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Wild Fruits and Ideal Uses

IN THE BIBLICAL GARDEN OF EDEN, “God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground-trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.”

The same could be said of Chuck Boerner and his family, in a lush corner of Kipahulu, beyond Hana, Maui. A few turns past ‘Oheo Falls National Park, you’ll find Chuck in his own Eden-a sprawling, 100-acre patchwork of orchards, gullies and woods called Ono Organic Farms.

The Boerners share their ‘ono stuff generously; in farm tours that include a pleasant talk-story/eat fruit time on the deck of their home and during an impromptu stroll down the long, tree-lined driveway for picking, eating and more talk-story; in a farm stand in Hana as well as in whatever’s-in-season baskets delivered to Maui households and mail-ordered throughout the Islands, and in sales to local chefs and restaurants.

Right now, they’re playing with jackfruit, a gigantic, oddly shaped dragon-spiked fruit (it can grow up to 100 pounds but they pick at 10 to 12 pounds) with orangey flesh like a mango, only firmer. It’s perhaps best known to local Filipinos as part of the fruit stuffing for lumpia, deep-fried dessert “spring rolls.” Fresh dried jackfruit, tender and intensely sweet, “is one of the best things that ever happened,” professes Boerner, adding that green jackfruit makes awesome curry.

During our conversation, Boerner reveals that a trove of jackfruit recently delivered to a Maui chef developing recipes for an upcoming sampling at Whole Foods has the farmer very excited.

You see, harvesting fresh, rare fruits is only half of the fun for Boerner; he and his wife Lilly spend heaps of time crafting original recipes with the fruits of their labor. ‘Ono Farms is the Alinea or El Bulli, if you will, of island-made jams, jellies, chutneys and pickles, desserts and even entrees elicited from the more than three dozen varieties of fruits, spices, cacao and coffees-all certified organic-that exist at the property.

The enterprise has its roots in Boerner’s grandfather’s interest in healthy eating: In 1945, he decided to take his son’s advice and try farming in Hawai’i. (That son was Boerner’s father, a civil engineer who helped build the famed underground storage tanks on Red Hill.)

After standing in a long ticket line to board a flight to Kaua’i- where someone had told him fertile grounds abound-he was told he had mistakenly arrived in the Maui line. A few days later, he was in Hana, inking a deal for 10-acres near Hamoa Beach.

Thirty years later, his grandson, Chuck, settled nearby after graduating from Punahou and Union College in upstate New York (majoring in civil engineering and industrial economics). He had spent six years traveling, tasting every new food that was set before him.

Upon returning home to Maui, Chuck married “the lady down the road,” Lilly, who had three children. They added a set of twins to round out the family, most of whom now work on the farm. Their unofficial motto-“growing stuff you couldn’t get on the Mainland and that which we cannot send to the Mainland”- includes mountain apples, star apples, guavas, jackfruit, soursop, passionfruit, cacao, bananas, papayas, avocados and coffee.

The last four are the mainstays of the farm: The Boerners roast their own coffee, sell several varieties of bananas and heirloom avocados. They move serious poundage: about 3,000 pounds of bananas a week, 600 pounds of papayas, 1,500 pounds of avocados in season.

When hardy visitors negotiate the 50-something twists and turns of Old Hana Highway and locate the farm a long, long drive from Wailuku, they find a 10-foot-long refectory table on a shaded deck piled with the “heroes” (the best picks) of the day.

Anything that’s rare, anything that’s newly in season, anything that’s eye-poppingly interesting goes on the table, Boerner says.

The fields closest to the house are the earliest, the most mixed and the most storied on the farm, the ones the Boerners babied and learned from. “We still believe in mixing. You can see at least 12 different types of trees right from the deck,” Boerner says. “Mixed plantings encourage a healthy microorganism ‘ohana, one that Lilly Boerner compares to crowded New York tenements, where people of different ethnicities and faiths lived cooperatively.

Long before it became trés foodie chic, Boerner was into side-by-side tastings.

“A lot of people prefer the longan, it’s the sweetest, but you can’t know that until you try them side by side,” he says, laying down an array of colorful sweets.

Afterward, guests stroll down the driveway to the packing shed, sucking the sugary coating from coffee seeds, slurping the flesh of cacao (chocolate), munching cuttings of hearts of palm, nibbling on the berries of the peanut butter fruit (aptly named, the farm is the only place you’re likely to experience it).

Chuck is quick to pull out his pocketknife to scrape some bark from the cinnamon tree or snip off a mace-and-nutmeg fruit. “We give people a good taste of what happens on the farm,” he says, snickering.

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