Mari's Gardens / by Megan Tomino

Yellow swiss chard

Yellow swiss chard

It's amazing what you can discover in your own backyard if you take the time to look.

On this particular day, I was lucky enough to join an extensive tour of Mari's Gardens, an 18 acre hydroponic/aquaponic farm in Mililani. For this project, owner Fred Lau teamed-up with the Department of Agriculture with the aim to promote clean, sustainable agriculture while reducing the energy footprint of importing food products to our isolated islands.

The grounds of the farm are scattered with statues, huge vases and water features, all products of Fred's landscaping company. I parked, opened my door, and was immediately hit with an overwhelming scent of sweet basil. Already, I'm in heaven. Everyone is chatting at a large table covered by a netted gazebo. The table is surrounded by lush greenery and orchids growing effortlessly in their large pots. I am still in disbelief... how can such a paradise exist in my suburban town?

We begin the tour by walking to the first garden boxes of Mari's Gardens. The boxes boast large groups of herbs like cilantro and parsley, and right next to the boxes in an enormous basil bush that has flowered. Bees are busily buzzing everywhere, gathering the basil's nectar to take to their hives at the other end of the property-- hives that make basil flavored honey.

Never not growing basil

Never not growing basil

Banana hands

Banana hands

We pass enormous banana trees with serveal hands of bananas and my stomach grumbles... I haven't had breakfast yet. I'm silently hoping a "cut and serve salad", a ritual that is regularly performed for Mari's Gardens dinner guests, is in my near future. 

Several yards from the banana trees are a series of greenhouses that contain hydroponically grown lettuces. The lettuces start off as seedlings in little grids. When the seedlings are old enough, they are placed in the planks. Water runs beneath the roots of the plant, and they grow here until maturity. Mari's grows everything from red and green Mānoa lettuces to romaine and swiss chard using this method.

Micro greens growing in trays

Micro greens growing in trays

One of the highlights of the tour was learning about the tray method of distribution the farm is spearheading. The concept is to deliver trays of greens to chefs and restaurants instead of harvesting an entire lettuce. The trays will have the soil beneath the lettuce, and chef will cut what she needs when the product is needed, thus eliminating waste and leaving the root of the plant so it may grow back. When executed, this idea will bring a whole new meaning to farm-to-table.

Red beets

Red beets

We're going to be seeing huge things coming from Mari's Gardens. Not only do they grow a multitude of veggies, they're also under construction for an aquaponic powered greenhouse that spans an entire acre, that will produce everything from prawns (Fred's favorite seafood) and pond fish like tilapia, to pounds and pounds of lettuce. 

I wonder what other gems are hiding in my neighborhood?
Oh, and btw, they have a CSA box.

Mari's Gardens
94-415 Makapipipi St.
Mililani, HI 96789
Mini and ground farm tours available Monday - Friday by reservation.