Kuhio Hale Farmers Market: Serving the Community ‘Ai with Aloha

Located amid the green pastures of Waimea, the Kuhio Hale Farmers Market is situated safely under the eaves of the Kuhio Hale building. Given the frequent winds of Waimea, this is an ideal location for vendors and shoppers to comfortably spend a lovely Saturday morning together. This farmers market is made up of 6-8 homestead farmers who grow, weed, water, worry, and raise everything they sell. A true farmers market. 

As a division of the Waimea Hawaiian Homestead Association (WHHA), Kuhio Hale was a spin-off of a previous market and began in 2015. Through a greenhouse grant obtained by WHHA the Homestead farmers were given a path to self-sustainability with the opportunity to receive a turn-key greenhouse. The newly formed market gave these farmers a venue to sell their organically grown produce and value-added products. 

The cool weather of Waimea has proven to be an excellent climate for growing a variety of vegetables including tomatoes and cucumbers from Sonny’s Fine Vine, asparagus and honey from Hana Hoe Farm, and cabbage, lettuce, and beans from T7 Farms. Cafe Tutu offers baked goods, fudge, dried fruits and a vegan menu of treats and cold soups. While 3 Mountain BBQ — a family-run business— cooks up huli-huli style chicken, ribs, and steak. And let’s not forget Uncle Boo Boo’s variety of value-added items like papaya and pineapple jams, pickled onions, and hoio salad. 

When the pandemic started, the idea was formed to create a small-scale CSA-type of service where local produce, meats, and poi would be distributed to those in need in the Waimea, Waikoloa, and Kohala communities. Market Manager Kathy Manuel shares “Umeke Ai, a grant-funded program, was an opportunity to help our Hawaiian farmers, ranchers, and fishermen sell their high-quality products and bring a healthy and nutritional diet to our community.” The program currently serves over 350 participants who drive through every Saturday to pick up their bags. On a recent Saturday distribution, the bag contained papaya, uala, tomatoes, fresh fish, kalua pork, and poi. 

For the past 62 weeks, the Umeke Ai project has increased market awareness as well as overall sales. More importantly, Umeke has helped to replace white rice with poi and canned corn with lettuce and tomato to freshen participants’ diets and bring Hawaiian staple foods back onto the dining table.

Many of the 350 Umeke recipients have been with the program since the beginning. And as a testament to this camaraderie, some of the homesteaders will often donate items from their backyard trees — a box of avocados, bananas, oranges — to include with the Umeke bags.

When a long-time customer was recently asked what she loved most about the program she stated

“the poi, lomi salmon, lettuce, tomato, papaya, fresh fish and smoked meat!  And my blood pressure has also improved!  Also, the curbside aunties are funny and nice too!” 

Another aunty changed her diet from white rice to poi and says her blood pressure has improved as well. She especially loves the 1 pound bag of fresh Waipio poi and says her $10 pays for the poi alone.

Though the program is currently at capacity, there are usually a few Umeke Ai bags available for walkups. Most of the items included in the weekly bags can be purchased at the farmers market at very reasonable prices. Farmers market customers can purchase 1 lb of tomatoes or 9 oz bunches of asparagus for $6, a dozen free-range eggs for $7, greens ranging from $2-$4, and value-added products for $2-$10. Everything is grown and raised organically.

In addition to the local drive-up customers, the Kuhio Hale farmers market attendance is bolstered by faithful snowbirds and the rarely lost tourist. Since the Umeke program, they also have a Hilo following that frequents the market. The Kuhio Hale lanai, with music by Uncle Bart and stocked with complimentary coffee, has become a gathering place (with respect to social distancing) for local chatter and family catch-up. The large open lawn offers a welcoming place for the mo’opuna to laugh and play. There’s lots of parking, an easy entrance, and exits, and drive-thru shopping is also welcome! 

The Details: 
Kuhio Hale Farmers Market
64-752 Mamalahoa Hwy, Kamuela, HI 96743
Saturdays, 7:30 am – 12:00 pm 
Vendor Contact: Kathy Manuel, kman19512000@yahoo.com                                                                      ‘Umeke ‘Ai pick-up: Saturdays, 8:00 am – 12:00 pm

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