June 10th, 2016
There's a slow change taking place in the hills of Kula, Maui. There, at the 13.5 acre Ali`i Kula Lavender Farm (AKL), owner Koa Chang is part of what he believes is a sea-change in the Valley Isle's agriculture industry.
Sure, he grows lavender- approximately 45 different varieties of purple-flowered plant. His team of gardeners tend to more than 55,000 plants which bloom year-round on the cool, arid slopes of Haleakala.
What's different, though, since his father Ali`i founded the farm in 2001, is that it's gone from a botanical garden to a sustainablility-focused agricultural-tourism venue, working with a network of partners developing the new paradigm defining Hawaii's modern agriculture industry.
"We partner with other local businesses to manufacturing value-added products. For instance, we share lavender from our farm with a local jam and jelly maker. They make a high-quality lavender jelly which benefits both companies," explains Chang, whom I meet while touring the gardens; he's in the middle of renovating the deck of their former gift shop that overlooks the farm's nursery.
Another example he shares involves partner Ocean Vodka. Some of Chang's lavender plants are growing at the vodka headquarters' herb garden, and on special occasions, the mixologists will create a special drink (like a Lavendar Lemon Drop). There are myriad ways to support each other, Chang says. Conversely, Ocean Vodka gifted some of its organic sugar cane for the lavender farm to enjoy on its premises as well.
More importantly, it hews to AKL's mission to practice aloha. "We don't want to compete with our neighbors; instead, we want to empower and help them grow," furthers co-founder Lani Weigert. "For us, this is a true win-win. Currently, we have partnerships with more than 25 local businesses."
Chang remembers what his late father always said: "It is our responsibility to take care of our communities." He's committed to offering an experience that helps people reconnect to the land, to each other, and to themselves.
Chang took over the business in 2011 after his father's unexpected passing, and the farm needed a new leader. "I've always liked gardening but it became front and center for me when I returned. And I love it. I love evolving agriculture here into a community activity."
Other changes he's made to the farm include adding a chicken coop for a sustainable source of organic fertilizer used across the farm, three different fruit orchards focusing on citrus, apples, and stone fruits, multi-tiered vegetable gardens, and an aquaponics system. "These things may never be for commercial production, but we could use it on a small scale for our own uses; maybe the next time you come back you'll see a bowl of our apples sitting on the gift shop counter," Chang elaborates.
The man is sure is busy. This summer, he's also re-doing the lavender beds. They have to rotate the crops to ensure constant blooms. Plus, the commercial life of a plant is about ten years before it's time to replace it.
I leave him and his dog 'Seven' continue renovating the deck he is working on. I suggest they make a bed & breakfast out of the little cottage, but our tour guide Sarah votes for day spa, using, of course, all the farm's lavender products.
Either way, I'm positive it'll be fully booked. Other than the fact that the farm has a wonderful, serene, tranquil, meditative, healing energy, it felt to me like about half the visitors are local, which feeds a steady stream of clients.
The lovely Sarah Adams continues our tour, explaining about the history of lavender, its uses, and the differences between the varieties. Lavender has been traditionally used in aromatherapy to help soothe and relax folks for thousands of years, dating back even to ancient Egyptian and Roman times.
The gift shop is home to a variety of "Lavender Lifestyle" products to enhance one's day-to-day, ranging from culinary delights to luxurious lotions and even "dryer bags," small fabric bags filled with dried lavender buds to freshen up one's linens.
Lavender Coffee and Lavender Tea are available to purchase by-the-cup to pair with its famous Lavender Scones. Be sure to sample the scone with the Lavender-infused Liliko`i Jelly or Lavender Honey!
The farm offers 30-minutes guided walking tours of the gardens daily for $12 per person, or you can save $2 by booking in advance. If you are wondering when the best of the year to visit the farm is, lavender actually grows year-round at Ali`i Kula Lavender! However, the peak season will always be in July and August, if you are looking for the large purple fields.
Adams clips a few stems of the blooming lavenders and other herbs throughout the garden. At the end of our tour, she bundles all of our cuttings up with a pretty ribbon (purple, of course) for Olivia and me; a beautiful souvenir of our visit, and a tantalizing reminder that we need to return - soon and often.
More at http://www.aliikulalavender.com/