Farm to Table: 6 Dishes from Hawaii Restaurants

Here are six locally grown dishes you can order in Hawaii restaurants right now—and the farmers who made them possible.


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Wei Chong and Lexieng Ho in their 1,000-square-foot tomato greenhouse.

Great food, we’ve come to realize, is a partnership.

It’s a partnership among the farmers who raise it, the chefs who prepare it—and the customers who are wise enough to appreciate fresh, locally grown ingredients.

In Hawaii, we’re fortunate that the rich, volcanic soil and the abundance of microclimates mean things grow well here, from livestock to lettuce.

We’re less fortunate that the pressures of development and the availability of inexpensive imported food have put the squeeze on our remaining farmers.

Our chefs have stepped up to do something. They’ve sought out farmers to procure some of the best-tasting ingredients Hawaii has to offer.

We bring you six dishes you can find on Hawaii restaurant tables tonight—and the chefs and farmers who made them possible.

Alan Wong's Big Island Goat Cheese Mousse on Toast with Ho Farms Tomato Salad

The Farm

Alan Wong’s Big Island goat cheese mousse with Ho Farms tomato salad.

Bumping up the road  to Ho Farms reminds you that Oahu has not been given over entirely to housing developments and shopping centers.

These 50 acres, just off the highway in Kahuku, show what’s possible even on the most urban of islands.

In the packing shed today are nearly 40 laundry-size baskets, brimming with deep-green Japanese cucumbers, shiny clean, ready to be sorted by size and shrink-wrapped. The other day there were 300 baskets full, so many that the pickers, exhausted, took the next day off.

Today, cucumbers aren’t even the main event. Everywhere, in boxes and baskets, spread out on wooden tables, are baby tomatoes.

Handpicked and vine-ripened, the tomatoes are little jewels, all colors and shapes. Oblong baby Roma. Cherry and black cherry. Golden and green grape. Kahuku gold. Yellow pear tomatoes. And tiny, round, dark-red currant tomatoes.

A worker packs an assortment, the “Ho Farms Family Tomato Medley,” into two sizes of clear plastic boxes. There are larger, bulk packs for restaurants and Costco, and one-pound packs for Foodland.

“Tomatoes are our signature product, about 4,000 pounds a week,” says Shin Huoy Ho. Ho is 29, looks younger and sports a “Kahuku’s Finest” T-shirt. “To repair the soil we alternate them with cucumbers and long beans.”

This is a family farm. Shin Ho’s father, Wei Chong, her mother, Lexieng, and her younger brother, Neil, are all here, working.

In 1985, when Shin was 3, the family was in a camp for Laotian refugees in Thailand. Her brother was born there.

The family made its way to Hawaii in 1987. Wei Chong, with no farming experience, turned himself into a contemporary farmer. He studied with state ag experts and even traveled to Taiwan to learn in Chinese. “My English not so good then,” he says.

Ho Farms grows its tomatoes in three 1,000-square-foot greenhouses. “Even though we lease the land, we put in improvements because we had to,” says Shin, citing a common problem for farmers on land-starved islands.

The greenhouses not only protect the tomatoes, they minimize the need for pesticides and fertilizer, resulting in a purer product. The farm was the first on Oahu to receive food-safety certification.

“It’s not easy being a farmer. Sometimes we have issues with the tomatoes and other crops,” says Shin. “But we are making a go of it.”

Web Exclusive: For a complete recipe for Peter Merriman's boeuf bourguignon using local grass-fed beef, click here.

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