Taking a Bite Out of Maui
Did you know Hawaii imports 85-90% of its food? As the local food movement has taught us, eating food grown in our own communities is important for the economy, the environment, our health, and our ability to brag about our localganic diets. Snarking aside, one of the highlights of my trip to The Big Island in 2012 was learning about the island’s lively agricultural scene, which I thought at the time was a distinctive feature of that particular isle. So I was particularly intrigued to find that boutique farming is alive and well on Maui too, and set off to spend a day exploring three of Upcounty’s many unique farms with my partners-in-crime Chris and Tawny.
Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm
Ali’i Kula Lavender‘s motto is “bringing sustainable aloha to the world.” What a beautiful sentiment for an absolutely stunning property. The lavender farm was just downhill from the meeting point for our paragliding adventure, making it the perfect place for a post-adrenaline cool-down stroll. While our visit didn’t align with one of the farm’s five thirty minute walking tours per day ($12 for walk ins, $10 for advance reservations), we had a ball just wandering the grounds and going camera crazy on the scenic tableaus. We also may or may not have enthusiastically participated in the Lavender Treasure Hunt most certainly intended for children under the age of ten.
The gift shop was an impressive demonstration of exactly how many products can be lavender infused, while a darling cafe offered flavored tea, scones, and lemonade. One of my favorite nods to sustainability? Free tee or coffee for anyone carrying there own cup. As someone who compulsively carries my own acrylic tumbler around New York, it was a touch I loved.
From meandering through the gardens to learning about the surprising health benefits of lavender, I left Ali’i Kula thoroughly impressed by our short visit. Whether you come for a full tour or pay the bargain $3 for a self-guided entry (free for all you paragliders!) you won’t regret the beautiful trip up the slopes of Haleakala.
Organic Ocean Vodka
Wineries are nice and all but when I saw Maui was home to a brand new organic vodka farm and distillery, I really got excited. Opened in 2005, Ocean Vodka is dedicated to organic and sustainable farming practices, from using 100% solar power to bottling their product exclusively in recycled glass and everything green inbetween.
When we arrived at Ocean Vodka we found we had just missed the tour start time. While $10 tours run every half hour we were on a tight schedule and when the staff realized we wouldn’t be able to wait for the next one, they enthusiastically ran us a private tour on the spot (having no idea, by the way, that we were working with the Maui Visitor’s Bureau). That’s the aloha that I love.
I warmed to our guide immediately as he launched into an upbeat explanation of the distillery process while we munched on raw sugarcane. Interesting as the science-y bits were, I was equally interested in the unique work dynamics at Ocean Vodka. With just 20 employees, many of them biologically related, the team really does function as a family, with our guide going as far as to call the bosses “mom” and “dad.” When he moved to Hawaii specifically to join the team at Ocean, they gifted him with a surf board upon arrival.
Ocean Vodka is sugar cane based, and they cultivate a number of indigenous varieties. One of my favorite parts of the tour was learning how local Hawaiians often come by with stalks of sugarcane in their pickups, having heard what they are doing at the farm and being excited to be a part of bringing responsible agriculture back to Maui.
Wait, did I say something else was my favorite part? Because clearly that was the tasting. As soon as we got to the bottling room I knew I’d seen the brand before and soon learned why — Ocean Vodka has been the exclusive vodka on Hawaiian Airlines since 2007. Heading out to the Martini Garden, where guests are free to pick fresh, local ingredients such as Kula lavender, local citrus, passion fruit, pineapple and strawberries for their drinks, we were finally treated to a taste of the smooth vodka.
All tour guests are gifted a shot glass upon departure which I quickly supplemented with all kinds of souvenirs from the gift shop. I left Ocean Vodka inspired by the passion of the employees, the dedication to community and sustainable living, and the hardcore aloha we felt all around.
Want more about Ocean Vodka? Check out Chris and Tawny’s hilarious Alco-HAUL episode featuring it!
Surfing Goat Dairy
Literally right next door to Ocean Vodka sits the biggest draw of all the farms in Upcountry: Surfing Goat Dairy (there could be some seriously tipsy goats running around if they ever got out of their pens.) Started in 1999 by a German couple with roots in the surfing community, Surfing Goat Dairy produces award-winning gourmet cheeses and truffles. Surfing Goat cheese is ubiquitous in Maui — not only was it used in our welcome reception at the Grand Wailea, but it was also served at Obama’s inauguration ball! Which are more or less comparative events, obviously.
