Written By Viola Gaskel
Maui’s Fresh Produce Market vendor Pepito Valdez says he is surely the most prolific zucchini farmer on Maui, if not in all of Hawaiʻi. “If I am not the biggest, why would they demand my zucchini in Honolulu and Kona?” he laughs. Since 2007, he and his wife Susan have been selling their vegetables at the Fresh Produce Market in Queen Kaahumanu Center, where their loyal Central Maui customer base has kept the market afloat despite rent hikes, recessions, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Valdez and other vendors sell a number of vegetables specifically suited to Filipino and Japanese cooking, like bitter melon and Okinawan sweet potato. One Friday in March, longtime Kula farmers, the Tumbagas, filled their tables with lengthy deep-purple Chinese eggplant, long beans, and small bunches of herbs like moringa. Natty Tumbaga and her husband Sylvestre, who sell their vegetables to Local Harvest, Longs Drugs, and Farmers Market Maui in Kihei, said they love the Kaahumanu market because of their regulars and because the location is a comfortable place to spend the day, protected from the sun, rain, and wind.
The market has been strained by rent hikes in recent years, and foot traffic in the mall isn’t what it used to be, but Pepito estimates at least 500 people (mostly locals) still come by most days, “definitely on Fridays,” he adds. Besides, there is more to the Maui’s Fresh Produce market for Susan and him: “I think it’s not so much about how much we make, it’s more about serving the community—because the bus station is located here and that gives the bus riders the opportunity to do their produce shopping here at a very discounted price compared to the store,” he says.
SNAP/EBT and DaBux can be used to purchase produce at Okoʻa Farms’ stall and multiple vendors including Pepito and Susan take MEO’s Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program coupons.
Most weeks there are nine or ten regular vendors (with an influx during holidays), a handful of which are farmers. Okoʻa Farms, the market’s resident organic option, carries a plethora of exotics from ice cream bean to star apple. This week a Lahaina farmer named Lilia is selling Arimo, a Japanese taro variety, as well as ingredients for pinakbet (a traditional Filipino stew), including homegrown vegetables and spices and fish sauce from the Philippines.
The stand next to hers offers an array of Filipino and Japanese baked goods including ube and mung bean manju, lumpia, and ampan (sweet roll filled with adzuki bean paste). Another vendor is selling coconuts, bananas, and crafts made by a friend.
Allen Davidson of Aloha Botanicals Maui has been selling plants at the market since it opened. He prefers the market for its local clientele and relaxed atmosphere. Some of his regulars who’ve been coming to the market for years give reports on their plants or come by for tips on past buys while perusing newly displayed anthuriums, orchids, and herbs.
Customer Grace Gintling said she comes to Maui’s Fresh Produce Market because the produce is in-fact, “very fresh and often less expensive than at the grocery store,” and the vendors are, “very helpful, and very kind,” she says.
Maui’s Fresh Produce Market, Tues, Wed, Friday 8am – 4pm
Queen Ka’ahumanu Center, Center Court
275 West Kaʻahumanu Avenue
Vendor Contact: Pepito Valdez, 808-298-4289
Want your farmers market highlighted on our blog?
Email us at email@example.com