Mark Suiso of Makaha Mangoes / In case you couldn’t tell already, mango season is upon us, as manifested from Chinatown streets to farmers’ markets to highway shoulders to–if you’re lucky–your backyard tree. For Mark Suiso of Makaha Mangoes, mango season means not only keeping up with demand at Whole Foods and Alan Wong’s, but preaching the gospel of a mango tree in every backyard. A financial planner by day, Suiso continues to give advice after hours–on how to start and maintain mango and fruit trees; during these sessions, the currency is fruit and the bank is your soul. Suiso spoke with the Weekly about why he’d rather you grow your own mangoes than buy his.
How did you start growing mangoes?
My father started growing some trees. He got a parcel of land in Makaha and started planting mango trees long ago. Back in the ‘50s that’s what a lot of people did…what’s been happening over the last decade or so is that people have been cutting down these big mango trees that were planted in the ‘50s.
Instead of taking care of the trees, they’ve been chopping them down. So that’s why we’ve been telling people, don’t chop down the trees, just take care of them.
How did you develop a passion for mangoes?
I get up in the morning and I walk around my fruit trees and I feel like that’s my church. I know I’m in the presence of God when I do that…I keep telling people if you have no fruit tree in your yard, you have no soul…When you come to someone’s house and they give you something from their yard–say they give you a hand of bananas–there’s something really special about that kind of lifestyle. It’s really wholesome…I have to be the Pied Piper, the Johnny Appleseed…
I just feel like we’re moving the wrong direction. If we go through a whole generation of people that are not connected and we have these advocates about going green and being environmentally conscious, and you have no fruit trees in your yard, you’re a hypocrite. Reverend Mark, yeah, just call me Reverend Mark.
What’s the direction of Makaha Mangoes as a business?
The direction we want to go is to help people grow their own trees so that there’s more and more [mangoes] all the time…We’re helping them trim their trees, we’re helping them get their trees established.
What I’m also doing is helping people broker their fruit so that we get a consistent supply…I’ve been coordinating with different growers out in Makaha area. Collectively we’ve got quite a volume…It’s kind of like a little cooperative we’re forming on our own.
How many people in the cooperative?
Right now I’m working with four or five farmers in the area…we’re bringing in on a weekly basis close to 2000 pounds a week.
What are the varieties that you currently sell to stores?
We have a lot of varieties that we’re always experimenting with. Our main product is the Hayden mango because the trees are so good. A Hayden to me is still the standard here in Hawaii…I have Mapulehu, which is a mango developed here in Hawaii. It’s very fragrant, very mild tasting. It has very little fiber in it. There’s the White Pirie and the Pirie…[and] Gouveia, a good late -season mango.
And then we’ve got Keit that comes in late in the season. We’ve got a couple varieties that we developed ourselves. We’ve got one that we named after my dad. We call it the Reuben mango. It’s big and round and it tastes like an orange. We have a couple other show-off mangoes.
Whenever we do these mango tasting and displays, we have a whole array of different types of varieties. There’s hundreds of varieties that are available here in Hawaii. Thousands if you look around the world…we can essentially rival the wine tasters out there, tasting all these exotic wines. We can do that with mangoes as well.
Anything else you want to add?
I think the main message I’m trying to get across is I think there’s something special about having a fruit tree in your yard and a mango’s a good example here in Hawaii. But any kind of fruit tree growing in your yard is really nice. And any opportunity you have to do that–you can actually have mangoes in pots and fruits in pots…we them condo mangoes…If people take care of their trees with maybe a small percentage of what they do to take care of their dogs, I think we’ll be in good shape. Your fruit trees are part of your family, you know.