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Vol. 19, no. 5
October/November 2016


Maui no ka Olive 
Story By: Shannon Wianecki
Photos By: Bailey Rebecca Roberts

Humans have been making olive oil for eight thousand years, but on Maui they’re just getting started. Halfway up the slopes of Haleakala, Kula has a Mediterranean-like climate. In 2010 Kula farmer and long-distance canoe paddler Jamie Woodburn decided to give olives a try after touring orchards in Italy. Five years later he and his son Josh Circle-Woodburn harvested Hawai‘i’s first commercial crop of olives.

“It’s nice to grow a product that is healthful and has never been grown in Hawai‘i before,” says Woodburn. While olive trees do grow throughout the Islands, Maui Olive Company is the first for-profit venture. The learning curve has been steep: The owners battled rose beetles, whiteflies and onerous startup costs. Making olive oil in Hawai‘i costs triple what it does in California, especially considering the sophisticated olive mill Woodburn imported from Italy. But it’s a worthy investment that will benefit the co-op of olive farmers he and his son are cultivating. So far they’ve helped neighbors plant eight orchards, totaling ten thousand trees. Their own ten acres feature several olive cultivars that favor Kula’s climate. “We’re in the early stages of creating a family of growers that will come together, establish a standard and share what they know,” says Woodburn.

Olive harvests in Italy are community events requiring many hands. The Woodburns’ first crop ripened in September—two months early. They hurriedly recruited friends and family to pick 3,600 pounds of fruit. The moment of truth came as bright green liquid poured from the mill’s spigot. Would their five-year investment pay off? The oil’s flavor proved peppery and complex. Samples sent to the University of California, Davis, revealed that it was “of the highest quality.” Local chefs Perry Bateman of Mama’s Fish House and Tylun Pang of the Fairmont Kea Lani resort feature it on their menus. Connoisseurs can buy it at the Upcountry Farmers Market or at the Woodburns’ new Waipoli farm stand. Dainty 160-ml bottles cost $12—but as production expands, Woodburn expects prices to drop.

Olive trees can live thousands of years, producing fruit for generations. That was one of the draws, says Woodburn. “I hope they’ll be around much longer than us.”