Big Island Farmers Markets
by Sarah Blanchard
Just before dawn, as the sky begins to lighten at the rim of the horizon, the farmers markets come to life all across the Big Island. Trucks and vans and cars congregate at the stalls, as farmers and fishermen and craftspeople begin unloading boxes and crates and buckets and bags of the most wonderful produce, baked goods and handicrafts.
A trip to the local farmers market is a bi-weekly necessity for most island residents, and it's a must-see experience for any curious visitor. Nearly every community has at least a roadside stand offering fresh fruits and vegetables, but at the larger markets you may also find fresh-caught opakapaka (snapper) and smoked ahi (yellowfin tuna), spectacular floral arrangements and blooming orchid plants, locally made goat cheeses and hot sauces.
This is family agriculture at its very best. Many farmers grow their fruits and vegetables on small plots, using sustainable farming techniques. Organic farming is popular in Hawaii, and organic growers are proud to state their policies of no-pesticides and no commercial fertilizers.
Visitors from the mainland often don't recognize half of the fruits and vegetables grown here, and that's part of the fascination of the farmers markets. The eclectic mix of produce reflects seasonal availability, of course, as well as the many different ethnic groups that have contributed to the fascinating mix of foods found here. You may find ferns from Waipio Valley, used in Chinese and fusion dishes; Japanese daikon (radish), eggplants, cucumbers and edamame (soybeans); Hawaiian chili peppers; Thai basils and curries; Peruvian sweet potatoes; Portuguese sweet bread, sausage and malasadas (no-hole donuts). And there's always lots of fresh ginger, introduced by the Japanese but now used by everyone.
And bananas! You may think that you can ignore bananas because they're so familiar, and focus on the more exotic fruits-but you may not have seen bananas like these before. Bananas sold in mainland supermarkets are usually Cavendish, a bland, slow-ripening variety that withstands the rigors of shipping. Here on the Big Island, however, you'll find a wide range of delicately flavored varieties such as diminutive apple bananas, vanilla-flavored ice cream bananas, robust Thompsons, and plantains for cooking.
In most of the world, bananas are, after all, a staple food, a vital part of the local diet. Worldwide, the banana ranks fourth (after rice, wheat and corn) as the planet's most economically important food crop. And bananas, of course, are perfectly portable, the ideal snack to munch on as you strong through the rest of the market.
But don't forget the flowers: cut blossoms, growing plants, and intricately strung leis of every color and design. Gorgeous bunches of orchids, anthuriums, ginger blooms, and exotic bird-of-paradise burst from their buckets. At the lei stands, fragrant plumeria and gardenia leis swing from overhead displays or adorn stylish woven-straw hats. Prices are tantalizingly low, and many orchid growers specialize in shipping plants to the mainland, so you can purchase beautiful plants and arrange to have them land on your doorstep as soon as arrive home.
It's a real feast for the senses. Take your time to browse, and be ready to "talk story" with the folks behind the tables. Many vendors will offer samples of their wares, so you may be able to sip fresh roasted coffees from Hamakua and Kona, sample flavored macadamia nuts, taste guava jellies or freshly made fudge. Fruit sellers may offer a slice of avocado or mango or cherimoya, or show you how to pop the top to eat a furry rambutan.
For a fun and delicious experience, look for a coconut stand. Choose a green coconut, not a hard brown one, and ask if there's someone who can open it for you. Often, a coconut seller will oblige by wielding a machete to lop off one end so you can insert a straw and drink the clear, sweet liquid. (That's coconut juice, not coconut milk, which is pressed from the ripe nut.) If the liquid is a little frothy and has a delicate, slightly fermented flavor, that's a "champagne" coconut. The meat will be almost baby-food soft and quite sweet, not hard and dry like the brown coconuts in the supermarket.
