HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND
Farmers’ Markets Rock
Hilo foodies have not one but two farmers’ markets for fresh fruits and vegetables.
The Hilo Farmers’ Market, which was started ten years ago, is held in an empty lot downtown on Kam Ave. at Mamo St., across from the bus station and the bandstand. The variety of produce there is enormous, although some offerings, such as sweet Maui onions, come from other islands. A few stalls open every day, from dawn until about mid-afternoon; but on Wednesdays and Saturdays the market is enormous, with dozens of stalls that spread across and up Mamo St. into several other empty lots. Besides food, on those days, vendors offer aloha shirts and muumuus, collectibles, and handicrafts – some of which are locally made, though most are imported from Asia and other Pacific islands.
The market has some ongoing issues. The nearest restrooms are across Kam Ave. in the bus station. Tents and tarps overhead have to be set up and taken down so often that many of them leak in the rain, creating huge puddles. And the rough gravel underfoot, uncomfortable for many people, is an obstacle course for the physically challenged.
In 2007, a competing market opened on Kinoole St. near Puainako St., in the parking lot of a small shopping center. The Kinoole Farmers’ Market is much smaller than the downtown market, but its vendors are required to offer only locally-grown produce. Shoppers there also find more exotic varieties of fruit and vegetables, and a wider selection of garden and orchard plants in containers. Though it’s far from the center of town, it’s easy to park at, and – being on pavement – easy to get around in. It’s open only on Saturdays, from dawn to noon; so dedicated foodies usually go there first.
The downtown market, however, is due for improvement. Keith De La Cruz, the “Market Master,” recently obtained permission from the County to erect a two-story market building on the main Kam Ave.-Mamo St. lot. It will have a smooth concrete slab floor at ground level; restrooms and a restaurant upstairs, along with some offices, including his. Almost no one is opposed to this project, and if it gets built – as De La Cruz hopes, within in the next year or two – it would be a new “anchor” for downtown businesses, and could even spur improvements to the bus station and bandstand park across the way.