Ed Kenney, head chef and owner of Town in Honolulu, talks about Hawaii’s subtle seasons (yes, there are more than one), and how sustainable farming in this lush island chain of plenty is only now catching fire.
Obviously, we’re graced with an ideal year-round farming climate. We have access to traditional summer crops like heirloom tomatoes, sweet corn and tender lettuces in December. And winter root vegetables, citrus and Brassica vegetables are on the menu in July. Seasonality does exist in fruit crops, and summer always warmly welcomes mangos, along with avocados, lychees and mountain apples.
Many tropical fruits become available in the fall and we preserve them as chutneys, jams and mostarda so we can enjoy them all year. In the fall we always look forward to Maru persimmon from Maui’s Hashimoto Persimmon Farm, it’s an incredibly sweet variety and has the crispness of an apple. We often serve it with house-cured Shinsato Farm salumi or grilled Naked Cow Dairy halloumi. It also makes for an amazing persimmon pudding.
Autumn also brings us star fruit, guava, and ulu, or breadfruit. The Deep Seven Snapper fishery usually reopens in September, and they provide us with some of the most prized delicacies of the deep blue. The list goes on.
And while an aloha 'aina (“love of the land”) sensibility permeates the restaurants here, ironically, our ideal growing climate has in some ways hindered our ability to feed ourselves in Hawaii. For over a century most of our agricultural land has been allocated toward large plantation export crops like sugar cane and pineapple. So, despite our ability to grow food year-round, the state still imports about 90% of everything that we consume.
But thankfully, the recent slow down of these super large, plantation-style export-farming outfits here is actually opening up the opportunity for sustainable, diversified agriculture to really take root. And it’s becoming apparent more and more: 12 years ago, the Saturday KCC Farmer’s Market here in Honolulu was the only game in town. Now, there are farmers’ markets every day of the week, and large supermarkets like Foodland and Whole Foods are offering impressive selections of local produce and meats. We’ve been in business for eight years and the amount of farms and products available to us grows daily. That’s a good thing.