by Paul Devlin Wood
It was 1999 when Nancy Gove of Molokai "just had this incredible idea—to find out about sea salt."
It wasn’t a calculated sort of idea. She didn’t research the market or study a how-to book. Basically, she licked her hands after canoe practice one day and thought: That tastes good!
So Nancy started paying attention to salt in the Molokai landscape, the way it forms naturally on coastal rocks and in tire tracks on the shoreline mudflats. She had no background with salt and little experience in business. She’d spent eight years in college studying just about everything, and she’d lived two decades on Molokai as a woodworker. At one time, her sculptures were featured on public television’s Spectrum Hawaii show. But she’d reached a point of restlessness with that work. "My passion started to go away," she says.
"When salt hit me, I got my passion back."
The five years since salt hit have been extraordinarily productive for Nancy. She has invented a way to extract the salt essence from Molokai seawater. She has created a product line, called Soul of the Sea, which features three of these unique salts—white, red and black. (The red derives from the traditional Hawaiian practice of including some iron-oxide-rich alaea clay. The black is treated with activated charcoal. Both the clay and the charcoal are healthy mineral supplements.) She has formed a company called the Hawaii Kai Corporation, which is marketing this salt across the country. And if all goes as planned, her salt-farming method will flourish across the island, giving Molokai residents a new way to earn money on their land.
Soul of the Sea is headquartered in a modest A-frame building on Molokai’s south shore, right next to the Kaunakakai Wharf. The place is amazingly silent. The reef-enclosed sea here is placid and lake-like. The sky is flat solid blue, the air unmoving, the horizon marked by the long and monochromatic outline of Lanai. Sunshine, so abundant here, drives the entire process. Solar panels power the few pumps involved. Mostly you see a few rows of glass-topped boxes that hold trays of concentrated brine. Under the glass, salt is bunching up, forming fantastic crystal structures, looking for all the world as though it’s alive and growing.
In fact, Nancy and her crew regard their salt as a living thing and they call themselves salt farmers. They are on a mission: to give the king of all condiments the dignity it deserves.