Kahumana Organic Farm & Cafe: Food + Community in Waianae

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Hawaiian Food Oahu

We started our western Oahu farm tour at Ma’o Organic Farms, a special place that focuses on produce and social responsibility, before transitioning to Kahumana Organic Farm & Cafe, a new age, farm to table practitioner nearby in Lualualei Valley. Kahumana has been around since 1974, supporting Alternative Structures International, which provides education, job training and transitional housing to disadvantaged families, 128 at last count. Kahumana also rests on 14 acres of mineral-rich volcanic soil, 7 of them farmable.

Farmer Lloyd Nelson led our farm tour. He majored in Horticulture at Blue Ridge and worked on a blueberry farm outside of Asheville, North Carolina, before relocating his family to Oahu to optimize farming practices at Kahumana. He said they face a number of challenges on the land, including some haphazard planting that limited efficiency and an adjacent military facility that communicates with the U.S. Pacific fleet. He claims that equipment “fries the land.” However, the high alkaline soil is “one of the five richest soils in the world,” and they receive plenty of rain, so they’ve still been able to see stunning growth, just in 2011.

The farm is very new age, with a Boddhi tree, a Buddhist prayer pavilion and talk of “healing impulses,” which all help make Kahumana “the Shangrila of Wwoofing.” That made no sense until Nelson explained how WWOOF is a program that allows laborers to work 30 hours per week in exchange for relatively deluxe lodging (house vs. tent) and daily meals in the cafe.

Nelson started by presenting a healing cooler of sage, thyme, hibiscus and lemon balm.

Farm Hawaii
NASA constructed 5000-gallon aquaponic tanks (fish and plants growing together) featuring tilapia, volcanic cinder beds that act as a filter, and lettuce beds that benefit from the natural fertilizer.

Farm Hawaii
Wild chickens and pigeons roamed near herb circles created to harness the earth’s energy lines.

Farm Hawaii
Nelson praised moringa, locally known as kalamungay, to the highest power, saying, “This is a plant you have to know about.” He went on to say moringa packs more protein than eggs, more Vitamin C than oranges, more calcium than milk and more potassium than bananas. At this point, his reverence for the plant was so extreme that it was really beyond belief. “You can live on this plant alone through a famine,” he said. It increases virility and apparently goes by “Filipino Viagra.” “It’s been scientifically reported that men will grow their hair back.” The oil’s used in cosmetics, the bean pods are edible, and the spicy leaves are used in soups. What’s more, moringa evidently purifies and clarifies water, and his last claim was that “HIV will not go into AIDs if you eat this.” These were wild claims, and of course my first question to Nelson was, “Why isn’t everybody growing it?” The answer was unclear.

Farm Hawaii
The rest of the produce was less stunning. For instance, we passed starfruit trees.

Farm Hawaii
Kahumana also supplied my first known encounter with a curry tree, though it may have happened on my trip to Southeast Asia back in 2005, unknowingly.

Greenhouse Hawaii
We entered a greenhouse, which helps to nurture young seed stock, which still have to contend with predatorial aphids and white flies.

Kahumana even implemented a CSA program. We saw the most current week’s line-up, which included chard, sapodilla, curry, arugula and prized kalamungay. That could be worth the order alone, based on what Nelson was telling us.

We transitioned to the cafe, which featured a blackboard menu with the day’s specials. The space was fairly rustic, with beautiful red antherium centerpieces in glass cubes, communal wood tables, a butterfly motif, chicken statuettes, chains of paper swans, and a porch overlooking the farm.

Hawaiian Food Oahu
Our prix fixe meal started with white beet borscht with tangy creme fraiche and chives.

Salad Oahu
Our mixed green salad contained crunchy julienne carrot and fresh basil vinaigrette.

Meatloaf Oahu
Dense, chard-flecked, grass-fed beef meatloaf came with sauteed Swiss chard and roasted potatoes, which soaked up the jus.

Hawaiian Food Oahu
Neighboring writers ordered the mahi mahi fillet with noodles, which gave me a case of order envy.

Dessert Oahu
We each received a dessert sampler, including a slice of lilikoi cheesecake with tangy top and Graham cracker crust, a rich chocolate torte, and a gritty, great linzertorte.

Despite the strangeness surrounding moringa, Kahumana still displayed a commendable commitment to helping other people in the community, and their cafe did deliver solid farm to table food. Ultimately, Kahumana is a progressive, beguiling place that’s worth a stop on Oahu.

Note: Oahu Visitors Bureau organized a six-day island tour, and my complimentary meal at Kahumana was part of the experience.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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