Waipa Foundation’s executive director Stacy Sproat-Beck talks about the different parts of the taro plant during the walking portion of the tour. // © 2017 Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas
Feature image (above): Pili Au tour participants taste delicious dishes made with fresh farm ingredients, such as summer rolls. // © 2017 Marty Wentzel
On Kauai’s north shore, a 1,600-acre “ahupuaa” (ancient Hawaiian land division) stretches from the mountains to the sea. This is the home of Waipa, a nonprofit organization where visitors can discover just how closely Hawaii’s culture is entwined with the land.
Each Tuesday, Waipa presents Pili Au, a three-hour farm-to-table tour. On the day I took part, our group was welcomed by Waipa’s executive director, Stacy Sproat-Beck, who grew up on the north shore. After attending college in California, she returned to Kauai to work with and preserve the land that means so much to her, her family and generations of Hawaiians.
Today, among the crops thriving at Waipa is taro, Hawaii’s most treasured agricultural product and the source of poi. Sproat-Beck told us that Hanalei, in north Kauai, grows 85 percent of Hawaii’s total taro used for poi. Waipa itself makes 1,200 pounds of poi per week. We sampled a bit of the prized purple starch before starting our walking tour of the farm.
As Sproat-Beck led us to gardens filled with native and imported plants, she chatted about their significance in the islands. During a stop at a ti plant, she demonstrated the versatility of its leaves, which can be folded like gift wrap or steamed in a popular dish called “laulau.” In another grove, we learned about coconut and sugarcane and their context within Hawaiian history.
Sproat-Beck took us past trees loaded with limes, oranges, avocados and breadfruit. We saw how papayas and mountain apples grow; we snacked on lychee and bananas picked straight from the source; and we gazed at gardens that produce vegetables such as kale, eggplant and carrots.
Then it was time to eat some of the foods that we had seen growing. In Waipa’s open-air pavilion, home of a demonstration kitchen, we sipped iced tea made with farm ingredients and watched Waipa staffers prepare four ultra-fresh dishes: kale salad, stir-fried breadfruit, summer rolls and banana “lumpia” (a fried and wrapped dessert with coconut sauce).
As we practically licked our plates clean, we received souvenir tote bags with recipes for the dishes we had tasted. Each of us also received a $5 coupon for Waipa’s farmers’ market, which we visited next. Held every Tuesday afternoon, the market features 30 vendors selling produce, jams, jellies, meats, cheeses, arts and crafts.
By the tour’s end, Sproat-Beck had not simply sated our appetites; she had also successfully taught us about the connection between Hawaii’s natural riches and cultural stewardship.
“Waipa was created as a living learning center,” she said. “The land is like our older brother. All the plants are related to us. If we take care of them, they take care of us.”
Waipa’s Pili Au tour takes place Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and costs $55 per person.
Clients also can visit Waipa as part of The Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas’ He Aina Ola (“a nourishing feast”) package. Offered on the second and fourth Monday of each month, the event, which costs $135 per person, includes a walking tour followed by a three-course dinner with wine pairings.