Editor’s Page: And So It Grows

My admiration for farmers stems from decades of backyard fails.
Christi Young
PHOTO: KAREN DB PHOTOGRAPHY

They were strawberries, about the size of a quarter. And they were not sweet. But for my backyard garden, it was a huge accomplishment.

 

I’ve never had much luck growing things. When I bought my first home, in a burst of new homeowner optimism, I went shopping and tossed planter boxes on top of the painters’ tape, new deadbolt locks and other random household items, along with four adorable herb plants. Armed with pristine new gardening gloves and glistening trowels, I planted the babies and set them outside.

 

A few months later, the tops of my unused green onions had burst into little white afros and the aggressive rosemary plant had choked out both my Thai basil and delicate mint.

 

When I had kids, we graduated to a garden bed for the soybean, lettuce and flower plants that inevitably found their way home from school. None survived. Zucchini blossoms always succumbed to a fatal Hawai‘i mixture of leaf mold and slugs. In the pot where we buried a bunch of dragon fruit seeds, scooped from the snack we bought at Foodland, the healthiest weed sprouted happily for weeks, until we figured out it was not actually a pitaya plant. Eventually, we were able to successfully harvest a few hair-thin carrots, golf-ball-size beets and those mouth-puckering berries.

 

So, I have a healthy appreciation for farmers. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Census recorded 7,000 farms in the Islands, more than double the number in 1974. But they were smaller: The average local farm was 161 acres, compared to 702 acres more than 30 years ago.

 

Strawberries
Photo: christi young

 

It is not easy. It was a shock when longtime local agriculture advocate Dean Okimoto closed Nalo Farms last year after more than 60 years and two generations of farming, unable to recover from the spring floods that wiped out most of his greens. The weather, disease, insects and the demand for development on O‘ahu’s shrinking open spaces are always a threat. That’s why in this issue of HONOLULU, we decided to highlight local ingredients. Since the start of Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine in 1991, chefs have made the farm-to-table concept a daily expectation for diners. In this issue, food and dining editor Catherine Toth Fox and writer Mari Taketa searched for the best dishes featuring locally raised shrimp, pork, mushrooms and ‘ulu, then introduced us to some of the producers bringing them to our tables. You can find our guide to eating local, the stories behind six local chefs’ favorite knives, expert tips to what to bring to a BYOB restaurant and more in our All-Island Restaurant Guide.

 

This issue also serves as a goodbye for one of our biggest advocates for local farms, chefs, businesses and just people in general. If you’ve never met Catherine Toth Fox, I’d be surprised. As a passionate journalist armed with a flawless memory for names and an ability to put anyone instantly at ease—as well as an unmistakable laugh that is almost impossible not to join—she seems to know everyone. But it is through her words, the time she spends with people to understand and tell their stories, that you really see the heart of Cat. She will be leading her own team at our sister publication, HAWAI‘I Magazine. She will be missed.

 

Christi Young

 

Got a good story? Reach me at christiy@honolulumagazine.com

 

SEE ALSO: What’s in The March 2019 Issue