Native Intelligence: O‘ahu

The Healing Tree

Story by Lesa Griffith. Photos by Michelle Mishina.

David Wong didn’t set out to be a moringa farmer—in fact, the ‘Iolani School graduate was a General Motors executive in Detroit. But in 1967 he was called home to save the family dairy business even though“he knew nothing about cows,” he says. He bought land in Wai‘anae, called it Mountain

View Farms and saved the dairy—until 2006, when “the state said they didn’t want any more cows here,” says Wong.

David Wong saved his family’s farm by turning to Korean natural farming techniques. Among his crops is moringa. Long a staple in Southeast Asia and Africa, moringa is catching on in the West as a superfood that might help prevent chronic disease.

Searching for alternatives, Wong learned about Korean natural farming techniques and let his farmhands use them to select crops to grow. Farm manager Jesse De Los Reyes chose moringa—known also by its Filipino name, kalumangay. Native to India, Moringa oleifera is used throughout Southeast Asia and Africa as food and medicine. Today it’s being hailed in the West as the next superfood.

Then, in 2014, Wong was diagnosed with lung cancer. He again turned to Korea, where he received treatment at a facility that fights cancer through diet. A year later a researcher who had heard that Mountain View Farms was growing crops without fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides visited and homed in on the moringa trees. “Do you know what you have here?” Wong recalls her asking. Her first job had been in Africa, she said, where she conducted a survey showing moringa lowered infant mortality and improved quality of life for cancer patients. She urged Wong to do his own research. He learned that moringa is a nutritional powerhouse, high in vitamin C, calcium and beta-carotene. Research suggests it has powerful anti-inflammatory properties, reduces blood sugar and cholesterol and protects against arsenic toxicity.

Today Wong has ten acres of moringa and a two-room processing facility. The leaves are powdered and turned into capsules; oil is extracted from the seeds. Wong takes two capsules every morning and evening and squirts a drop of oil under his tongue. He sells the oil and capsules at the farm and online, and A-list restaurants such as Senia and MW Restaurant cook with his moringa powder, where the chefs value its slightly bitter, spicy flavor. But fine cuisine is just a means to an end for Wong, who’s on a quest to get the word out about moringa’s health benefits and “help everyone achieve a wholesome, healthy lifestyle free of chronic disease.”