Destination Molokai
Visitors Bureau
Julie Bicoy
(808) 553-3876

See All Contacts

June 22, 2010


At eight a.m. on a Saturday, it’s already getting warm in Kaunakakai, the central and only town of Molokai. Along the town’s two-block commercial strip, the two grocery stores are getting ready for a busy day. So is the fish-and-dive shop, the bakery, the pharmacy, and the bike shop. But the island’s farmers are ahead of them all, for they’ve already rigged their booths and tents in a vacant corner lot. They’ll be done by noon, when they’ll head back to the land they’ve cultivated all week. Or maybe they’ll go fishing. Or maybe they’ll go home and clean out the imu, the underground oven, getting ready for a backyard luau.

When you live in a place with a land-and-sea-based subsistence economy – in other words, where most people live mainly by farming and fishing and hunting and swapping goods and helping each other out – especially when you live on a small remote island with only about 7,000 other people, a Saturday farmer’s market feels pretty important. It’s beyond quaint.

For example, it is a source of community pride to see the DeCoite family come in from L&R Farm with its sweet potatoes. This family has been growing sweet potatoes for three generations, starting with Tutu (Grandma) Becky Mokuau back in the sixties. And the tradition goes deeper than that, for they grow their crop in a region called Kualapuu – a name from deep Hawaiian heritage that means simply “sweet potato hill.” The DeCoites grow three kinds of sweet potatoes, the common orange ones, the Molokai Gold, and Molokai Purple. Those purple tubers have become darlings of the culinary arts, favored by chefs such as Emeril Lagasse and Sam Choy. Because there are laws prohibiting the export of sweet potatoes to the U.S, Mainland, L&R Farm has developed a line of sweet potato chips as a way of sharing their farm products with the wider world. L&R’s uala-farming operation is now a burgeoning Molokai-based industry. Somewhat similar is the production of Molokai Meli honey, a local crop created by the Kaneshiro family. The Kaneshiros spent years relocating bees from wild hives and have developed ways of jarring the purest sweetness the earth can offer.

When you come to Molokai, you might think (mistakenly) at first that there’s just not much going on. What’s going on is exactly this sort of authentic industry. Agriculture. It makes a good theme for a visit to this unique island.

For example, when you get off the plane, a good next move would be to drive immediately to Kumu Farms. Kumu (meaning “the source”) is a 30-year-old mostly organic farm located just five minutes from the airport. The farm has a visitor greeting area with a small store. You can stock up on their produce – papayas, bananas, fresh herbs, and an ever-changing array of organic goods – as well as yummy stuff from other island growers. The store also offers tips and recipes for cooking with the farm’s fresh herbs, packaged goods such as Kumu Farms’ delicious basil pesto, and walking tours of the farming and packing operation.

Coffees of Hawaii, located on Highway 470 in Kualapuu, provides its visitors with the most comprehensive experience of coffee production that they are likely to find anywhere. That’s an intricate story indeed, since any mug of steaming coffee results from one of the most complex processes in all of agriculture. Most of the world’s beans get shipped off to mills, then to roasters, and so on. But Coffees of Hawaii does it all on site, even the packaging. To do this the company employs many ingenious techniques for orchard maintenance, harvesting, husking, drying, sorting, cleaning, and roasting. Visitors can take advantage of several types of tours, including an easy walking tour, a full-on hike, and a ride in a mule-drawn wagon. There’s a cupping room, too, where you can learn to judge coffee flavors just like a pro. Even without taking a tour, visitors like to refresh themselves at the café/snack shop and buy quality local craft items in the gift shop.

A stop at Purdy’s Natural Macadamia Farm in Hoolehua entails not so much a tour as a social call on a true native son, Tuddie Purdy. At his five-acre homestead you relax in the shade, practice cracking these iron-clad nuts, sample some macadamia honey, and hear all sorts of stories about life on Molokai. This is a good place for getting oriented to island living.

Anyone who drives west from the island’s central town Kaunakakai will notice the multi-acre orchard of Molokai Plumerias. These sweet-scented, sturdy yellow blossoms are the consummate lei flowers and a perfect symbol of the aloha spirit. Though they are primarily in the business of shipping fresh flowers and leis all over the world, these plumeria growers are open to visits from interested travelers.

Situated at the extreme east end of Molokai, Puu o Hoku Ranch is devoting itself increasingly to the cause of sustainable organic agriculture. The small store at ranch headquarters sells an ever-changing variety of healthy vegetables, also organically raised beef. This is also an excellent place to buy Molokai-produced sea salt, lotions, soaps, botanical sprays, and other handcrafted goods. It’s possible to hike up slope to visit the farm and to take in the beauty and serenity of this amazing location.

It turns out that agriculture is one of the best ways to involve yourself in the subtle pleasures of Molokai. It’s an excellent way to meet the rooted people of the island, and it provides many insights about sustainable practices. To help organize your agricultural visits and to make your contacts as easily as possible, go to the Molokai Visitors Association. The MVA’s entire purpose is to help you find what you have come to discover, here on an island where “tourism” relies entirely on person-to-person contacts. Julie-Ann Bicoy director, 808 553–3876, P.O. Box 960, Kaunakakai HI 96748.  Or visit


Keli‘i Brown                        Julie Bicoy
Maui Visitors Bureau            Molokai Visitors Assn.
808-244-3530, Ext. 716        808-553-3876