Growing the Islands' Green of Choice
By Lesa Griffith and Alain Gayot
Nalo Farms in Waimanalo, Hawaii
in the closet?
In the family of the baby greens, these corn shoots
are grown at Nalo farms in total darkness. The result
is quite impressive, and the recipe rather simple.
Take regular pop corn kernels [yes, the off the shelf
stuff] soak them in water for four hours, lay them
on the dirt, water once, store away in the closet
and harvest in three weeks. You get very sweet and
colorful tasting baby "yellows."
you eat at fine dining establishments on Oahu, chances are you'll see the term "Nalo greens" on a menu. The ubiquitous salad mix comes from
Dean Okimoto's Nalo Farms in Waimanalo, on eastern Oahu. Okimoto's
father, Charles, a 100th Battalion WWII veteran, founded the
farm in 1953. Guava and papaya gave way to daikon and green
onion. Today, the farm is Hawaii's premier grower of salad greens,
along with delicate microgreens, herbs and esoteric produce
such as Okinawan spinach. Okimoto,
a political science major, had had his sights set on law school.
"But I applied a day too late. So I started helping my
Dad." The boy who once loathed farm work ("Our punishment
as kids was to weed for two hours") fell in with a group
of farmers and learned about the nitty gritty of agriculture.
He was hooked.
were Okimoto's crops, but then in 1990 he lost all of his basil
to disease. "I almost quit farming," he says. When
a friend visited the three-acre spread, he asked Okimoto if
he could bring a friend. Okimoto said sure, the friend looked
at the land and suggested, "Try growing some baby greens,
and I'll buy them from you." That friend was chef Roy Yamaguchi,
who had opened his flagship restaurant in 1988. Today, Nalo
Farms supplies 130 restaurants with up to 3,000 pounds of tasty
greens each week.
Okimoto and Alain Gayot checking out the greenhouse
tropical climate allows for a year-round growing season, and
also makes for more intense flavor — arugula is extra spicy
and peppergrass is as hot as wasabi. The plants grow in a volcanic
muddy loam that's chockfull of minerals such as zinc and iron.
Nutrition interests Okimoto, and he's always on the lookout
for new, healthy things to grow, such as tatsoi, a bok choy
relative that's high in folic acid and vitamin C, and Okinawan
spinach, which is purported to have lower cholesterol levels.
Guests are welcome to a guided tour of Nalo Farms, although reservations must be made at least two weeks in advance. Those looking to buy Nalo's famous greens will want to call ahead, as all produce is cut fresh. (A pound of arugula goes for $7.) The drive is worth
it: The small operation sits at the base of the Ko'olau Mountains,
which tower majestically over the neat, multihued rows of vegetables.
Wailea Agricultural Group Farm
Oahu's Farmers Markets
41-574 Makakalo St.
Waimanalo, HI 96795
Mon.-Fri. 7am-4pm, Sat. 7am-1pm