Behind the scenes at Kauai’s most popular farmers market

It’s mid-morning on a Saturday during the Kauai Community Market at Kauai Community College. Hundreds of people stream past Barkaroo Bakery and the Kauai Humane Society table. Some stop to buy dog treats made with local produce while others pet dogs that are available for adoption. Music plays near a shaded eating area as Sandi Kato-Klutke sells bars of delicate guava and lilikoi mochi, which are tucked next to sushi rolls, bread and butter pickles, kimchi and taegu noodle salad.

This year, readers of The Garden Island newspaper voted this as Kauai’s best farmers market, which also celebrated its five-year anniversary in October. With so many outstanding markets open every day on Kauai, I went to find out why more than 1,000 people come to this market on any given Saturday.

“When this market started, we wanted it to be a gathering place where the community and farmers meet on a regular basis,” says market coordinator Melissa McFerrin, as we sit at the Kauai Grown booth and sample a richly flavored chicken curry made by a potential vendor. “Today, we offer a combination of fresh, locally grown farm products, plus value-added products using ingredients grown on Kauai, as well as prepared food products.”

Five years ago, there were about 15 vendors, but the market has grown to 40. There are no crafts, and dogs will soon be banned, but the market is open for three and a half hours, affording customers a leisurely stroll down the aisles to buy produce, snacks or a hot breakfast or lunch.

Prepared food products include 100 percent locally sourced smoothies and juices from Hawaiian Island Juice as well as food trucks such as Hanalei Taro & Juice Co., J.C’s Puerto Rican Kitchen, Rafael’s Aloha Tacos and Yamato’s ice cream. Ruchi Indian food is vying for a position.

You can take home freshly made staples from Midnight Bear Breads, Kauai Nut Roasters, Nana’s Bananas and Honi Honi Honey as well as certified organic goat cheese from Kauai Kunana Dairy and beef jerky from Uncle Bears. Cakes and slices are available from Ko Bakery, which TGI readers honored with second place as Kauai’s best bakery. Salty Wahine Hawaiian Gourmet Sea Salts, who won first place in TGI’s Best Kauai-Made Food Product, sells a large variety of blended seas salts, including Passion Fruit Chili Pepper.

“I think part of what makes this market so special is the relationship between the vendors. We support each other and it’s like one big ohana,” says Elvrine Chow of Heavenly Hakus. “My business has grown by leaps and bounds since I’ve been at this market.”

Many companies have grown with the market. In the beginning, The Right Slice sold pies from a table only loaded with rack cards and Monkeypod Jam sold jars of jelly with handwritten labels. Today, The Right Slice will be opening their second location in Kalaheo and Monkeypod Jam is now available at Tommy Bahama’s and Whole Foods.

“People come to the market to meet farmers and vendors,” says John McClure who owns Moloaa Bay Coffee with his wife, Daphne. “Farmers markets are great because you get immediate feedback so it’s really easy to do market research.”

More than 13 farmers are at the market, selling a wide variety of fruit and vegetables as well as farm fresh eggs, plants and seedlings.

“This market is a wonderful mix of local people and tourists,” says Kauai Community College Chancellor Helen Cox, who comes with her husband, John Latkiewicz of the Hawaii Small Business Developement Center. “It’s part of our social fabric. I love talking to the farmers and now we eat based on what’s in season.”

For more information, visit www.kauaicommunitymarket.org.

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Marta Lane, a Kauai-based food writer since 2010, offers food tours and is the author of “Tasting Kauai: Restaurants — An Insider’s Guide to Eating Well on the Garden Island.” For more information, visit TastingKauai.com.

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