o‘o farm: farm to table & seed to cup

O'o Farm Chef Daniel EskelsenWe all know farm-to-table cuisine is as fresh as it gets. But what if there were a way to make it even fresher? The folks at O‘o Farm have done just that: the al fresco dining table is right there at the farm, and your meal is prepared on site by their farm chef, who has harvested the ingredients himself only hours earlier.

When I arrive at O‘o Farm on Waipoli Road for their Gourmet Lunch & Farm Tour, it’s one of those flawless mornings that occur so often in Kula: clear blue sky, a hint of Upcountry coolness in the air, and brilliant sun illuminating the dew that has settled on the bright green grass during the night.

Farm Manager Richard Clark is leading this morning’s tour. Richard tell us the 8.5 acre O’o Farm is one of only two farms in Hawai‘i operated by a restaurant (in this case, Pacific‘O in Lahaina). “We’re not a commercial farm—we’re a private culinary farm,” he explains. “We grow specifically for chefs, who like various shapes, sizes, tastes, and textures in their products. We grow 60 different crop items, and I’m not aware of any other farm that’s as diversified as we are.”

Richard describes the unique microclimate at the farm: “Waipoli, which in Hawaiian means ‘misting forest,’ is at 3,500 feet in elevation,” he says. “We get warm air rising up the volcano during the day, which then descends during the evening. Days in Waipoli are usually sunny and clear, and as the afternoon progresses, we get misting, San Francisco-type weather. The rich volcanic ash, coupled with 100 years of wattle growth, gives us a naturally fertile volcanic ash soil, which we have learned how to sustain.

O‘o Farm also grows, processes, and roasts their own ‘Aina Gourmet Coffee on site. “We have 1,100 trees, with over 500 mature and producing,” Richard says. “Hawai‘i is the only state in the U.S. that can produce coffee due to our proximity to the equator. Here at O‘o Farm, we grow coffee at the highest elevation in the state.”

We pass through the coffee trees, head up the hill, and stop at a Buddha’s hand tree. “What we have here are several natural farming practices wrapped up into one,” Richard says. “I like to call it ‘permaculture.’ Some call it ‘edible landscape’ or ‘lasagna gardening.’ We removed the invasive kikuya grass, and put a layer of cardboard down, which keeps the sun off and prevents the grass from growing. Then we put a nourishing wattle-wood mulch around the tree, which provides protection and nourishment. Then we put a finish compost on top to keep the indigenous microorganisms going. We planted a cover crop, in this case medium clover, and also planted Okinawan sweet potato, a food crop, on top.”

Heading a bit farther up the hill, we meet the resident free-range farm chickens. “These hens are part of the farm staff,” Richard says. “They help us remove the invasive kikuya grass, and fertilize along the drip lines in the trees.” Richard explains that when the hens are roaming around the farm they’re accompanied by their rooster. “He never leaves their side, and his job is to ‘sheep dog’ them so they don’t wander about aimlessly, and be subject to predation. Once a hen is introduced into a rooster’s harem it’s for life. He protects them, and it’s a very noble interaction.”

Our next stop is the outdoor kitchen and dining room, where the enticing aroma of wood smoke permeates the morning air. Farm Chef Daniel Eskelsen’s admirably outfitted domain makes me salivate nearly as much as does the smoke that’s emanating from a wood-fired oven faced with lava rocks. Daniel has assembled a vibrant harvest basket containing the morning’s bounty: leeks, rutabaga, radishes, fennel, carrots, and too many other luscious items to name. “I get up here at the crack of dawn every morning to get the wood-fired oven rolling, and then I go out into the fields to harvest the produce I need for the day’s tours,” he says. “As the farm chef, it’s my extreme joy to be able to pass along the fruits of the farm staff’s labor on to you.”

While Chef Daniel prepares our gourmet lunch, Richard takes us out into the fields to harvest greens for a salad that will be dressed with a persimmon and citrus vinaigrette. While Richard circulates with the communal gathering basket, we visit seven different areas containing immaculate rows of lettuce and vegetables ready for harvesting.

Chef Daniel’s lunch is served buffet style, and we all carry our brimming plates to the communal table, which has the most commanding views of any I’ve ever had the pleasure to dine at. Richard, who is also a certified sommelier, has opened and poured the BYO wines brought to the feast by my tour companions.

And the lunch itself? Oh my! There’s fluffy focaccia bread garnished with King Richard leeks, olive oil, and sea salt; crusty pan-seared tofu with roasted carrots and beets served atop sautéed rainbow Swiss chard and blue Tuscan kale; ultra-moist oven-seared mahimahi (from Pacific‘O) served atop watermelon radish, green onions, heirloom Florence fennel, and purple Osaka mustard greens; and savory wood-fired chicken breast (not from the farm’s treasured hens!) bathed in a roasted vegetable puree Daniel says the farm staff affectionately calls “the gravy” for its resemblance to a classic white country gravy.

For dessert, it’s slices of luscious Maui Gold pineapple and juicy persimmons, along with chocolate truffles infused with coffee cherry juice and, of course, ‘Aina Gourmet Coffee.

Speaking of coffee, I had so much fun at O‘o Farm, I went back a few days later for their Seed to Cup Coffee Tour. On this experience, farm staff member Andrew Bieber takes us through the process of producing coffee, from the hand-picking process, to dehydration of the beans, milling, and roasting in the bright red 40kg commercial roaster that’s housed in the coffee building. “We roast at different temperatures for different lengths of time to determine which formula works best for each type of bean,” Andrew says. A large chalkboard documents every roast.

Chef Daniel has prepared another sumptuous feast—this time a hearty breakfast consisting of a frittata (made with farm-fresh eggs), garnished with roasted root vegetables and served atop a gorgeous harvest gold colored kabocha squash puree; divine persimmon and fig stuffed sweet buns; French press brewed Red Catuai coffee; and tisane tea. Positively divine!

O‘o Farm recently debuted a Chicken Farm Tour & Lunch, which begins in Launiupoko and ends at Pacific‘O Restaurant in Lahaina. Participants tour a free-range chicken farm, feed the chickens, and harvest fresh eggs; then partake in a special egg-themed lunch prepared by Chef Paul Goodwin, that includes poached eggs over an O‘o Farm salad, served with Nagasaki pork, polenta, and soy vinaigrette; and Pacific‘O bread pudding.

At O‘o Farm, their love of the ‘aina is evident not only in their biodynamic farming practices, but also their eagerness to provide the truest farm-to-table experience on Maui. A visit to O‘o Farm leaves you with an enriched soul and a deeper connection to the land.

–heidi pool

AT A GLANCE…

WHAT •

O‘o Farm, offering interactive forage & feast, seed-to-cup coffee, and chicken farm tours. The Gourmet Lunch & Farm Tour is $58 per person; Coffee and Chicken Farm Tours are $50 per person.

WHERE •

651 Waipoli Rd., Kula. Chicken Farm Tour takes place in Launiupoko, Lahaina

WHEN •

Gourmet Lunch & Farm Tour is offered Monday through Friday from 10:30am to 1:30pm; Coffee Tour is Tuesday & Wednesday 8:30-10:30am; Chicken Farm Tour is Wednesday 10:30am-12:30pm.

HOW •

Reservations required for all tours:

667-4341.

 

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