Surfing Goat offers an extensive menu of tours, from twenty minute casual tours run throughout the day to a more extensive hour-long evening chores tour every afternoon to BBQs and private tours by the owner upon request. But from the briefest to the biggest tours, all give a taste of what Surfing Goat Dairy is all about — cute goats, humane and sustainable farming, and delicious cheese.
The highlight for me was of course meeting the little guys. I was amazed by how much personality they had — they reminded me of my dog Tucker the way they came running when our tour guide called out to them! Of course they went pretty wild when they saw we had hay, which must be like the McFlurries of goatsville or something.
There are usually around 200 goats at Surfing Dairy, and the guide assured us that the owners know each and every adult goat by name. That’s love.
The biggest laugh of the day came when I heard Tawny asking, “Do they bite?,” cut off by a sharp “OW!” They might not mean to, but these little guys can get a bit overexcited when treats are involved. I understand, goaties, I do.
When our guide managed to drag us away from the spacious goat fields, we made our way to the barn for a little behind-the-scenes action. Interesting as that was, my stomach suspected that the cheese tasting bit would be coming up next, which admittedly made it somewhat hard to focus.
It was worth the wait. While we snacked and sampled, the three of us agreed — the best part about this cheese was all the love that went into it.
Other Upcountry Farms
I didn’t get a chance to visit the following upcountry farms on this particular visit, but I’m looking forward to checking them out on my next visit. All these Upcountry farms are doing important, commendable work and spending a day visiting them is the kind of travel you can feel good about.
Do you ever take part in agro-tourism? I have to say, it’s growing on me (and my stomach!)
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Many thanks to the Maui Visitors Bureau and the Surfing Goat Dairy for hosting me and showing me so much aloha. As always, you receive my honest opinions regardless of who is footing the bill.
Great post, Alex! I love visiting sustainable farms and wineries, and these three all sounds so lovely. I LOVE goat cheese, so Surfing Goat Dairy sounds like heaven! Goat Cheese Truffles? Oh. my. God.
Sounds like you need to plan a trip to Maui, Ashley 🙂
The Surfing Goat – is that your friend on the internet?
Love the pictures of them by the way.
It looks like you had a very enjoyable day out even with a tight schedule. To finish it off with vodka, what more could a visitor want?
I’m not sure what you mean about my friend on the internet? But yes, it was a great day!
Hey Alex it was just a little joke. A play on the idea of a goat “surfing”. So surfing the internet. 🙂
AHA I got it 🙂 Serves me right for responding to comments before I’ve had caffeine…
Ocean Vodka sounds like what mermaids would drink, also I was really hoping the surfing goat dairy would have a goat that surfs, now that would make for some excellent promotion!
I am down with doing anything a mermaid would do… so if that means drinking Oceans Vodka, I am IN.
I love following you! Much fun trips you take. The pictures are my favorite part! Keep on keeping on girl!
Thanks Kristin 🙂
I have a passion for local, sustainable foods so I love everything about this post. But organic vodka is something I can REALLY get behind. I’ve dabbled in some agro-tourism myself – it turns out I can also get behind organic vineyards. 🙂
Cheers to that Katie! 😉
This was a terrific post. Very informative. Not sure that organic vodka is in the same league as the other two re ‘local food movement’ but it was a nice story.
Why not? They are creating something that will boost the local economy using abundant natural resources and doing so in a sustainable and community-minded way. And creating local jobs. I say cheers all around!
Yum, yum, yum. I love goat cheese. And Maui. I wwoofed on a farm there for 6 weeks so it’s nice to see the agriculture scene highlighted rather than just the beautiful waterfalls and beaches—there’s so much more to Maui than that. 🙂
There is indeed! This was the highlight of this trip for me, I think, and I’d recommend a day spent this way to anyone!
Ok so this is now officially #1 on my list of things to do on my Hawaiian vacay. I love animals! And cheese! And vodka! That seems so fun, to learn about all of the behind the scenes processes instead of only doing a tasting… though that’s obviously fun too. Ha.
It’s really the perfect day trip and you’ll see such another side of Maui while driving around these farms! I absolutely love it. For me it’s a Maui must-do!
Aw, I love that dairy farm. I think it’s wonderful that they treat their animals humanely and even know each goat by name! That’s seriously impressive! I’m all about places like this. Plus, I absolutely love goat cheese 🙂
And they had SO MUCH room to roam! That’s the nice part about this part of Maui, so many wide open spaces. Basically a goat’s dream 🙂
OOh man! The one goat sticking it’s tongue out. The best! Obviously the McFlurries of goatsville, lol.
