Kealia Farm is one of Kauai’s thriving Taro Farms located on the East Side of Kauai across from Kealia beach. We visited the farm on our first stop of our Tasting Kauai food tour, the “coconut coast tour”. This post is sponsored by Tasting Kauai.
On our recent vacation to Kauai one of the days was spent on a food tour with Tasting Kauai. One of the most memorable days I have ever spent on Kauai, aside from my wedding of course. ha ha! The tour was so amazing that one post wouldn’t do it justice so I have broken it down into two parts. Part one is the visit to the Taro Farm – Kealia Farm. Part two will be all about the food we had when we visited a few food trucks, bakery and a farm to table restaurant. Marta Lane of Tasting Kauai does an amazing job with these tours and I will go into greater detail about her and the tours in part two.
Kealia Farm is a working taro farm. They have 25 acres of wetland taro as well as other native Hawaiian fruits and vegetables, but taro is their main crop. The farm used to be part of the McKee sugar plantation that was the 1st electrified sugar plantation on Kauai. MaKee plantation housed 4000 workers, produced 20 thousand tons of sugar a year and closed in 1934. It took 5 million gallons of water to grow one acre of sugar, and only 20% came from rain. The sugar plantations had to develop irrigation systems and aqueducts to help irrigate the crops. Taro is a wetland crop, needing constant water to grow, so taking over an old sugar plantation makes for an ideal location for taro since the irrigation is already in place. Lihue Sugar Plantation took over the Makee plantation in in 1933 but has been closed since the year 2000. Kauai Backcountry Adventures has taken over part of the Lihue Plantation for a fun rafting adventure through some of the old irrigation canals and flumes. We didn’t have time for that adventure this time around, but it is top of our list for next time.
We started off down this dirt road to the taro patches as Adam Asquith, the main farmer of Kealia Farms, gave us the brief history of the sugar plantation as well as the history of the taro plant. Adam is clearly passionate about being a taro farmer, as well as teaching all about taro to school children, farm tours and like, that visit the farm. I was trying my best to take notes and photographs along the way so I could remember it all, but it was so easy just to walk and listen to him speak so passionately about this Ancient Hawaiian crop.
I would love for this to be my view on the way to work. How gorgeous is Kealia Farm?
Kealia farm employs goats and this lovely mule for weed and bug control. They do a great job. The mule looked up at us for a brief moment then went back to his lunch.
Taro, or Kalo as the Hawaiians call it, came to Hawaii via canoe with the earliest Polynesian settlers. It was cultivated as a staple food, with over 300 varieties of taro grown. Today there are less than 90 varieties still grown on the islands. Taro is either an upland crop or a wetland crop. Kealia farms is a wetland crop, it grows in a field that is underwater with the water flowing in and out via irrigation channels. The entire taro plant can be eaten. The root of the tuber, or corm, is what is made into poi ( that pale purple-gray paste like substance that Hawaiian’s love, and visitors are scared to try when they see it at Luaus) baked, boiled, steamed or made into chips. YUM. I love taro chips. Super yummy with ahi poke. The leaves are cooked as greens, think similar to spinach, for soups, dishes such as pork luau, or lau lau. The leaves are actually called Lu’au in Hawaiian.
Here is Adam telling us all about the soil that the Taro is grown in. It is a well draining soil, even though it is a wetland plant, stagnant water isn’t good, so the water needs to be replenished, this is why growing the taro in an old sugar plantation is a wonderful thing with the irrigation that was already established. The soil has a pH of 5.5-7 and there is plenty of organic matter in the soil as well. He went more into the breakdown of the soil nutrients and this was one of the parts where I was so fascinated listening to him I forgot to take notes! There were some birds flying over the taro patch we were near and my girls were asking questions about it. Adam explained that they were Ae’o birds that made nests in the patch because they knew they were safer from predators that way. They would also eat the small fish, crayfish, snails and bugs that are found in the waters of the taro patches. My girls were so fascinated by this that even a few weeks later they are still talking about these birds. Adam left quite the impression with my daughters.
Here Adam is explaining the different parts that make up the Kalo or Taro plant. The main parent tuber is the corm, the off shoots are called ‘ohā. The parent corms can grow 2-15 of these offshoots, which are then used to grow more taro plants. The word ‘Ohana comes from these little ‘ohā. Remember the movie, “Lilo and Stitch”? This line here from the movie, “Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten” is a huge part of Hawaiian culture. You can thank the taro plant for this saying.
Before taro can be eaten all parts must be cooked first. Taro contains oxalic acid and it needs to be broken down by cooking before consumption. Once the leaves start to yellow and no longer grow the taro is ready to harvest. Kealia Farms harvests 2 tons of taro a week. They make poi about 2 times a week. The rest of the taro is milled locally and prepared for shipping or selling at local farmers markets.
Gorgeous Kealia Farm. With some Ae’o birds in the distance. I could have spent all day here learning all about the farm and volunteering to harvest. Hopefully during our next trip to Kauai we will be able to do so. Adam is clearly passionate about his job and clearly loved teaching everyone about taro and its rich history and keeping that history thriving today. We walked back to the main building from the taro patch to sample some foods made from the taro plant that Adam’s wife, Bonnie had made for us.
Bonnie made us a refreshing lemonade, Lu’au leaf soup and a taro pie. The soup was beyond delicious. Think similar to a spinach soup with a chicken stock base, some garlic, butter, salt and pepper. Very simple but very delicious. Even my kids loved it. When we got home I made a trip over to our international market and found lu’au leaves in the frozen section near the other Hawaiian foods. I bought a package and will be making lu’au soup very soon to share with you all.
This taro pie had a basic pie crust with added spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg, the filling was taro, coconut milk, shredded coconut, cane sugar and spices. I can definitely see this on a fall desert table in place of pumpkin, pecan or sweet potato pie. It had all the elements of a perfect pie with the Hawaiian flavors that I love. This will be another recipe to watch for on my blog in the coming months as well. It was so delicious. I might have to contact Bonnie for the recipe, it was too good not to be able share with you all!
I could go on and on about Kealia Farm. There is so much more to Hawaii for me than pretty beaches, surf, sunsets and mai tais. I love the history of the islands, the culture, the people, the food. The feeling the islands give to one after time has been spent on the island. It is home to me. Many people visit Hawaii with the intentions of relaxing at the beach and only going out to fancy restaurants. I highly suggest the next time you are on Kauai, take a food tour with Tasting Kauai Not only will you have an amazing experience and get to sample some amazing foods, you will learn a whole new understanding of the culture and get to know people that will make you feel more like you are part of their ‘Ohana than just someone on vacation. And you will discover so many more places to eat that support local farms, have farm to table menus and if you are like me you will go back and dine with them many times during your trip!
Thanks again to Tasting Kauai for hosting me on this wonderful day. I was beyond thrilled to be invited to this experience. I received a complimentary farm tour from Tasting Kauai and no other compensation. As always, opinions are my own.