There are places that, when traveled to, enhance our experience of life. Fantasies about Michelin rated meals, historic landmarks, and sun soaked beaches – things we plan long in advance to take a break from our day to day lives. Sometimes while on these trips, we have experiences that don’t just add joy to us experiencing life, they help change the way we look at it.
The last really big vacation I took was to Maui with my family. We spent about a week on the western side of the island mainly near the town of Lahaina. It was near the winter holidays and happened to be a little cloudier than expected. Still, any weather on that island is perpetual paradise compared to the Midwest. It’s always a joy to go there.
As picturesque and wonderful as everything there is, I can never fully unwind on the beach. The idea of laying in sand all day to simply sit still and “relax”, drives me absolutely crazy after about 20 minutes. A potent mental cocktail of anxiousness and always wanting to do something makes that the exact opposite of relaxing for me. When traveling, I don’t need to traverse the most exciting landscape, but I’d like to explore a bit – see some historic sites, unique local experiences, and take in as much food and drink as possible.
When looking for things to do, I was hoping to find local small businesses that could give tours of their facilities. Farms, breweries – anything fun and local that may be extra unique to the geography of the island. A love of farm to table operations, home gardens, and a ravenous addiction to coffee all converged when we stumbled upon O’o Farms.
O’o farms is a small independently owned farm to table operation in the upcountry farming community of Kula. On 8 acres of land on the slopes of a mountain, resides a hidden paradise that visitors can tour and explore. It is one of the most memorable experiences of my life. It made me appreciate that there are different ways to live life, not just experience it.
It took my family an over an hour from our hotel and nearby island hangouts to get to O’o and our scheduled coffee and lunch tour. As we got closer, we started going up in elevation on the mountain road. It was a grey, misty day and as the road got steeper and my confidence in directions diminished – that fear of “oh no what did I sign us up for” set in. Pulling into a flat, wide open beaten patch of grass clearly used as a parking lot, the only other sign of humanity was a spider web draped wooden archway and bench. The area was completely surrounded by trees or land at a higher elevation. I thought I had walked us all into a branch of Camp Crystal Lake. My nervousness and embarrassment was echoed by the questioning from the family.
Then from the foggy haze of the horizon, a hero wearing a dark green O’o farm t-shirt and jungle hat emerged. She guided us toward the end of the parking lot where a small path formed and after a single turn, it opened up into a larger field that exposed the entire property – crops, orchards and simple wooden structures were all within eyesight. It was a long, modest walkway into paradise.
The main building had a communal tables, some vintage coffee roasting equipment and stations, and a table lined with carafes and coffee cups. Our first pours of the day. The bar table that the coffee was lined up on had you facing out the open wall looking out onto the farm and catching glimpses down the mountain toward the greater island. The coffee was perfect. The view was amazing. It was a really special moment filled with rolling landscapes and dense tropical foliage.
The first pour had some introductions and overview on the farm. One of the main founders / owners stopped by to give a bit of the ethos on O’o. He outlined sustainable, farm to table mentality; focus on quality of output rather than volume; and the thoughtful supply provided to partner restaurants and other businesses around the island – all while humbly sharing how just last year he learned more about the chemistry of roasting at a conference even though he had been doing this for years.
Our initial tour guide proceeded to walk us around the property in long rectangle. Small progressions along paths revealed wider breadths of plants and full range of the 8 acres. We would walk around, being told about the different vegetables, fruits, and flowers grown. The most common occurrence was seeing totally unfamiliar flowers and then being encouraged to eat them. From a blue speckled flower labeled “natures Xanax” to a white and yellow blossom described as “it’ll taste like fresh peppercorn to some of you” – the variety was exciting and fun to legitimately experience. While tiny portions, we snacked our way through this entire operation – like a friend showing you their home garden.
The last stop before making our way back to the main building was the lot of coffee plants. Simple and modest when approaching, once inside the various lots of plants, it was like walking through the coolest hedge maze you could come across. It just belonged right where it was, decorated with a spectrum of green to fire-engine red coffee cherries. While they had a few other plots, in general it was a small operation that seemed to have a really special aura.
When we got back to the main area, it was time for a different variety of coffee and for the farm to table lunch. Finishing the tour, the lunch area is a set of long wooden tables offset from the main building, but having toured the entire property, the view past the property on the rest of the island really set in. The feeling of appreciation for O’o’s way of life set in. Ignoring the complexities of distribution and sales and compensation, it was nice to sit there and think about creating something you value, something natural, that then turns into things that people get to enjoy and make memories with.
The lunch was a series of sweet and savory crepes prepared with products grown on the farm, locally, or thoughtfully sourced – and it was fantastic. Sitting there, sipping perfect coffee in an outstanding environment, I know most things would have tasted great, but this meal was genuinely delicious. The red Cuban bananas in 1 of the 2 types of crepes absolutely stole the show.
Then we wrapped up with one last light drink and a goodbye, and the tour was over.
It’s easy to be cynical. I don’t think anyone would second guess the beauty of a coffee farm in Maui. That’s not insightful or ground breaking. But pausing to appreciate what was so wonderful is what I carry with me. It wasn’t a nice beach near the ocean or sipping a drink out of coconut in a lounge chair. It wasn’t just a trip or break from it all. It genuinely made me think about my life and living a different way. Not that things like that are easy to do – I’m sure there are decades worth of property rights and development behind O’o and even a ton of good luck. But things can be different. There are people doing different things, and probably things you’ve never considered but would enjoy some day. Or even just looking at things a little different. Whatever it is, I’m always looking forward to that next experience that demonstrates it.
See you tomorrow.
Inspirations: O’o Farm