Kahuku Farm’s Country Store / The legacy of the vanilla bean goes something like this: An Aztec princess flees to a forest with her lover. Forbidden by her father from marrying a mortal, she and her beloved are eventually captured and beheaded, and when their blood touches the ground, vanilla planifolia grows.
Much like Ku and Hina and the story of the Hawaiian breadfruit, the ancient origins of the vanilla bean are captivating; its duality timely, its geography intense and its sex life is very complicated.
To learn more about this hermaphroditic plant, you should visit the North Shore’s Kahuku Farms Country Store. Growers painstakingly hand-pollinate their vanilla beans, and after years of caretaking and in-vitro procedures, they’ve produced a seductive tasting bean worthy of the most experienced palates.
The beans are carefully cured–a process that takes from three to six months. Some are wrapped loosely in blankets, bundled in straw and heated in hot ovens, and some are laid naked in the hot sun and then wrapped up and allowed to sweat overnight.
In long glass vials, farm-harvested vanilla beans ($15.95) await the curious customer inside the Country Store. Outside, you’ll notice a spread of land that looks more like a quaint Napa Valley vineyard than a traditional farm. Its scenery is luscious; its outdoor dining patio is charming. And I might argue, that overall, the Kahuku Farms Country Store is the best new find from Kaneohe to Haleiwa Town.
Extract-ing the Senses
After driving past the store’s small green building for nearly a year, I finally stopped to see what exactly Kahuku Farms offers. I expected produce, I got a helluva surprise.
Up close, one realizes that it isn’t just a farm tour destination or produce store. It’s a café that offers fresh vanilla bean ice cream, tangy lilikoi sorbet, mango iced tea and fresh fruit smoothies, as well as salads that actually taste like they come from the earth instead of a plastic bag, and a selection of sandwiches, including the favorite of yours truly–the grilled veggie panini ($7.75). If Picasso had ever chosen to paint a panini, it would’ve looked like this one. Large slices of perfectly cooked eggplant are sandwiched between roasted bell peppers and fresh slices of zucchini, ripe tomatoes and lettuce, and everything is topped off with fresh slices of warm mozzarella and a drizzle of smooth olive oil.
To sit on the other side of Kam Hwy, completely hidden away from the smell of too much garlic and local-but-not-really-local shrimp trucks (God love ‘em), and watch a landscape lush with rows of papaya, eggplant, watermelon, corn, bananas, bell peppers and whatever else is growing throughout the farm’s hundred acres is, well, a certain kind of enchanting experience. Top it off with a bottle of Chianti di Firenze (BYOB)–you’ll thank me for it later.
Where else on the island can you find a half papaya with a scoop of vanilla laden apple-banana ice cream for only $3.75? And while we’re at it, where else can you find a fresh ginger cooler topped off with a scoop of lilikoi sorbet ($4.75), while staring at hundreds of acres of virgin farmland?
Preserving the Pod
Partners Clyde Fukuyama and Melvin Matsuda incorporated in 1995. Both are third-generation family farmers who grew up as neighbors in Kahuku, and now, they offer tractor-pulled wagon tours, samples of farm fruits, and patio conversation about how the farm survived despite decades of tough economic and agricultural circumstances.
This family-owned operation, where business is conducted through handshakes (literally) is approaching new culinary heights, thanks to fourth generation daughter, Kylie Matsuda. It’s been reported that Kahuku Farms pays 100 percent of their employees’ medical insurance with 401(k) incentives, and according to their website, they practice responsible farming and irrigation, and that says a lot these days.
The small store offers farm-made bath and body products, local honey and preserves, and new items like Chef Kele Smith’s fresh roasted corn.
Sitting on a patio such as theirs, eating fresh food from the exact location where it’s grown is, for me, a spiritual experience, and a connection between the body and what makes the body work. It’s a reminder that what we eat defines our values, and while engaging the world sustains us, finding a place like Kahuku Farms is very lucky.
Store, 56-800 Kamehameha Hwy
Open Wed.–Sun. 11am–5pm
Farm Tours: $12–$15,Ages 0-4 free, $5 discount online