Don’t panic, the food here is organic

Not a week seems to go by without getting a press release from a restaurant claiming to embrace the sustainable food movement. I have been unimpressed. Isn’t all food, by its very definition, sustainable?

All that changed yesterday. That’s when I met Gary Maunakea-Forth of MA‘O Organic Farms in Wai‘anae, Hawaii, on a modest parcel of land framed by the immense radio telescopes operated by the U.S. military on the Niuli’i Reservoir.

MA‘O is a non-profit organization that teaches future leaders organic farming, and also produces some of the best darned lettuce, tangerines and turnips you’ve ever tasted. Its staff works in shirts that say “No Panic … Go Organic.”

Many of the Hawaiians I met are deeply religious, which might explain the presence of an altar (pictured above) where traditional ceremonies are sometimes performed before work begins.

Maunakea-Forth also showed us what “farm-to-table” really meant when he met us after work at Ed Kenney’s Town Restaurant in Kaimuki. Kenney explained how he uses the organic produce to create first-rate fusion cuisine, including Gnocchi, Tuna Tartare, and Opah.

MA‘O doesn’t get a lot of visits from people who come to Hawaii on vacation, which is too bad. The tour prompted my middle child, Iden, to ask me about organic farming. I explained the advantages of growing produce without pesticides and chemical fertilizers, and best of all, he got to taste the difference.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on our help forum.

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  • Don’t you think someone who made $10.7 million in 2010 from a company whose profit primarily depends on chemical agriculture might have a bias in the matter? Yes, it would be understandable to think Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, Chairman of the Board of Nestlé, might. It also might be understandable to want to know what others, those without such a financial interest in the food status quo, think about the viability of non-industrial agriculture. But in the article, like other press that pooh-poohs organic farming, those who disagree–if they’re mentioned at all–are portrayed as marginal or unqualified to speak to the issue.