Written by Viola Gaskell
A local pioneer of the roadside produce stand, Wayne Nishiki of Farmer’s Market Maui, has been selling farm-fresh fruits and vegetables from Maui roadsides since the ‘70s. In the beginning, he moved a makeshift stand from place to place, until he opened Farmer’s Market Maui in 1978 in a parking lot across the street from the Kihei Canoe Club. Today his stall is shaded by tall, broad-branched monkey pod trees and the lot is buzzing with people ambling between Sugar Beach Bake Shop, Ululani’s Hawaiian shave ice and the market, though many come just to visit Wayne’s 44-year-old farm stand. One of the monkey pods is now part of the stand and the tent has been cut away to accommodate its meandering trunk.
Before opening the stand, Wayne had been growing and selling sprouts for a few years. “It was all of the mom and pop shops who were willing to buy from me,” he said “they supported my lifestyle—not the corporations.” So when he opened Farmer’s Market Maui, he tried to do the same; he carried vegetables grown by Kula farmer Sylvestere Tumbaga, bananas from small farms throughout Maui, and papayas and avocados from farmers on the Hawaiʻi Island, where Wayne grew up.
Now he carries tropical flower arrangements and plants grown by a semi-retired former employee and his wife who bring arrangements in from Haiku every Monday, sprouts grown by his old friends at Kahanu ‘Āina Greens in Wailuku, and banana bread baked by his daughter Kai, who carries on her father’s spirit of local activism.
Wayne was repeatedly elected to local government posts and served on Maui’s County Council for 11 years between 1980 and 2005. An early advocate of farmers markets, he has long cultivated a link between farming and community and political activism. At the stand though, his only agenda seems to be making fast friends with nearly everyone who walks in, and making sure they taste his samples; strawberry papayas, pineapple, homemade guacamole, and macadamia nuts are today’s featured foods.
Though Wayne says supporting mom and pop farmers is a priority for him, Farmer’s Market Maui also supports larger companies working to increase food security in Hawaiʻi. The stand’s managers source pineapple from Maui Gold in Hailʻimaile and they plan to carry watermelon from Mahi Pono soon.
The cold case features Valley Isle Kombucha, Papa Leroy’s Maui-grown arugula, and other fresh produce. Shelves are stocked with Maui-grown coffee, Maui Jelly, Hawaiʻi Island honey and macadamia nuts, and other added-value products from Hawaiʻi brands like Sinaloa Hawaiian Tortillas — a great pairing for the house-made guacamole and salsa. And kitchen staff whip up smoothies and acai bowls overflowing with local banana, honey, and bee pollen Monday through Saturday.
Farmer’s Market Maui is, and always has been, family-owned. Wayne’s daughter Sachi, who is often at the family’s market and deli in Honokowai, took over the business a few years ago. And the two managers on site, Prince and Waylon, have been running the Kihei show for 17 and 7 years respectively. “He’s the future,” Prince says affectionately of Waylon.
“We’re all like this here,” says Waylon, interlocking his fingers at eye level to demonstrate the closeness of the market’s team. Waylon, who grew up in a big family on Oʻahu, credits his job at the market with enabling him to eat healthily. “I ate a lot of canned food growing up,” he says. “Now, I eat fresh papayas, fresh avos and greens all the time working here.”
Prince says he loves working at the market after all these years because, “you get to meet all different types of people of all shapes and sizes, lives, and religions—and we get to introduce them to local fruits,” he says. Meanwhile visitors exclaim delight at the generously-sized samples of papaya Wayne is handing out.
“Where can I get that exact papaya?” A man asks, gesturing at the array of papayas, some round and yellow, others oblong and bright green. It is, of course, a local strawberry papaya.
Farmer’s Market Maui carries certified organic strawberry papayas from Coca Farms in Kula, but the bulk of their papayas come from Hawaiʻi Island. Prince says he’d like to source all of his papayas from Maui but they are often in short supply on the island because “the water issues make it hard” he says. “You need a lot of water to grow papayas,” he says, and irrigation is a contentious topic on island.
Though the stand attracts its fair share of tourists, Prince says “it was actually the locals who sustained it during the pandemic.” Kihei locals came in and found that pineapples, papayas, and avocados were cheaper at the Nishiki’s stand than at Safeway or other stores in the area, he says. “We try to keep things affordable, our markup is pretty small because of that.”
Two years ago, Wayne had a stroke. “I had a second chance at life,” he says, “and I love being here and seeing all of these families coming in together, it brings me a lot of joy.” From the way the families respond to Wayne’s warm welcome and thoughtfully curated goods, it seems he’s imparted a lot of joy too.
Farmerʻs Market Maui, Kihei
Monday-Thursday 8am-4pm, Friday 8am-5pm, Saturday 7am-5pm
61 S Kihei Rd, Kihei, HI 96753
Vendor Contact: (808) 875-0949
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