An Appetite for Culture + VIDEO

How Maui farmers are cultivating ancient wisdom to feed a population—and a hunger for culture.

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breadfruit cut open
Checking the ripeness of a young ‘ulu. The versatile fruit can be eaten at all stages. When small and green and cooked as a vegetable, its flavor resembles artichoke hearts.

On Maui’s west side, Lahaina farmer James Simpliciano of Simpli-Fresh Farm faces similar hurdles. He leases twenty acres from Kamehameha Schools, which sits just above the Lahaina bypass between Hōkiokio Place and Lahainaluna Road. His farm lies on former Pioneer Mill Company sugarcane fields; fellow farmers have warned Simpliciano about potential difficulties in cultivating the land.

“People tell me, ‘Why do you want to farm in this rocky, dry area?’” he says. “I like the challenge, and I think it’s possible that this can be a food forest.”

It’s already on its way. Since 2014, Simpliciano has planted just about any seed he could get, but concludes that canoe crops are best suited for the area.

“I found that canoe crops were less maintenance, much easier to handle, and could tolerate this environment. European crops . . . tend to need constant care and lots of added minerals.”

Simpliciano explains that ‘ulu’s versatility and abundant yields are key to a more food-secure Hawai‘i. He’s doing his part: his farm includes about 200 ‘ulu trees—with more being planted regularly. He’s also growing other canoe crops, including niu (coconut), kalo, kō (sugarcane), ‘ōlena (tumeric), and ‘uala (sweet potato).

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