We like Election Day. It's not just for the treat of driving down Kula Highway, deliciously cloud-covered and cool, nor for the splendid view of West Maui from the parking lot of the elysian Kula Community Center, where we vote.
It wasn't even for the thrill of seeing how packed the polling station was, cars jamming up in the parking lot, people with a sense of pride at having done their civic duty. Nor was it the chance to be with the nice, patient group of volunteers, many familiar faces year after year. ("Most people pick the paper ballots," one confided as I, too, eschewed the option to vote electronically.)
No, we are never happier than when our locavore instincts are unpredictably fulfilled. At the primary, it was with the miniature coconut cream pie we scarfed at the bakery counter at the Kula Bistro and the yummy loaf of homemade bread, baked that very morning, we bought from the back of someone's sport utility vehicle.
Our pantry has a jar of honey from someone in Kula whose contents are depicted in a scrawl that appears a cross between insane and hieroglyphic: "Raw Grade A Honey, Organic, 100% Natural from Kula." Come to think of it, maybe the guy scribbled it out when the label was already pasted to the jar. In the car, on the way to the market. At any rate, that's about as local as you can get.
"This honey features an abundance of aromatic eucalyptus notes, neatly contrasted with a jolt of protea, a hint of wattle and a smooth finish of silky oak," the resident connoisseur said.
We buy grass-fed beef from Maui Cattle Co. and deer meat whenever we can from an authorized hunter. We buy homemade pasta and organic vegetables at the Upcountry Farmers Market. A friend in Haiku makes the most delicious Surinam cherry-lilikoi-pineapple-lemon jam, all harvested on the property where he lives.
Friends in Makawao recently gave us fresh cucumbers and cherry tomatoes from their garden, along with lychee someone else gave them. We responded in turn with a lilikoi cheesecake made from the perfect, golden egg-shaped fruits that drop in abundance on our back porch. I've spent many happy hours eating creamed squash soup a friend made from her garden.
This brings me to the point: Why, given the palpable need and ideal growing climate, doesn't Maui become more self-sufficient in food? With all the earnest farmers we have popping up all over the place (Dear County Council: Please don't overtax them), it's hard to fathom how the industrial crops from the California Central Valley are more cost-effective. Surely we should be doing something to encourage this.
Maui has a long history of growing its own food. There were 66 plantation villages on the island in the '30s, 26 at Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co., 27 at Maui Agricultural Co. in Paia. The company stores were patronized for canned goods, salted meat, 100-pound bags of rice and animal feed. The rest of the food, people grew.
Dr. Fumio Tsuji fondly recalled the large 8,000-square-foot gardens in the idyllic plantation community of Hamakuapoko, where people set off sections for flowers and vegetables, chickens, ducks and rabbits, avocados, oranges, bananas, papaya, along with the ubiquitous mango trees. "Occasionally the meat market would deliver and hang a piece of beef on a wire on the porch."
Bill Eby, who also grew up in H'Poko, remembered people getting up at 4 a.m. and milking their cows before work, pasturage provided by the plantation. ILWU organizer John Arisumi told me how he planted lima beans and pumpkins along the irrigation furrows he took care of as a teenager at HC&S in the days before chemical sprays, and how unhappy he was when fishermen stole his pumpkins for bait.
During World War II, plantations set aside land for Victory gardens. M.A. Co. grew corn and supported a corn mill in Haiku. The plantation's chief engineer, J.P. Foster, developed a fuel from sugar cane. "The car smelled like a martini," recalled Charles Penhallow, son of the head of Wailuku Sugar Co.
In his candid memoir of life at Nashiwa Camp in Paia, Spencer Shiraishi told of the rabbits he raised and the day he accidentally dropped one in the pit of the family outhouse (details of the rescue I leave to your imagination).
Back then people were forced by necessity to grow their own food. Couldn't we seriously get started on a larger scale before the same thing happens here?
* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose "Keiki o ka 'Aina" column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.