Friday, March 26, 2010

Sumida Watercress Farm

In the middle of an urban sprawl, you can find a green oasis called the Sumida Watercress Farm in Aiea, Hawaii. My great grandparents started the farm in 1928 on land leased from Bishop Estate, about 2 decades after they immigrated from Japan. As Hawaii began to develop, there were many greedy, hungry developers that sought to take over our farm and turn it into a lovely parking lot or high rise condo building. In the 70s, these developers decided to put a mall in Aiea, and my strong headed, fighter of a grandpa stood up to these sharks and made sure that our farm was kept in tact. Now, if you ever visit Pearlridge mall, you will notice that the Sears stops right at our farm's property line, and that a monorail can take you from one end of the mall, to another, separate building of the mall on the other side of our farm. This was not a fun little ride made to enjoy the serene view of a quaint Hawaii local treasure; it is a living footprint of my grandpa's fight that the mall developers grudgingly left behind.
My great grandparents chose watercress as their main crop because it can be grown year-round in Hawaii and must be grown in fresh spring water. Our 11 acre farm has dozens of natural springs that bubble up the freshest water you will ever see. The combination of water and sun creates long, thick stalks of watercress that is unique to Hawaii and our farm. When the farm was started, watercress was one of the few, locally grown green vegetables available. Now, of course, with an increased emphasis on eating local and organic, there are many more options. You can call our family the pioneers of this movement!
If you go to a typical mainland grocery store and look for watercress, you will find a small, thin plant that is about 3-4 inches long. If you go to a grocery store in Hawaii, you will find a foot long bunch of our watercress that is almost a completely different vegetable.

Local chefs love our family's watercress. One of the farm's strongest supporters is the amazing Chef Mavro. He happened to be giving a tour of the farm to some local culinary school students this week so we got to meet him and talk with him and his wife, Donna. He said that when he came to Hawaii from France over 22 years ago, he discovered our family's watercress and immediately loved the peppery, crisp watercress we produce. He said in France they love to use watercress in their dishes and that our watercress is the best; that is why he continues to do at least one dish that includes watercress in every season's menu at his restaurant.
As a sidenote, our family enjoyed a meal at Chef Mavro several years ago and I believe it fueled our passion for food. If you have never experienced a true, perfectly executed french meal, then you have not lived--and Chef Mavro's is the ultimate example of five-star french cuisine with a Hawaii flare.

In addition to my childhood memories of running through our fields with my cousins, playing tag and "exploring" the same nooks and crannies that my dad and his cousins and siblings used to explore decades ago, I also now have fond memories of Kyle and my wedding "after party" luau. My whole family pitched in and helped us throw a wedding bash that had the best view in town. Above is a photo of Kyle and I next to a sign my Auntie Barb painted. The hut is a hallmark of our farm; if you ask people if they know our farm, they will often say, "oh, yeah, the place with that hut in the middle?". And to answer a FAQ, no, nobody lives in it.

We pitched tents and had a feast of traditional luau food that included, of course, a yummy watercress salad!

As the night went on, we turned on big Japanese lanterns that glowed brightly as we danced the night away to my Uncle Dave's beach band and treated ourselves to Kyle and my favorite Dave's ice cream flavors: lychee sherbet and coconut macadamia nut.
Our farm is on a year-to-year lease, and we always worry that Bishop Estate will choose the more profitable parking lot over our farm. My uncle and aunt who run the farm work hard to make sure that others understand and value the cultural and environmental significance of our farm by conducting tours of our farm for local elementary school students and culinary school students. My hope is that the farm will be around for many more generations to come so that one day my kids will be able to have the same wonderful memories I have.
Happy Eating,

1 comment:

  1. That is so cool! And I LOVE the picture of your wedding tent at the farm! Such a cool space.