KULA, Hawaii — Mornings in Maui generally demand nothing more strenuous than pulling on a pair of shorts and sandals and heading for the beach. So what am I doing in long pants, hiking shoes and a jacket?
No swimming or snorkeling today. Instead, a dozen of us have signed up for a tour at the O'o Farm in upcountry Maui, 3,500 feet above the ocean on the slopes of Haleakala, a volcano.
Upcountry Maui has lush vegetation and winding, two-lane mountain roads. Most visitors know the area as the slice of old Hawaii they drive through on the way up to the summit of 10,023-foot Haleakala. A half-dozen microclimates and rich, volcanic soil make growing conditions ideal on the volcano's lower slopes.
Now young farmers, many connected to local chefs, are reclaiming patches of land that native Hawaiians once planted with sweet potatoes and taro. Their aim: To "re-localize" food production and showcase native ingredients.
For visitors to Maui with time to explore the back roads, culinary discoveries await at out-of-the-way restaurants and boutique farms cultivating everything from wine grapes to exotic herbs.
"Despite all our resources, we still import 80 percent of our food supply in Maui," said Richard Clark, manager at the O'o Farm, an 8.5-acre organic farm in Kula.
A decade ago, owners of the Pacific'O and I'O restaurants in beachfront Lahaina bought upcountry land and began experimenting with new and traditional crops, with a goal of supplying their restaurants with locally grown produce.
Our farm tour morning began with samples of sweet, red coffee berries. Then Clark took us through the kitchen garden, inviting us to pick our own salad mix while Korean-born chef Caroline Schaub worked on lunch. On the menu: broiled fish cooked with Maui sweet onions and a marinated tofu dish she made with fresh-picked kale, daikon radishes, two kinds of beets and yellow squash. Sitting at a long wooden table shaded by trees, we lingered until 2:30 p.m., finishing the afternoon with chocolates infused with house-made espresso and lively conversation among new friends.
Most of what there is to see in upcountry Maui could be covered in a day trip from the beach resorts, but spending a night or two makes sense if you're combining farm visits with a trip to Haleakala or the drive to Hana, the isolated little town on the eastern end of the island. Puluke Farm Bed and Breakfast, a protea farm in Kula, has a cozy cottage and big views down to the sugar cane fields below in the central valley.
Down the road at Grandma's Coffee House, the owners roast coffee in the kitchen the way their grandmother did in 1918. Too tempting to pass up were the pineapple-coconut squares and cinnamon coffeecake baked with her recipes.
Nearby was a spot many locals describe as one of the most peaceful places on Maui — the Ali'i Kula Lavender Farm. With 45 varieties of lavender and native gardens filled with tropical flowers, and macadamia and olive trees, something is blooming year-round. Samples of lavender tea and scones are offered on the porch overlooking the sugar cane fields, and the farm's back story is learned on a 45-minute guided tour.
A stop at the Tedeschi Vineyards off of Highway 37 in Keokea is a treat, especially for drivers returning from the long drive to Hana on the rough road skirting the back side of Haleakala. Get elk burgers at the old-time Ulupalakua Ranch Store and Grill, or take a tour and sample wines at the Tedeschi winery on the grounds of the Ulupalakua Ranch, a favorite cool-climate getaway for Hawaiian King Kalakaua in 1874. The ranch has been in paniolo, or "cowboy," country for more than 160 years. The owners raise elk, grow grapes and cultivate strawberries, onions and potatoes for local chefs. Pineapple wine comes from fruit grown in lower elevations, then crushed at the winery in an Italian grape press. Cattle eat the leftovers. The free tours include samples of a chilled pineapple sparkler served inside the king's former guest cottage.
Island-grown ingredients end up in many of the 30 goat cheeses made by Eva and Thomas Kafsack, the German owners of the solar-powered Surfing Goat Dairy in the lower Kula area. A flavor called Purple Rain contains a mix of local lavenders. Rolling Green is flecked with fresh garlic chives. The Kafsacks run one of only two goat dairies in Hawaii, an expensive undertaking given the costs of turning dry brush land into irrigated pastures.
"You can't survive just selling cheese to restaurants and hotels," said Thomas Kafsack. So they invite the public in for cheese-making classes and tours.
Popular with families are the Evening Chores and Milking Tours, 45-minute walks through the pastures at feeding time, capped with a hands-on lesson in how to milk goats.
If you go
O'o Farm, 651 Waipoli Road, Kula. Tours and lunches year-round by reservation. oofarm.com
Ali'i Kula Lavender Farm, 1100 Waipoli Road, Kula. Free admission. Guided tours are $12, with $2 discount for booking in advance. aklmaui.com
Tedeschi Vineyards at the Ulupalakua Ranch, Highway 37, Keokea. Tastings and tours daily. mauiwine.com
Surfing Goat Dairy, 3651 Omaopio Road, Kula. Tastings and tours starting at $7-$10. surfinggoatdairy.com
Grandma's Maui Coffee, Highway 37, Keokea. Breakfast and lunch; coffee roasted on site by fourth-generation owners. grandmascoffee.com
Ulupalakua Ranch Store and Grill, Highway 37, Old-time store near the Tedeschi Winery. Elk burgers, salads and sandwiches. Lunch only. ulupalakuaranch.comCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun