upcountry farmers market: indulge your senses in maui’s plentiful bounty

Every Saturday morning, rain or shine, Upcountry Farmers Market Manager Neil Coshever and his capable assistant Katy Bayley orchestrate an extraordinary symphony at the Kulamalu Town Center in Pukalani. Now in its 7th year at this location, the Upcountry Farmers Market (UFM) boasts more than 100 vendors, and attracts between 1,500 and 2,000 visitors to its cornucopia of enticing products.

No other farmers market has been operating on Maui as long as UFM. For more than 40 years, UFM has made its home in various locations—first at St. Joseph’s Church in Makawao; then at the Eddie Tam Gymnasium, also in Makawao. In 2010, the market moved to its current site in Pukalani, which has allowed for exponential growth. In fact, the market is now officially “full,” and new vendors are able to rent a booth only when a regular vendor is absent.

UFM’s setting is drop-dead gorgeous, with 360-degree views of verdant Haleakala and Maui’s dual coastlines. Intermittent shower activity often brings vibrant rainbows. But even a little moisture doesn’t dampen the spirit of the dedicated market-goers who faithfully visit week after week. Being surrounded by so much natural beauty, as well as the plentiful bounty from Maui’s land and sea offered for purchase, you can’t help but feel the soul of this outdoor cornucopia that celebrates the life and the land.

In May, UFM received national attention when it was featured in USA Today’s “Standout Farmers Markets in Each State,” which showcased just one market in each of the 50 states. UFM joined a distinct group of 49 other outstanding markets coined “destination events” by the magazine. Congratulations, UFM!

The day of my visit, the weather conditions are classic Upcountry: a clear, brilliant blue sky overhead harmonizes with the lush greenness that sets this area apart from others on Maui; golden sunshine prevails; and a light breeze riffles across the market, cooling everyone off a bit.

UFM Manager Neil Coshever is my escort this morning. Neil came into his managerial position about nine years ago, primarily by default. A farmer himself (he owns Sanctuary Farm in Kula), he says at one point the market, when it was at Eddie Tam, had dwindled down to just him and one other farmer. “The other farmer said to me, ‘I’m leaving—going to Texas—so you’re it. You are the new market manager.’” Over the next two years, Neil grew the market from one farmer (himself) to more than 40. He was also instrumental in brokering the deal with the County of Maui and the Dowling Company to move UFM to its current location.

First stop is to not one, but four spaces occupied by Ryan Earehart’s ‘Oko‘a Farm. More than 60 different types of vegetables, fruits, herbs, beans, and more are grown at this farm in lower Kula. Ryan and partner Salvador Gil Coca practice “full-circle farming,” creating their own fertilizers and compost, and irrigating their fields with enriched water from their tilapia pond. Ryan says he named his farm ‘Oko‘a because it means “whole, complete, independent” in Hawaiian, which he interprets to be the equivalent of sustainability. “Ryan is one of the hardest-working men I know,” Neil says.

“Here’s one of our newer vendors, VJ’s Butcher Block,” says Neil. In addition to an array of local and natural meats, like Molokai venison, 100% grass-fed Hawaiian beef, and their “world-famous” GMO-free beef bacon, VJ’s offers up organic breakfast burritos served with fresh pico de gallo, homemade black beans, feta, scrambled organic eggs, and your choice from VJ’s selection of natural and organic meats. VJ’s owner Justin Javier advises “come early, because we sell out of burritos quickly!”

Norma’s Farm offers an enticing array of vegan quiches, sweet potato soups, and curries. The quiches are topped with colorful rolled up vegetable ribbons that resemble flowers. They’re edible works of art!

Nearby at The Greek Oven Maui’s booth are gorgeous-looking handmade, gourmet breads, including gluten-free and non-gluten free options, plus tempting Greek pies stuffed with spinach, herbs, and feta. Opa!

Antonio at the Sicilian’s booth offers fresh calzones, pastries, breads (turmeric buns, garlic-rosemary loaves, and baguettes), pastas (including one shaped like flowers he calls “rose-agna”), and luscious tomato sauces. I’m definitely getting hungry now.

Over at Maui Tempeh Co. are simmering kettles of an earthy curry made with their fresh adzuki bean tempeh, a traditional Indonesian food that dates back to the 16th century. Company owner Jaime Tourin makes his tempeh by means of a natural culturing and controlled incubation process that binds beans into a block, resulting in a bean “cake” with a meat-like mushroom texture and nutty umami flavor. Tempeh contains all the essential amino acids, and is the most digestible way to eat whole beans.

And UFM isn’t just about edibles. At the Roots Wrap booth are eco-friendly alternatives to plastic wrap for food storage. Their reusable wraps are made from organic cotton hemp muslin, organic beeswax, organic jojoba oil, and tree resin. The antibacterial properties of the beeswax, hemp, and jojoba oil help to keep food fresh and allow repeated use of Roots Wrap.

By now, I’ve worked up a bit of a thirst. Thank goodness for Taryn of Maui Jun Company. Jun is a cultured honey beverage made with local raw Hawaiian honey, organic green tee, and lots of love, according to Taryn. “Jun is a ‘cousin’ of kombucha that originated in Tibet,” she says. “When I first started making jun, I tried more than 50 different honeys until I found just the right one for my flavor profiles.” Taryn says her flavors are quite unique, like papaya. “I’d never before seen papaya in a kombucha product.” Taryn says jun’s health benefits include fighting inflammation and reducing the body’s acidity.

At the Maui Raw booth I go into serious nibble mode as owner Michelle hands me samples of her yummy cultured macadamia nut spreads on pieces of her mac nosh crackers. Maui Raw’s mission is “making healthy foods craveable,” and I’d say they’ve definitely achieved that with their selection of positively habit-forming spreads with flavors like chive & lavender, Maui pineapple & pepper, and my personal favorite dill & garlic.

Maui Raw’s goodies have revved up my appetite, so we head to the Maui Cones booth manned by fisherman Henry, his dad Mike, and his beautiful wife and baby. Neil says Maui Cones is one of the highlights of the market, and regularly sells out. I can see why, as I dig into a panko ‘ahi cone that’s made with mouth-watering chunks of fresh-caught ‘ahi battered and fried on site, loaded into a nori “cone” atop a bed of rice with mango salsa and cole slaw, and drizzled with a tantalizing concoction they call “crack sauce” because it’s so addictive. Hungry yet?

UFM will celebrate its 7th anniversary on Saturday, July 8, with a celebration that will include a garden implement giveaway. “Every vendor will donate a bucket of items like gloves, trowels, shovels, and we’ll give it all away,” says Neil. “That means there will be more than one hundred winners!”

Trust me, UFM is the crème de la crème of farmers markets, and absolutely not to be missed.

–heidi pool

AT A GLANCE…

WHAT •

Upcountry Farmers Market, a wonderful local display featuring more than 100 vendors offering a multitude of products in a drop-dead gorgeous, community-building setting.

WHERE •

Kulamalu Town Center in Pukalani, near Longs Drugs off Kula Hwy #37.

WHEN •

Every Saturday morning from 7am to 11am, rain or shine. We recommend going as early as possible. Many of the best vendors sell out early.

HOW •

For more information please visit the Upcountry Farmers Market website at: http://www.upcountryfarmersmarket.com.

 

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