East Maui Taro Fest

Crowds are estimated at 4,000 for the 22nd annual East Maui Taro Festival, to be pounding with nonstop food, culture and music from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 3, at Hana Ballpark.

People from as far away as the Ukraine have enjoyed it, writing promoters that it was “The best festival on planet earth.” And, someone was seen in a Taro Fest T-shirt in Machu Picchu, Peru.

“The East Maui Taro Festival focuses on and celebrates kalo, or taro, not only because it was an ancient staple, but also because it is a symbol of kanaka maoli culture,” says Maria “Kaimi” Orr, founder and president of this year’s event. “EMTF strives to be a means in which Hana people can continue their cultural practices and share them with the world.”

Yes, kalo, aka taro, is the elder brother of all Hawaiian plants – and you may taste it in many creations at 20 food booths. There will also be 40 arts and crafts booths; an ag tent; farmers market; and cultural demos with poi pounding, kapa cloth making and lauhala weaving. The family-friendly day is free and open to the public.

Bring your appetites, as people in Hana know how to cook, especially when taro is a main ingredient. Doria Lind is this year’s food chair, and she says that it’s going to be ono, indeed. You may also bring coolers and shopping bags to take food and produce home for later.

“Of course, we’ll be serving the Kawaiaea family’s famous taro-seafood chowder and their beef luau with tops of taro and their pork haha,” says Lind.

Uncle Harry’s food stand at Wailua will join in at the ballpark with taro malasadas and chili dogs with shredded taro. The Perry ohana will make squid luau, and beef and pork laulau.

The only commercial vendor will be Robert Mitnick with his taro burgers in both spicy and volcano styles.

Aloha Nelson will wow the crowds with poi dogs, like corn dogs, only dipped in taro batter. She’ll also impress you with crunchy taro and ulu chips.

“In the farmers tent, they will be selling poi, kulolo, taro slices and other farm-fresh produce,” says Tweetie Lind. “Farmers will come from not only Hana, but Keanae as well as Kipahulu. The organic Ono Farms will be participating this year.”

The Lind ohana will keep you coming back for more with their grilled fish on taro buns, and kulolo and poi, which always sells out in the morning.

At the arts and crafts booths, you may shop till you drop for Hawaiian print quilts; wood and Tahitian jewelry; Ken Hironaka’s fish hook necklaces; botanical massage oils; and T-shirts. This year’s image was created by Anthony Kekona.

Cultural booths will be manned by Sierra Club, Haleakala National Park, Frank Sineci hale builder, and fish pond experts.

On the day preceding the Taro Fest, there will be two peripheral events. From 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Friday, May 2, will be the East Maui Ag Day at the nonprofit Mahele Farm on Ulaino Road, next to the famous Kahanu Gardens.

“We’re opening it up to Maui nui,” says farm manager Mikala Minn. “It will be a free event with workshops on planting, grafting and awa sipping. Lunch should be reserved in advance for a $10 donation of farm fresh, local food. That evening, the I Am Haloa dinner will be held (see next story), and the Taro Pancake breakfast will be the icing on the cake May 4.