My uncle is a certified permaculturist and I’ve learned so much about sustainable farming from him. He just got goats this year and they are all insane in the goat brain. Very entertaining. He also makes all his own maple syrup.
Sounds like a cool dude! Yeah it seems goat farming is kind of a cool little cult, lots of love goes into it and people are really passionate about the lifestyle. I was getting sucked in when I was there!
Things I love about this post:
2: “hardcore aloha”
3: “Mcflurries of goatsville”
I LOLd the whole way through. Still working on my mom…maybe showing her all these posts will do the trick 😉
Sooooo glad someone appreciated my McFlurry shoutout. I think the fact that that was the comparison I used basically cements my non-foodie status for life, but I am so okay with that.
huge loca-nerd here (and sustaina-nerd) so i heart this post for that reason. but you know what else i love?
friendly people who care
so basically what i’m saying is it’ll be pretty hard to top this one for me, alex. but good luck trying!
So maybe I see a farm tour of Upcountry in your future? 🙂 I hope so, I truly think you would love it! Stop for a burrito and margarita lunch in Makawao at Polli’s — basically best day ever (and my friend’s family restaurant!)
Those goats are the cutest! I just want to give them a big ol’ hug – but I’m sure that would only lead to my arm getting munched on. Also, omg cheese! I have a weakness for cheese. I bet it tasted heavenly.
Ha, I can see them erecting a sign… “Please do not hug the goats for your own safety.” At least not with hay in your hands 🙂
Love the goats! One of my favourite animals – I had three pet goats when I was a kid and used to spend hours in the fields with them. Goats cheese is so good – will definitely visit to taste test when I am in Maui next 🙂
That’s amazing! Our guide did say they sell goats to islanders (who they screen first!) for farming and for pets. Love it!
Awww, the goats are adorable! I love goats cheese, especially when combined with something sweet, such as honey. So yummy!
You’d be a perfect candidate for those truffles then, Tammy! They were amazing!
Ocean Vodka sounds amazing – not only the vodka but sounds like they would be an amazing company to work for! Its so nice to hear about companies really looking after their staff!
It’s so rare it’s quite nice to hear, isn’t it Christie! It seems like a place I’d enjoy working myself.
omg those 2 goats are killing me with their facial expressions!!
Ha, they showed so much emotion! I started to see why people keep them as pets.
A sad reflection about myself – You write this beautiful post on Hawaii and all I notice is the vodka section. What’s this say about me?
But to answer your question, we spent a week at an agro-tourismo in Tuscany. It was a B&B on a vineyard. And yes, it was heaven. The was part of a private tour visiting other vineyards, farms, and partaking in cooking classes. I have a post coming out on it next week if you are interested in reading more.
That sounds pretty heavenly! I’m not much of a wine lover but for those that are I can’t think of a more idyllic getaway.
“Bringing sustainable aloha to the world.” – I love that so much!
I’ve been to plenty of wineries and breweries(and I will be to plenty more lol) but I’ve never considered checking out a distillery. It’s like a delightful bonus that Organic Ocean is also gorgeous!
I’m hoping to make it to Maui this Christmas – thanks for all the list of places to check out!
Definitely add this as a road trip day to your itinerary! Exploring Maui by car is the best — so many opportunities to get lost and explore!
Beautiful pictures :)! I love Hawaii!
Thanks Clay. Me too, it’s one of my absolutely favorite travel destinations.
I think agrotourism is incredibly interesting. Our stay on Ibiza at Can Pujolet, a luxury agrotourism hotel was fascinating. I’ve written about it on my blog if you’d like to read it.
Maui looks fantastic in your posts- as always.
Being a food lover myself it would be great to know what is a traditional Hawaiian food dish?
Taro is the main staple of traditional Hawaiian food (from my understanding) which is a part of the tuber family. However the two things I adore when I’m in Hawaii and crave when I’m not are kalua pork (YUM) and shave ice. Love love love!
Organic ocean vodka? I need to try this stuff!
You can buy it on the mainland — check their site!
Those goats are so freaking adorable … can I adopt one? 🙂
Actually, people do keep them as pets! So you certainly could 🙂
I remember reading all these posts nearly 9 years ago when you first posted them. I finally get my Hawaii trip later this year and am having such a blast going through your entire archive and noting down places to visit.
Aw, this makes me so happy Kat! So glad these archives are getting dug up <3