Story by Jon Letman
photo by Matt Mallams
Try this: Eat only what’s grown within twenty miles of where you live. For most of us the menu gets pretty thin pretty fast, which tends to put the kibosh on one’s enthusiasm for the whole locavore thing. But if that twenty-mile radius happens to encompass some of Kaua‘i’s most productive farmland, and if at the center of the circle stands Common Ground, you might just be able to have your kale and eat it, too.
When a sprawling guava plantation on Kaua‘i’s North Shore closed in 2007, entrepreneur- turned-farmer Chris Jaeb arrived with a vision: to transform the land into a sustainability resource center that’s all about supporting small businesses, farmers and community—a place where people can grow healthy food with as short a distance between farm and table as possible.
The farm-to-table concept is hardly new, but possibly no other farm and table in Hawai‘i has attempted it on quite the same scale as Common Ground. A neatly groomed organic garden grows 75 percent of the food served in The Garden Café, Common Ground’s breezy outdoor restaurant. What isn’t grown on the farm comes from as close to Common Ground’s location in Kilauea as possible. Head chef Rodman Machado has created a menu that runs from vegan burritos to locally raised grass-fed beef burgers so tasty that “a guy from Iowa who eats steak every day can have a good meal and not feel violated,” he laughs. Rodman also delights in a bit of culinary legerdemain: His raw desserts are prepared without dairy and require no baking, like the liliko‘i mac nut cheesecake made from macadamia nut “milk” with dates, figs and Kaua‘i honey and an unbaked gingersnap cookie made with ginger grown on a farm down the road.
Common Ground’s garden is a testament to what a well-loved Island farm can give: pumpkins, corn, squash, papayas, asparagus, beans, chili peppers and a rainbow of leafy greens—all free of herbicides and pesticides. Looking forward, Jaeb envisions more fruit trees, gardens and livestock in an ag park where the distance from farm to table is little more than fifteen steps.