19 Sept, 2012 - "Peter, what do you want for your birthday!", I asked in exasperation.
"I don't need anything, Vic. And please don't get me another cookbook."
Year after year, I tear my hair out wondering what I can get Peter for his birthday and Christmas. Books have been out since he's discovered Kindle. And as for clothing, when he finds something he likes, he buys 5 in the same colour and wears it till it shreds over the next 4 years. Frustrating? You bet! Having a generous and thoughtful partner can be a bummer when you can't reciprocate.
Whilst holidaying in Maui, however, I got a flash of inspiration. Arriving in the town of Paia (Maui) yesterday, where we will be staying over the next 4 nights, I asked Peter if he'd be interested in the O'o Farm Gourmet Lunch Tour in Kula, just 30 minutes drive from Paia. The response was a resounding "Yes! That can be my birthday present!" With a sigh of relief, I wasted no time in calling restaurant, Pacific'O, the parent restaurant that runs O'o Farm, to make a booking for their Gourmet Lunch Tour. Two mornings later, we were on our way to Kula, the Upcountry region of Maui.
A quaint, rustic area on the slopes of Haleakala, Kula is located in the central part of the island. It is at the center of its culinary resurgence, with much of the exotic produce served at Maui’s best Hawaii Regional Cuisine restaurants grown right in its rich, volcanic soil. The Hawaiian word for "open meadows", and between about 500 to 1,100 m (1,800 ft to 3,700 ft) in elevation, Kula is much cooler than Maui's coastal towns.
"Looks like it's about to rain..." I said with trepidation, as the car climbed in altitude towards our destination and the low lying cloud just above it.
"Hmmm..." Peter said non-commitally. "Do you think we could cancel and come back tomorrow instead?"
Feeling my ears pop, I said, "Let's just see what happens. It could clear up. Besides, it's a firm booking and it may not be refundable if we don't turn up."
Almost missing the sign to the farm, we quickly pulled left into a dirt road and parked alongside several cars at O'o Farm's carpark. Stepping out and taking a swig of bottled water before locking the car doors, we sauntered over to the designated meeting place. Quickly casting our eyes over the other 11 guests as we approached, we noted that they were equally sizing us up. Exchanging guarded "hellos", we settled into a light chit chat. As my skin broke out in goose bumps as it met the cool air, I noticed that I was the only one that didn't bring a light sweater.
"Looks like you didn't get the memo.", a fellow guest commented as she saw me rubbing my bare arms.
"What memo?" I asked stupidly. Funny how the brains seems to seize up when one is cold.
"The one that said to bring sunscreen and a light sweater." I sure as heck didn't need the sunscreen but I would have killed for a sweater. To make matters worse, my bladder felt like it was ready to burst. As I was thinking of making a mercy dash to the nearest toilet - where does one find one in an organic farm - our guide arrived.
"Hi, everyone, I'm Ancil, and welcome to O'o Farm!" said a painfully fit young man with shoulder length curly hair pulled back in a ponytail. The picture of robust health, I guess that's what you look like when you work out in nature, and at an organic farm to boot. After checking that everyone had arrived, Ancil said, "Let's get started on our tour. Our chef has started the preparations for your gourmet meal, and we have a fair bit to cover."
Bummer, my toilet stop would have to wait.
Giving us a history of O’o Farm, we learnt from Ancil that this unique and multi- faceted operation showcases a working farm like no other. Located in the misting forest of Waipoli (Kula, Maui), its 8.5 acres sustains numerous crops that have been developed from virgin land. Over the past seven years O'o Farm have expanded operations to now include greenhouses and a burgeoning agritourism operation, all the while becoming intimate with the venue’s microclimate, flora, and fauna progressing in a manner respectful of the farm as a living organism in stasis with its surrounding environment. Impressive? It is.
Taking us around the farm, Ancil introduced us to the farm's small coffee plantation, where their own brew is grown and blended (yes, we plucked and tasted the coffee beans -- mmm, interesting.), walked us through the their citrus grove (the tangerines tasted better) and gardens, stopping momentarily by the chicken coops while explaining why they place golf balls where the hens lay their eggs (placebo). After a meet-greet-and-chat with Chef James McDonald, who would be cooking our gourmet lunch, we traipsed to the veggie patch where the liveliest crop of lettuce I have ever seen grew in rows. Harvesting our salad produce, we dutifully waited in turns to wash our hands before tasting the Tofu and kale stirfry and Opa dish that J.J. had prepared for us, accompanied by the produce we had picked for the salad.
By this stage, the group had settled into acomfortable banter with each other, swapping wise cracks and irreverent remarks as the skies finally opened up and the rains came down. By that stage it didn't matter - as we served ourselves lunch and sat down to enjoy our delicious gourmet meal prepared by J.J., we were in gales of laughter as we swapped adventures and misadventures. Clean, fresh, flavorsome and filled with nutrition and goodness, what a difference it makes when the food we eat is "from farm to fork".
And so it was that both Peter and I enjoyed his birthday present. Ever inspired by "from farm to fork", we would always
endeavor to find out where our food comes from. After all, we are what we eat.
A big thank you to O'o Farm, and specifically to Ancil Clancy and Chef James McDonald for making our Gourmet Lunch Tour so memorable. And to the other guests, while we may not remember your names, you truly enriched our experience.