Maui, United States
When chef crush Isaac offered the chance to visit one of his suppliers I canceled my scheduled plans to hang out with him. One of the things I liked the most was that he is as opinionated about food as I am, and more so with farming. People may complain about the price of food on Maui but they forget that Maui is isolated in the middle of the ocean, with more farmers retiring it is critical to find new ways to grow locally sourced food.
Today he was visiting his microgreens (pretty green bits on plates) supplier who has also started an escargot farm. I expected to visit some grand place and learn about how to farm snails. As we park in a residential driveway Isaac explains that we are going to visit his cousin Monica, who is related to him distantly by blood and also marriage, and jokes that you have to be careful who you date on the island as it’s a small community.
Entering her small greenhouse I learn that she was previously an esthetician and massage therapist but once she became pregnant started thinking about running a home business. After she had the baby she taught herself how to grow plants by aquaponics by watching Youtube videos on her iPhone as she was nursing.
Eventually she started successfully growing microgreens and her first client was my other Maui chef crush Sheldon who encouraged her to go to the Maui AgFest last year to build more contacts for her business.
This is why AgFest is so important.
One year ago she went to AgFest, brought her microgreens and was able to talk to all the chefs in one day. Today she has 7 restaurants selling her greens, working with her on what they need for the restaurant. She only grows organically and shows us how she works with the land using methods to keep the soil healthy. It’s really admirable that she taught herself everything and now helps others.
But this isn’t the end of her story. Remember the snails? Although she raises them as part of her aquaponics system we head over to her Uncle Tony’s to see a much bigger system in the backyard where he uses every possible square inch the land will provide. From there they explain how every piece of equipment has been salvaged or from Craigslist and the water pump is only 1/6 horsepower and costs only $15/month to fuel this big system.
Technical details aside I’m more impressed by the spirit of community here. At this year’s AgFest Isaac chose to feature escargot as his main ingredient in the competition. It was my favourite dish of the competition and I thought he should have won. More importantly every dish the chefs make was also available for hundreds of festival attendees. People who wanted to try his food were also eating Monica’s snails.
You can’t beat that kind of exposure.
It takes 5 months to raise snails to maturity. Tony and Monica already have a waiting list of chefs who want their product. Sure learning about aquaponics was really interesting but learning how a community comes to support each other is so much more inspiring.