Maui's O'o Farm is ecotourism at its tastiest

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It was obvious the young man was less than enthusiastic about spending part of his Maui vacation on a produce farm. He had swimming, sailing and snorkeling in mind, but his girlfriend had booked the O'o Farm Tour, thinking it'd be great to experience more than sun, surf and sand in Hawaii. She was right.

"At the end of the tour, they didn't want to leave," said Louis Coulombe, co-owner of the 10-acre farm and the Pacific'O and I'o restaurants in Lahaina. "They were so impressed by what they saw. Many people don't know how fruits and vegetables grow because the only time they see them is when they're displayed at the supermarkets."

O'o is located in upcountry Maui, which provides ideal growing conditions for over 100 varieties of fruits, herbs and vegetables, from basil, beans and blueberries to allspice, avocados and apples. O'o Farm supplies all produce used at Pacific'O and I'o, some 300 to 400 pounds per week. Fittingly, its Hawaiian name means "to mature or ripen."

During the two-and-a-half-hour tour, participants get close-up looks at the crops and gain insight into the latest organic farming practices. No pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilizers are used at O'o. Compost is made from wood chips, green waste collected at the farm and fish carcasses from Pacific'O and I'o.

Thick borders of lemongrass protect the fields from encroaching kukui grass and insects from the adjacent forest. Because its chemical makeup is similar to citronella, lemongrass repels bugs.

Marigolds, dahlias and other flowering plants are interspersed among crops to attract bees, wasps and hornets, which sting the larvae of aphids, moths and other "bad guys." Around fruit trees, ground cover of buckwheat, peanut grass and creeping wildflowers keep weeds in check, enrich soil with nitrogen and help retain moisture.

Tour participants select what they'd like to eat from the fields, and I'o's executive sous chef, Sean Christensen, prepares the lunch. Dishes change every week based on what's in season at the farm and what the restaurants get from local butchers and fishermen. A recent menu featured beef tenderloin stir-fried with vegetables harvested minutes before cooking, a salad of greens gathered by the group and chocolate pate paired with freshly picked loquats.

"It's rewarding for us to help guests understand all the effort that goes into growing quality produce," said Coulombe.

Participants meet at the farm in Kula, in upcountry Maui. Tours take place 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., every Thursday except Thanksgiving. Prices, $50 per adult and $25 for kids ages 5 to 12, include lunch. Private tours for groups of at least 10 are available on days other than Thursday by special arrangement. Call (808) 667-4341 or visit www.oofarm.com.

To contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to [email protected].

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