Growing choices in Hawaii for fresh, local produce

Maui-bees-organic-vegetable-farm-kulaUsed to be that if you wanted fresh, local and organic produce in Hawaii you had to shop at  health food stores selling primarily expensive imports from the Mainland. But now there are a growing number of organic farms in Hawaii selling local produce directly to consumers.

Here are my top picks:

1. Maui Bees, 150 Pule Nui Road, Kula, Maui. Open daily.

Probably the most scenic view you’ll ever seen from a farm. On a clear day there are views of four islands while you pick your own produce. Don’t be fooled by the flags of another farm on the corner; that’s not Maui Bees. You’ll need to drive upslope about 1/4 mile, and then you’ll see their Honey for Sale sign. You’re at the right place when you feel like you’re pulling into someone’s driveway.

2. Waipa Farmer’s Market, past Hanalei, Kauai. Open Tuesdays from 2 pm to 6 pm.

One of Kauai’s best kept secrets set against the lush greenery and waterfalls of the northshore. Rain or shine, this small but excellent market delivers some of the best quality food you’ll find on Kauai. If you’re lucky, you might score some poi made from heirloom taro at Waipa’s community mill next door.

3. Hilo Farmer’s Market, Hilo, Hawaii. Open Wednesdays and Saturdays from 6 am to 4 pm.

Hawaii’s biggest and most famous farmer’s market, it does not disappoint. You’ll find beautiful of organic produce from nearby farms at great prices. Many farmers make their own “value added” products, such as jams, jellies and condiments. The market also hosts an entire section of local artisans, weavers and jewelers. The market alone is worth a day trip from Kona or another island. But get there early because the best produce goes fast.

What now?

You’ve scored some amazing produce now what? Check out www.RecipesinSeason.org for tips and recipes on how prepare fresh food for maximal nutrition and flavor.

Hawaii skies offer clear view of transit of Venus

transit-of-venus-june-2012-hawaii-picture

Transit of Venus captured by astronomer Adam Burgasser with a Panasonic digital camera and solar filter at Pai’a Beach Park in Maui, Hawaii, on June 5, 2012.

This is a rare window to see firsthand that other planets are real: Venus will appear as a black dot crawling across the sun’s disk in the afternoon sky on June 5, 2012. Venus has been seen crossing the sun only six times before in history, prompting Captain Cook’s voyage to Tahiti in 1761 and allowing astronomers to measure accurately the size of the universe. It won’t be seen again for another 105 years.

“Venus has a carbon-dioxide rich atmosphere with complex circulation patterns that could help us better understand rising CO2 levels on earth,” explains astronomer Jay Pasachoff of Williams College, who will give a free public talk after the transit in Kamuela about his research on Venus as a part of the Keck astronomy lecture series.

Hawaii launches Aloha for Japan program

debris-on-paia-bay-maui-tsunami-march-2011Some of the Twitterati mislead their followers with dire warnings about the impact of the March 11, 2011 tsunami in Hawaii. I received several panicked emails from friends and relatives on the Mainland. We are fine, apart from cleaning up mud and debris that coated most of the beaches and beach parks prompting statewide closures for a couple of days.

It’s the Japanese who suffered and are still suffering tragedy. The Hawaii state government has launched a program to help the Japanese called “Aloha for Japan.” Lt. Governor Brian Schatz heads the committee, which is directing donations to sister communities in need. You can help by donating money or specified items. Most banks, including American Savings and Bank of Hawaii, are serving as collection points. You can also mail a donation directly to:

Aloha for Japan

2454 South Beretania Street, Suite 201

Honolulu, HI 96826.

Happy 1-1-11!

I raise my spork loaded with fresh poi and toast to health and happiness in the coming year. Happy new year!

Therapy animals bring joy and comfort to Maui’s elderly and disabled

Shannon Dominguez works at least 70 hours per week at Upcountry Maui’s Haku Baldwin Center.She directs a popular community program called Animal-Assisted Therapy. Several times per week, she loads up her truck with a menagerie of well-trained animals–including dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs, ducks & chickens–and visits people who are elderly, infirmed or disabled. Her therapy animals bring comfort to about 400 people per month on Maui.

The Haku Baldwin Center's animal-assisted therapy dogs (left to right) Mana, Bella and Wilbur. Photo credit: Shannon Dominguez.

I tagged along with Dominguez and her crew, and in about three hours we visited nearly 65 elderly and disabled people. Here’s how a typical animal-assisted therapy visit works. Residents of a skilled nursing facility gather in the activities’ room. Some have just come from physical therapy, dialysis or a visit with their doctor; others have gotten out of bed for the first time that day. Most sit in wheelchairs. I walked with a certified therapy dog around to each resident and asked if he or she would like to meet a nice dog. Some people don’t like dogs, and we moved on. But many love animals and did their best to pet the dog with knotted hands. Faces light up, and for a few moments, pain melts away. Some residents remained focused on the animal for the entire visit, while others after a minute or two started chatting with me. One elderly woman patted the dogs head and then showed me the newspaper she was holding. She was reading her eldest son’s obituary.

There is more demand on Maui for animal-assisted therapy than she can meet, explained Dominguez. For example, veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) might benefit from animal-assisted therapy, but in order to serve them, Dominguez would have to double the size of her operation. It’s a problem that many small non-profit organizations face: a larger operation would mean a much greater administrative paperwork burden and less time doing the work. That’s not likely to happen any time soon, given Dominguez’s dedication to the programs she runs matched by existing funding for the Haku Baldwin Center and the AAT program comes from a private endowment. But Dominguez added that private donations are always welcome.

Hale Makua resident enjoys time with therapy rabbit, Koa

Chef Peter Merriman’s picks for handmade Hawaiian treats

Looking for unique gift ideas? Here are some lost-cost “locavore” treats made locally on Maui. Most are available for about $10-$20.

Chef Peter Merriman’s picks for handmade Hawaiian treats.

Full moon eclipse photo

During last night’s full moon (lunar) eclipse, most of Hawaii and California was socked in under heavy rain clouds caused by a major storm on the Pineapple Express. The best photo I’ve seen of the eclipse comes from NASA.

A lunar eclipse occurs when the earth moves between the sun and the moon and casts its shadow, causing the moon to appear dark red. Image courtesy of NASA/Bill Ingalls.