Maui, United States
I have to be honest, when I heard that the Ritz Carlton Kapalua wanted to show me their hotel garden I was a bit suspicious this would be a case of “garden washing.” I mean sure I expect a luxury experience from them with great food, but I thought it would be a 10×10 plot of land with a few herbs.
Per usual I was wrong.
I don’t usually write about hotels because eventually they all start to look the same. Sure the service here is top-notch, but you expect that from a luxury hotel. Honestly every hotel says they are about their community, the environment and the local culture. I come from marketing, I know those are all the right things to say. But this garden and their plans for the future made me think again about the Ritz Carlton.
Let me start from the beginning.
This garden didn’t start out as an altruistic effort and I’m okay with that. Nearly six years ago the hotel was spending a fortune on herbs that were being shipped over from the main land and were terrible quality. Let’s face it, if you are the Ritz Carlton, you can’t have limp greens.
The kitchen decided they needed to start growing them if they wanted quality food. The problem is that most kitchens have staff that work so hard they have little time to devote to other projects so for a few years they kept it going but struggled trying to figure out how to make things more efficient.
Finally last year everyone agreed they needed to bring someone in; fortunately at the same time Frank, a retiree from the business world, wanted to take on a new challenge.
This is where the real story begins.
With a commitment to the garden it really began to thrive. Frank started with simply reviving the orchids that were dying in people’s rooms. Then he moved onto planting more herbs, vegetables and fruit including local species of things I have never seen before like a version of spinach that grows like a bush.
But here is what blew me away.
Now they save over $30,000 alone in herbs in the hotel garden. They are ripping out the tennis courts and planning to grow an orchard and there is a desire to figure out how they can introduce beehives to benefit the garden. They are also looking at how they can expand their greenhouse so there are more tomatoes and other plants and then bring solar-powered lights for dinners at night.
But in all my travels this is what I am starting to learn: if big businesses would just start to take risks like this they can create programs that are good for their bottom line and what travelers really want. Sure you can eat in some grand dining room but that’s not what you are going to tell your friends and family about. but spend a night in a garden surrounded by the smell of fresh lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves and you’ll never forget it.
And when they succeed others will follow.
I’m okay with businesses doing the “right thing” for profit and I admire them when they actually admit that’s why they are doing it. I know there is always a level of people wanting to make change for the better but this program actually shows that it can be a smart business move to go local and organic. I am so tired of the argument that local/organic is too expensive and for a loss of profit and I really hope the hotel expands because I know the staff want it to work on a philosophical level.
Some days I wish more people could see that sustainability is win-win for everyone.
Disclosure: I was a guest of the Maui Visitors Bureau. They did not request that I write a favourable review or think that the smoothie that Chef April Marie Lower Matsumoto created with herbs from the garden was so good that I wished she lived in Toronto.