutrients back into the soil after harvesting. My imagination raced as Hiwa described a tractor driving through the fields with flames shooting out the back.
When asked if they ever worry about the infamous, rat lungworm disease that tends to affect organic farms in Hawaii, Hiwa said they didn’t seem to have many issues with it. This disease is carried by snails and slugs that like wet conditions, and since it tends to be drier where they are, they don’t often see them around.
When it comes to pests, cabbage moths can be an issue for their kale. They use a natural citrus herbicide very sparingly for this, since it can cause the kale to turn yellow and create holes in the leaves.
When it comes to controlling weeds, Ma’o uses what they call a black weed mat. When the sun hits these mats, they heat up and essentially burn the weeds out.
Ma’o used to be a huge chicken farm back in the day. The two former chicken coops are now processing plants filled with interns washing and packaging vegetables to be delivered.
Ma’o has the ability to track every seed they plant, all the way until they are delivered. It’s a food safety precaution. This way if someone were to get sick they could track back to the field where the plant was grown to find out if it had somehow been contaminated.
On the way out we caught a glimpse of what Ma’o calls, “the chef’s garden”. Still in its early phases, this project will soon be available for local chefs to virtually choose what they want Ma’o to grow for their restaurants.
Ma’o sells their produce wholesale to restaurants, at farmer’s markets, in local grocery stores and through their CSA program. CSA members often get the prime picks and speciality items that aren’t available to anyone else.
When we completed the tour we came back around to where we originally started––standing in a circle. Hiwa explained that, similar to the start of the day, they finish their day back in the circle to rehash the day’s work and plan for the next.
It was a reminder of how much importance they put on the development of their interns, the thought that goes behind the running of the farm and the spiritual aspect of their organization.
It is truly admirable what Ma’o Farms provides for their people and for the land.
Have you visited Ma’o Farms? Tell us all about it in the comments section. And if you liked this article I invite you to subscribe to The Healthy Locavore for more on how to eat local, live well, cook healthier and support each other. I am so grateful for this community, thank you so much for being a part of it!
86-148 Pūhāwai Rd.
Wai‘anae, Hawaiʻi 96792
Sarah Burchard is the author of The Healthy Locavore, a natural foods chef and experience host whose writing focuses on cooking, holistic health, supporting community and eating locally grown and made foods.