HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – Fresh from the Farm


By Kelly Moran

Fresh from the Farm

Is this pineapple sweet?” a woman asked the vendor at the Hilo Farmers’ Market.

He smiled. “Every pineapple sweet, now!”

It’s true. The pineapples you buy today are sweeter than at any time in the past. Their flesh can be yellow or white, but careful breeding and selection have weeded out sharply acidic varieties. (Corn on the cob, too, whether yellow or white, is consistently sweeter now.)

The Hilo Farmers’ Market, on Kam Ave. and Mamo St., is the best-known: it’s open every day from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., but hugely bigger on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The selection of produce is vast, ranging from the familiar, like lettuce and tomatoes, to the exotic: like “dragon fruit“, and warabi – the edible fern shoot that you prepare like asparagus.  You can even buy awa (“kava”) – the Pacific islanders’ traditional sedative beverage, and betel (“betel nuts”), the palm seeds that Southeast Asians chew instead of smoking cigarettes. For visitors, especially on days when cruise-ships are in port, there are also souvenir vendors at the Hilo Farmers’ Market, although many of the offerings are imports, not local handicrafts.

 Dragon Fruit

Something else in the farmers’ markets is stranger than rambutan, and bigger!  It looks like something out of science-fiction — an alien man-eating flower-bud.  Even the name is fantastic: dragon fruit.


On Saturdays in Hilo, there’s a competing market about two miles away, in a parking lot on Kinoole St. near Puainako, that’s open from 7 to noon. The organizers require all produce to be locally grown; and vendors also offer many potted plants, herbs and fruit-tree seedlings that are unavailable elsewhere.

If you have a reason to go to the Hilo Wal-Mart, pretty much any day of the week, you’ll find the Panaewa Hawaiian Homestead farmers’ stands selling fruit and vegetables under the entryway.

There is a Farmers’ Market in Honoka’a every Saturday morning. In Waimea, a Saturday market is operated by the Hawaiian Homesteaders Association; it’s at its biggest on the first Saturday of each month.

A Sunday market, however, probably offers the greatest variety on the island. It’s the Maku’u Farmers’ Market, on Hwy 130 between Kea’au and Pahoa, which is open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Makuu Sunday Market
The Maku’u Farmers Market is a veritable flea market.

There is an abundance of local produce there, of course, but (unlike the others) it includes a veritable flea-market for new and used clothes, vintage kitchenware, books, vinyl records (remember them?), tie-dyed shirts, garden tools, and practically everything else.  There is a wide selection of food, including local “smoke-meat” and sausages; you can get a massage in a chair; in election years you can meet candidates . . . there’s even a stage with local entertainers.  It’s always crowded, but there’s plenty of parking.  If you can get to just one market a week, make it Maku’u.