Best Farms in Maui

Edible Maui: From the 'Aina to the Diner

Hawaii's original economy was based on agriculture. Ancient land divisions such as the ahupua'a were complete ecological and economic systems unto themselves. These land divisions are most certainly still recognized today by traditional Hawaiians. Ahupua'a may best be described as pie-shaped land divisions with the pinnacle high up in the mountains and the wide base reaching quite far out into the ocean. In addition to providing all the necessary food staples—sweet potato, banana, kalo from the uplands and the plains, shellfish from the brackish water along the shoreline, many varieties of limu (seaweed) and fish from the ocean—the ahupua'a also functioned as water management systems. There is nothing more critical to the island way of life than fresh water. As rainwater flowed down the mountains, it would be used on its path for drinking, bathing and irrigation.

With the arrival of American and European immigrants in the 19th century, the rich resources available within each ahupua'a were then used to produce large scale sugar cane and pineapple crops. These industries drove the Hawaii economy for over 90 years. The closing of the plantations, however, did not mean that agriculture in Hawaii vanished. Small local farmers have continued to till the soil and diversify their crops. These farmers and the importance of their practices to the culture of Hawaii have become a growing interest to visitors as a result of the increasing global concern in preserving our world's natural resources and multicultural practices. Although agriculture has, in modern times, struggled—through the plantation days of sugar, pineapple and, later, coffee—agriculture still ranks right behind tourism in importance to Hawaii's economy.

Factor in the hundreds of food service operations that serve what the farmers grow, and small-scale farming takes on even more significance. Hawaii Regional Cuisine, a culinary movement that began more than a decade ago, requires high-quality local produce. Thus, the partnership of tropical farmers and innovative chefs has made the delicious bounty of the islands available to residents and visitors alike, and it has given Maui Nui—a chain of four islands including Maui, Kahoolawe, Lanai and Molokai—a place in the ranks of global agritourism destinations.

For more agriculture-based travel, take a look at the Best Biodynamic Farms in the U.S.