The Na'alehu Farmers Market
If you happen to be in Na'alehu on a Wednesday or Saturday morning, a stop at the Ka'u Farmers' Market is a must. The small community market is run by the non-profit organization Ka'u Mainstreet, and has been going strong for 8 years. "It all began on the first Saturday in December, 2001, when the Main Street Board met with four local farmers and arranged to set up stalls in Wai'ohinu park," said Ka'u Mainstreet president Marge Elwell.Since then, the market moved to the Na'alehu Theatre, and is now held in front of Ace Hardware at 95-5656 Mamalahoa Hwy. Market hours are 8:00 a.m. to noon. "You'll find the very freshest direct-from-the-farm fruits, vegetables, macadamia nuts and coffee...along with hot-from-the-oven baked goods," said Elwell. "In addition, you will find local crafts, art, plants and an assortment of other Ka'u specialties." Currently there are anywhere from 15 – 25 vendors on any given market day. Local products include: raw Ka'u honey, Ka'u coffee, free-range Ka'u beef, free-range eggs, fruits, vegetables, homemade bread, baked goods and desserts made with local ingredients, and nursery plants.
Market manager Eleanor Powell said "We're like a family here--everyone watches out for everyone else. I'm very proud of all my vendors, their abilities, craftsmanship, and excellent produce," said Powell. "The Ka'u Farmers Market is a gathering place for locals and visitors alike...all looking for great food, great prices, and lots of fun!" said Elwell. On Wednesdays, shoppers wait in line as early as 7:30 a.m. to stock up on their weekly fresh vegetables and fruit from Hester Farms. Farmers Ellis and Sokha Hester's produce usually sells out by 9:30 a.m. Some fresh harvested favorites include: eggplant, carrots, corn, zucchini, squash, pumpkin, cauliflower, greens, tomatoes, peppers, pineapple, raspberries, herbs, and flowers. Hester Farms' produce is grown on 30 acres of their 200 acre agricultural property, 1 mile above Pahala. Ellis's wife Sokha said that Ellis, who is from Grand Island in Oregon's Willamette Valley, has been farming "since he was in his mother's stomach". Ellis also said that he was born with a talent for farming and that "if you like something and work hard it will always support you". He added that farming is job security because there's always something to do. He said he will give tours of his farm and would even train an apprentice, "If you find me someone with initiative, who wants to learn, I'll teach them."
Michelle Galimba, who sells Ka'u free-range beef raised on her family's 40 year old Kuahiwi Ranch, is at the market on Wednesdays. The cows are grass fed with some grain supplements, and slaughtered and processed in Hilo, she said. "What's most rewarding about being a rancher is being able to raise local food and improve the environment through conservation," she said.
Long after closing and late into the afternoon, there is one vendor who is still at the market, Mrs. Mele Akau. The Pahala native sets up early and stays all day until 5 p.m. Mele offers a range of produce and flowers, and sells her homegrown taro, bananas, papayas, avocados, tangerines, greens, pineapples, and squashes. You'll know it's Mele by her "Hello, what today?" greeting and enthusiastic smile.
Anyone interested in vending at the Ka'u Farmers' Market must first become a member of Ka'u Mainstreet and pay the annual membership fee of $10, which includes market insurance. Then, call Eleanor Powell at 939-7536 before 6:30 p.m., a couple of days before market to let her know you want to participate. Vendors should bring their own canopy, tables, and chairs.