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Tropical Bounty at Honolulu’s Farmers’ Markets



Setting the alarm for 5:30am seems to have become the norm lately. So many things worth doing here in Hawai’i happen early in the morning: photo shoots, hiking, markets, ceremonies, tours, even surfing if you want to catch a few waves before heading to work. Once you get past 9:30am it gets hot, so people here tend to be early risers (exceptions excepted) to take advantage of the cooler hours.

I could get to the farmers’ market later, I suppose, but then I would have to deal with the heat and the crowds, not to mention that, for photographic purposes, the light is at its best early in the morning.




So off I go, loading my Mini with my gear, and a cooler in case I decide to purchase something once I am done shooting; and there is always something tempting at the market.
Farmers’ markets in Hawai’i are as fragrant and colorful as everything else. As you walk through them,  scents go in waves: a waft of tropical blooms blends with the sweetness of ripe pineapples or mangoes. Then a jolt of Kona coffee gets your attention, making you want breakfast. Uh, one of those hot-from-the-oven apple turnovers at the baker’s stand might just hit the spot.




Across the way someone is already making pizza and fried green tomatoes, while someone else has decided to have a hot kalua pork plate with some sticky rice and macaroni salad for breakfast.

In Hawai’i the local cuisine is a hodgepodge of cultures and flavors, with Hawaiian traditional foods heavily blended with Japanese, Korean, Philippine, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, American and Mediterranean ingredients and styles; and let’s not forget Middle-Eastern and Indian cuisines. You can’t get more fusion than that. Kind of like the people, actually.




Here everybody loves food just a little more than they love music and talking story. The local farmers’ markets always feature an oversize tent with a seating area and a band stand where local musicians entertain everyone with the sweet sounds of slack key guitar, ukulele and honeyed Hawaiian voices.




Farmers’ markets are becoming more and more popular all over the U.S., and Hawai’i is no different. I have seen quite an increase in them all over the islands in just a few years. Unlike the northern – or southern, for that matter – hemisphere where farmers’ markets are dictated by the season, it is always the season for them in the land of perennial summer. There are at least three or four main markets happening on the weekends, and lots more smaller ones on various weekdays in various locations. The best known on ‘Oahu are the KCC farmers’ market, the Kailua and Haleiwa ones, and the one at the Kaka’ako shopping center. The biggest, most popular and best attended by both vendors and shoppers is the KCC Farmers’ Market. KCC stands for Kapiolani Community College, which is located on the mauka side (mountain side – as opposed to ocean side, which is makai) of Diamond Head, not far from Waikiki.




On the Big Island, the best known is the one in Hilo, happening every Wednesday and Saturday, with the one at Parker School in Kamuela/Waimea a close second on Saturday mornings only.


You can find a complete list of Hawai’i farmers’ markets by clicking here.

I am updating this list constantly as I can’t turn my head a moment that there is a new farmers’ market popping up. If you know of one that I have missed, please do let me know.


ProteasTropical FlowersAnthuriums-and-ginger


Some vendors are still setting up their stands when early shoppers are already flitting from one to the other on a focused mission to forage for the best. The fact that the vendors seem to have lots more of the same in their refrigerated trucks doesn’t seem to deter them one bit. The first booths to get flooded with buyers are the ones selling tropical flowers and orchids.


OrchidsTropical Flowers


The selection of produce is truly rich and varied, with many large and small vendors, more and more of whom – I have been happy to notice – are going organic. Meander through stands and, depending on the season, you can pick up pineapples, mangoes, lychee, apple bananas, beets, kale, bok choi, salads, cucumbers, bitter melon, papayas, lilikoi (passion fruit), strawberries (from Kula on Maui, and from Waimea on the Big Island), potted herbs, green beans, poha berries and so much more than I can remember to mention.




Then there are the vendors of locally produced specialties like compotes, jams, sauces, dressings, taro chips and products like poi, kulolo and haulolo; fresh, dried and smoked fish, locally produced cheeses and butters… And let’s not forget the famous Hawaiian salts, Kona coffees, Macadamia nuts in all sorts of different styles, and now also delicious chocolate crafted from bean to bar with locally grown cacao.

And see the Ono Pops stand in the image above? Ono Pops are some of the most divine popsicles and creamsicles I have ever tasted anywhere. They are made locally in small batches and come in the most interesting and creative selection of flavors that are the perfect representation of eclectic Hawai’i taste. I challenge you to pick a favorite, because you will find it difficult to pick just one.




Still, somehow the longest line – sometimes double or triple – is at the bakery stand. I have noticed this is the same everywhere, at every farmers’ market I have gone to, no matter where. Next in line for heavy shopper traffic are the hot food vendors. In the past few years, a few well known chefs have set up booths at the KCC farmers’ market from which they offer their freshly cooked specialties.


Baked-goodsHawaii Food Specialties


Dogs may not be allowed at farmers’ markets but you can find goodies for them, too. Here is Georgie, an English expat, striking a funny pose for me at her booth selling healthy K9 treats of all kinds.




With very few exceptions, as I have indeed seen a few grumpy faces, all the vendors are smiling and friendly. Connecting with them is part of the pleasure of the experience, and they do their best to interact even at the busiest moments.




I shot these images at the Ala Moana farmers’ market (now Kaka’ako Farmers’ Market) and the KCC farmers’ market over three different times, the most recent of which was last Saturday. It was a hot one, with Kona weather coming in, which meant that no trades were blowing to offset the heat.

Once I had taken all the photos I could possibly think of, I placed my Nikon back in its bag and decided to shop a little. First things first:  I headed for the sugar cane juice stand to replenish my liquids and electrolytes with a refreshing ginger and lilikoi juice.




Next I picked up a Hawai’i style Reuben (with kalua pork instead of pastrami) to go for lunch, a jar of a Mango & Lime jam I had eyed earlier and which turned out to be divine, some hydroponically grown salad, and two bags of fresh lychee – my absolute favorite fruit –  which are just now starting to be in season. I would have shopped more, but I ran out of cash. I had forgotten to pick up extra, and not many vendors take credit cards. With my last few dollars of the morning I had to choose between more produce and a little bunch of gardenias. The gardenias won. Who can resist gardenias?!





Of course, I photographed the gardenias as soon as I got home. I set my camera on my Manfrotto tripod and shot them this way, that way, in this light, with that background, with this lens, with that one, at this f-stop, and then the other. Can you relate?

So, do you enjoy farmers’ markets? If you do and have a favorite, would you let me know about it so I can add it to my list? Pretty please!


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This article was originally published on the Manfrotto Imagine More site on May 31, 2013 with the title “A Morning at the Farmers’ Market in Honolulu”


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  • Sonia (foodiesleuth)09/01/2014 - 2:25 pm

    What a gorgeous and delicious looking post…it feeds all of the senses…!

    I am in the process of updating the info on Farmers Markets of the Big Island for the Hawai’i HomeGrown Food Network website and will send you the completed list when I finish…this will be an on-going project for several weeks though.ReplyCancel

    • Monica Schwartz09/02/2014 - 3:23 pm

      Thank you, Sonia! I miss the farmers’ markets in Hawai’i!
      Yes, please do share your list so I can compare it to mine. There are always new markets popping up, and sometimes there are changes in day and time. 🙂ReplyCancel

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