Writer and photographer: Leimaile Guerrero
Waking up to a crisp morning and exploring the farmers’ market is an invigorating experience that will peak your senses. Open markets are the original grocery store where people would gather to trade and barter goods.
Today it is still one of the best places to get freshly grown local products that are easy on the wallet and used by master chefs across the state. Larger markets have a vast array of vendors ranging from food and produce to crafters, baked goods and estheticians. There are over 50 farmers’ markets on Oahu, over a dozen are located on the Leeward side of the island.
There is a common misconception that eating healthy is expensive. Farmers’ markets are a great alternative to fancy over priced grocers. Consumers are able to deal directly with the growers and cut out the middlemen. This results in lower prices and fresher products while connecting people directly to their food sources.
Johnna Davis, a Leeward Community College student, has shopped farmers’ markets and prefers to eat healthy foods while on a budget. She believes eating healthy is important because “when you eat healthy, you give your body the nutrients it needs to be happy and stay alive and well. Whereas if you don’t eat healthy your body ends up lacking the nutrients it needs and can cause major problems down the road that can bring a large amount of pain and discomfort.” Davis described her market experiences positively and said, “I enjoyed having all my options right there in front of me.”
Larger farmers markets are not only limited to fruits and vegetables. Shoppers will likely find fresh eggs, jellies, pickled vegetables, honey, meats, freshly baked goods, smoothies, acai bowls, flowers, food and unique crafts. Kapiolani Community College even has a live abalone vendor. Talking directly with the vendors also helps people learn the best way to utilize their products and tips to make better meals.
Some people are scared of the open markets and tend to question the quality and safety standards of fruits, vegetables, and other goods sold there. What they may not know are that Hawaii’s farmers’ markets need to acquire permits and follow guidelines provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration. Certain food vendors may also hold permits showing that they meet the food safety standards and will display them proudly. If a market fails to meet all of the standards, their permits can be suspended or revoked. Although not all vendors carry these permits, consumers can rest as ease knowing that the sellers are still required to meet the standards of the farmers’ market itself.
Most bakers and food vendors are also mindful of food allergies and special diets. Food conscious people can ask direct questions about ingredients, production areas, and methods used in the making of their items. Several vendors incorporate special methods to produce unique products such as sprout wheat breads. Organic- and gluten-free breads can also be found at most bakers booths. Other vendors sell honey harvested from their own bees and flowers. Some of the honey farmers from North Shore Goodies use their honey to make delectable products such as coconut peanut butter. A baker who frequents the Mililani Farmers’ Market on Sundays offers a wide variety of delicious deserts. She uses cocoa harvested from the Big Island to make her own chocolate used in her cakes, pies and brownies. Like many other vendors, her products can be found around town in local coffee shops and health food stores, but at much higher rates. Samples are often offered allowing people to experience first hand the amazing flavor of their fresh goods.
Although there are a lot of quality products at the farmers’ markets, most of the vendors are small businesses that cannot meet the larger demands of a supermarket or large-scale companies. These farmers are environmentally conscious and many utilize natural organic growing methods that results in better tasting food. They are often specialty growers for many high-end restaurants.
TOP CHEFS, MRS. OBAMA
What many people may not know is that top chefs such as Alan Wong and Roy Taniguchi prefer locally grown products and deal directly with many of the vendors at the open markets. They understand the quality and flavor difference of fresh food and prefer to use the best quality ingredients for their restaurants.
Corporate chef of Roy’s restaurants, Jackie Lau, says “it’s to our advantage to support local products and farmers because it will help our local economy.” Roy’s has six locations in Hawaii and 25 locations on the mainland, Japan and Guam.
Lau explains local farmers as a key component to the economy and sustainability. She also pointed out the difference of taste.
Food that is grown and produced on local farms, then delivered to farmers markets or grocery stores will undoubtedly taste fresher than food flown to Hawaii from over 3,000 miles away.
“(It’s) one of the things Roy is really passionate about, using as much local products as possible,” Lau said. She hopes to see more grocers carrying products from local farms. If more people were to buy local products, the high costs would come down and be more affordable for everyone.
The first lady Michelle Obama is also a huge supporter of eating fresh foods and recently took a tour of Ma’o Farms in Wai’anae. Ma’o Farms is an organic farm — with a team of volunteers and interns — that educates the public on the importance of working closely with the land. The farm’s five main goals focus on educating out-of-school youth, sustainable economic development, agriculture, health and the Hawaiian culture.
Obama visited the farm in November to learn more and exchange ideas with its interns. The first lady believes that many Americans today eat foods that are not fresh, processed and disguised with added salts, sugars and fats. She believes that modifying eating habits to healthier choices will change the world. Obama pointed out that industrialized agriculture companies use large trucks, vehicles and planes to transport our foods long distances. The transportation process consumes mass amounts of fossil fuels, pollutes the planet and contributes to global warming.
Investing in local farmers and becoming more environmentally conscious can lead to a better future. It is the perfect step for anyone looking to learn more about what they eat. One can get to know farmers, learn how food is produced and enjoy great deals.
Hawaii farmers’ markets
Obama at Ma’o Farms
Packed with nutrients
Organic foods — grown without pesticides, fertilizers, genetically modified organisms — are higher in nutritional value. The methods used in growing help produce 50 percent more vitamins, minerals, enzymes and micronutrients.
Pesticides and herbicides are made to kill living things. Why would you want to eat them? Synthetic fertilizers are also toxic and harmful to humans and environment.
Not as expensive as you think
Shopping at farmers’ markets make organic foods more affordable.
No more mad cows
Cattle farmers that have fed organic feed to their animals have never had an incidence of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease.
It tastes better
Recent study from University of Washington showed that organically grown food tastes better.
graphic by Jadine Hirchag
An assortment of vegetables for sale.
Dragon fruits can be found at local farmers' markets. It has the taste and texture similar to pear and kiwi.
North Shore Goodies produces and sells honey. It also uses its own honey in baked goods.
Variety of carrots for sale on Maui.
The farmers' market on Kapaa, Kauai.
— Complete Oahu market list at www.hawaii.gov/hdoa/add/farmers-market-in-hawaii/Oahu.pdf