Farm to Table: The New Face of Farming

Meet the people who grew your dinner.


Published:

(page 5 of 5)


Maui-born farmer Walter Evonuk, shown with his wife, Terry Chang.

Photo: Olivier Koning

Walter Evonuk, Evonuk Farms

a sustainable life:


Photo: Olivier Koning

A delicious, familiar scent wafts over the 30 acres of Evonuk Farms in Kula, on the slopes of Haleakala–. “Aromatherapy is a fringe benefit to working here,” agrees farmer Walter Evonuk, reeling off a list of just a few of the things he and his father, Edward, grow: mint, rosemary, parsley, three kinds of chives, thyme, savory, sorrel, tarragon, marjoram, oregano, fennel, sage, lemongrass.

Each crop has its own unique fragrance, which varies in intensity and relates directly to the work you are doing in that area,” says Evonuk. “[It’s] strong while weeding, stronger yet while harvesting, and really powerful when mowing or plowing a field.”

His intimate knowledge of the farm’s sensory rhythms comes from the better part of a lifetime spent on this patch of ground. Evonuk’s parents came from Oregon, the proverbial couple who came to Maui for their honeymoon and never left. They found teaching jobs at Lahainaluna School and, in 1975, the year Walter was born, they purchased four acres and began to farm. Over the years, says Evonuk, they tried everything before settling on culinary herbs as a niche market that allowed them to avoid intensive pesticide regimens.

Evonuk grew up on Maui and left the Islands to earn an architecture degree in the Bay Area. His architectural thesis project brought him back to the farm to see what he could do “to make it more sustainable—economically, environmentally, socially.” Broad-based sustainability has since become one of the farm’s governing principles, manifesting itself in everything from farm procedures to hiring practices; Evonuk Farms employs local workers, which strengthens the community, as well as interns from two international farm education programs that promote the exchange of agricultural knowledge.


Photo: Olivier Koning


 

“I’m very concerned with doing things in an Earth-friendly way,” says Evonuk. The Evonuks plant their winter fields with “green manure” crops such as sun hemp, which holds onto the soil during the punishing winter rains and then gets plowed back into the earth, depositing nitrogen naturally. They also installed a major solar array in December 2008, to help power the farm and reduce reliance on petroleum. The results have been promising, says Evonuk. In the winter months, their power bill was reduced by more than half, “and we have big expectations for the summer.”

Evonuk is now a partner in Evonuk Farms. Returning to Maui three years ago was something of a leap of faith, he says: “It is a hard, hard job.” Farm work doesn’t break for weekends and vacations, and an unexpected rain or dry spell can ruin months of effort. “It’s frustrating when you have a beautiful crop and you can’t harvest because you have to wait till it dries, or it gets destroyed and you lose out big time,” he says. “Catastrophes aside, I do like working with the weather because every day is different. Most of the population doesn’t have that connection [to the elements].”

Today, fragrant herbs and salad greens from Evonuk Farms wind up in restaurant dishes and home cooking across the state. Walter’s ambition for the future is a practical one: to run a sustainable farm that allows the farmers to sustain a 21st-century lifestyle—with an occasional holiday. “Yeah, it would be nice to take vacations,” he says wistfully. “I’ve seen my parents struggle over the years to make the farm the success it is. We would like to get the farm to the point where it can actually run for weeks without us.” Another goal: “To retire, period, would be nice. A lot of farmers, they just go until they can’t go anymore.”

But when he’s asked why he farms at all, he laughs. His answer: “Well, because I just like doing it.”
 

Chinese Garlic Chives with Egg

Walter Evonuk’s favorite herb is garlic chives—a product of which he sells very little. “Americans only think of chives as something you chop up real fine and sprinkle over the top [of a dish],” he says, “but in Asia, they use it as a vegetable.” His wife, Terry Chang, who is from Taiwan, makes what he calls “the most unexpected side dish I’ve ever had.”

In a hot pan glazed with vegetable oil, lightly scramble four eggs with a splash of soy sauce until they’re 80 percent done. Set the eggs aside, clean the pan, heat and oil it, and quickly stir-fry a half-pound bunch of roughly chopped garlic chives (use the green part). When they’re wilted, add the eggs; give them a stir; add a generous pinch of salt. Cook until the eggs are done but still moist; serve hot.
 


 

See the 2008 edition of Farm to Table.


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