Joshua Fukumoto of Maili already had an interest in farming when he became a Ma‘o intern two years ago at the ripe old age of 24. After high school and a short stint in college, he traveled to Nepal, where he taught English in a rural village for two months. The experience changed his life.
“What really got me was that it was a small community where everyone knew each other, and the sense of community was so strong,” he recalled. “There was a lot of poverty in the area, but there, everyone grew their own vegetables and raised their own animals. Each family had their own rice terrace.
“I realized that here, there’s often no sense of community; people live an unfulfilled life and work hard to afford food. When I came back, I knew I wanted to study agriculture.”
Fukumoto earned an associate degree at Leeward Community College, then transferred to UH-West Oahu to enroll in the Sustainable Community Food Systems program. He’s a year into the farm’s four-year apprenticeship program and is planning to travel abroad for six months for a school practicum, to farm in another country.
His goal: “I’d like to have my own piece of land and live off the grid, just like those villagers in Nepal.”
FUKUMOTO HAS become proficient at whipping up dishes using veggies fresh from the farm. A few of his ideas:
>> The right way to snack: During work breaks, he uses the outdoor kitchen to pan-fry root veggies and purplette onions in olive oil, sesame oil and liquid aminos. When they’re brown, he adds kale, salt and pepper. “It’s my snack on break,” he said.
>> Kale for all: Since kale is abundant at Ma‘o, Fukumoto uses it everywhere: soups and stir-fries; as a salad with steak (it becomes his starch replacement); as a cabbage replacement in kalua pork and cabbage.
>> Root veggie roast: Massage the vegetables in olive oil, add salt and pepper, then bake in a 400-degree oven for at least 30 minutes.
>> Baked ulu: Core a firm, mature breadfruit, wrap in foil and bake in a 350-degree oven for an hour. “It’s like a baked potato, but way more flavorful,” he said.
>> Pan-fried ulu: Cut baked ulu into chunks or cubes and fry with garlic and spices until browned; it functions as country-style potatoes.
KIANA TECTOR, a Ma‘o intern, is a liason for the University of Hawaii health study, lending support to her peers on the farm participating in the study. The 21-year-old Nanakuli resident is finishing her last semester at Leeward Community College and will major in nutrition and dietetics at UH-Manoa. Her goal is a master’s degree in public health.
Getting involved in the study helped Tector define her path.
“I was interested in culinary, then the study opened me up to how microbiomes impact health. Physical and mental health is connected with the health of microbiomes. Studies show that poor gut and brain microbiome communities can result in a poor outlook on life, depression and anxiety,” she said.
The UH study hit home. When she was an infant, Tector’s digestive system couldn’t function properly, and she wasn’t expected to live beyond age 3. Now, having learned that microbiomes also live in soil, she has a deeper appreciation of Ma‘o’s organic farming and its focus on the health of the land — “the microbiomes in the soil are transferred to us through the things we eat,” she said — bringing the farm experience and her academic study full circle.
WON BOK-KALE KIM CHEE
By Kiana Tector
1/2 head won bok (Napa cabbage), cut lengthwise into 1- to 1-1/2-inch strips and crosswise into 2-inch pieces
4 kale leaves, stemmed and cut crosswise into strips
1/4 cup salt, or more as needed
4 to 5 baby carrots
3 small daikon
1 bunch green onions
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
Red pepper flakes (optional)
4 teaspoons grated ginger
3 cloves garlic
4 heaping tablespoons Korean chili paste, or to taste
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1 to 2 tablespoons maple syrup
In large bowl, combine won bok and kale with salt, toss by hand and set aside at least 45 minutes to extract water from greens.
Every 15 minutes or so, toss greens to help release water. If water isn’t releasing well, add more salt and toss.
Meanwhile, grate carrots and daikon; cut green onions into 1/2- to 1-inch pieces. Grate ginger and press or mince garlic. Set all ingredients aside.
>> To make sauce: In small bowl, combine ginger, garlic, chili paste, vinegar and syrup; stir to combine. Set aside.
When won bok is pliable and kale is a bit soft, rinse off salt and squeeze out liquid from veggies. Return to bowl. Add carrots, daikon and green onions; toss. Stir in sesame seeds.
Add chili sauce; stir well with spoon. (Do not use your hands; if you rub your eyes, it could sting.) Add red pepper flakes if using.
With tongs, pack kim chee into jar loosely until it’s 3/4 full, then pack down with spoon. Add more kim chee; pack down. The goal is to eliminate air pockets.
Leave about an inch of space at top of the jar — as the kim chee ferments, bacteria will excrete carbon dioxide.
Lightly cap jar and let it sit 2 to 3 days on the counter, then open jar and stir a bit. Tighten lid and refrigerate.