Farmers markets are also great places to find unique items created by local artists and craftspeople. Koa and coconut wood carvings, distinctive clothing and quilts, glass sculptures, paintings and photographs, one-of-a kind jewelry pieces-all are on display in the open-air markets, and you'll often get a chance to talk with the artists themselves. You're also likely to find live music; perhaps there will be a planned concert, but more often it will be a morning serenade by street-corner troubadours.
A note about schedules: Many farmers markets are open for only a couple of days each week. For example, the award-winning Hilo Farmers Market-the largest and best-known farmers market in Hawaii-is open only two days a week. A few vendors staff their stalls in the marketplace every day, but Hilo Farmers Market unfolds in all its full splendor only on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Begun in 1988 with just a few produce sellers, this open-air market has grown to feature nearly 130 vendors selling everything from exotic fruits and flowers to specialty foods, jewelry, island-made clothing and traditional Hawaiian crafts. Any visit to Hilo is incomplete without a trip to this market!
Check the list below for the most current information (as of November, 2005) on farmers markets around the Big Island; be aware, however, that days and hours may change at any time. See the list below for information about the major farmers markets on the Big Island. Then, enjoy!
Honokaa Farmers Market
Old Botelho Bldg., Honokaa
Saturday, 7:30 a.m.-2:00 p.m.
Verifone Building, 9652 Kaumalii Hwy, Laupahoehoe
Saturday, 8:00 a.m.-12:00 noon
Hilo Farmers Market
Corner of Kamehameha Avenue & Mamo Street, Hilo
Wednesday & Saturday, 7:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m.
Panaewa Hawaiian Home Lands Farmers Market
Puainako & Ohuohu Streets, by Walmart in Hilo
Daily, 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
Rainbow Falls Market Place
Across from Rainbow Falls, north of Hilo, HI
Monday and Thursday, 8:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.
Fern Forest Town Market
2nd Saturday of the month from 9:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.
Ka'u Farmers Market
Naalehu Theater, Ka'u
Saturday, 8:00 a.m.-12:00 noon
O'Suzanna's Farmers Market
Highway 11 at Road to the Sea, Ocean View
Saturday, 8:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.
Volcano Farmers Market
Cooper Center, 1000 Wright Road, Volcano
Sunday, 8:30 a.m.-11:00 a.m.
Hawaiian Homestead Farmers Market
Kuhio Hale Building, 64-759 Kahilu Road, Waimea
Saturday, 7:00 a.m.-12:00 noon
I Ka Pono Farmers Market
Parker School, at I Ka Pono Community Garden, Waimea
Saturday, 7:30 a.m.-12:00 noon
"Under the Banyans" Farmers Market
Saturday, 7:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m.
Ali'i Garden Market Place
Ali'i Drive, 2 miles south of Kailua Pier, Kona
Wednesday-Sunday, 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
Kailua Village Farmer's Market
Across from Hale Halawai, Kailua-Kona
Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Kona Farmers Market
Old Industrial Park, Kaiwi Square, Kona
Saturday & Sunday, 8:00 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Akebono Farmers Market
Akebono Theatre, Pahoa
Sunday, 8:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.
Caretakers of Our Land Farmers Market
Sacred Heart Church, Pahoa
Saturday, 7:30 a.m.-12:00 noon
12 Mile marker on Highway 11, Mountain View
Monday-Friday, 10:00 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
Saturday, 9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.
Kea'au Village Farmers Market
Daily, 7:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
Maku'u Farmers Market
Highway 130, Pahoa
Sunday, 8:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m
Kealakekua Flea Market
Haleki'i Street, Kealakekua
Tuesday, Thursday, & Saturday, 8:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m.
Kona Pacific Farmers' Coop
82-5810 Napoopoo Rd., Captain Cook
New Open Farmers Market
By the Pink Donkey sign, Captain Cook
South Kona Fruit Stand
Near the old Higashi Store, 84-4770 Mamalahoa, Captain Cook
Monday-Saturday, 9:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.
photo credit: Sarah Blanchard
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Story appeared originally in Coffee Times print magazine and appears online for archival purposes only. Any use or reprinting of these stories without the expressed written consent of the author is prohibited.