Story by Julia Steele
Photo by Sue Hudelson
Here in the Islands we eat a lot of Korean food, Chinese food, Italian food … which means we eat a lot of garlic. But unlike ginger, which we also consume in copious quantities, garlic isn’t grown en masse in Hawai‘i. At least it hasn’t been until now. Not temperate enough, went the thinking, not enough of a winter chill for the plant to really thrive. But Gerry Ross and Janet Simpson were not convinced. The husbandand- wife team run the fourteen-acre organic Kupa‘a Farms on the slopes of Haleakala and are always, says Gerry, “trying to figure out a way to grow more of the staples we eat here.” They looked around, saw fields of Maui onions flourishing to the horizon and decided to begin experimenting with another root crop.
They started four years ago with little kitchen gardens, graduated to raised beds and then to the fields. They tested twenty different kinds of garlic, varieties from Oregon, Maine, California and Washington. “There are,” explains Gerry, “basically three types of garlic: hard neck, soft neck and elephant.” The hard and soft necks were a bust—they grew no necks. But the elephant garlic shot up like a dream. In October of 2010 Gerry and Janet planted a large test crop —fifty pounds of seed— next to their taro fields, and by the summer of last year they had, says Janet, “beautiful, beautiful heads of garlic.” And they discovered something: While elephant garlic is usually the mildest of the three (it is, in fact, technically a leek), the elephant garlic grown on Maui is “way different than on the Mainland. It’s got a real bite,” says Gerry, “and lots of deep garlicky flavor.” Even more impressive: the Maui garlic’s truly elephantine size, twice as big as it normally reaches on the continent.
Last October the couple decided to “really go for it” and planted a huge field with two hundred pounds of seed. This summer they harvested a thousand pounds and became the first Maui farm to sell garlic commercially at the Upcountry Farmers Market and to local restaurants. Both say they definitely plan to continue with the crop—and to continue feasting on their homemade, homegrown kim chee and basil pesto: “Delicious.”