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The Roots of Taro

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In the islands’ most significant vegetable is the seed of Hawaiian culture – and the best chips you’ve ever had. Cindy Cardenas, foreperson at the farm, explains.

At Kukuiula’s Upcountry Farm is a beautiful bed of Chinese taro, its large, purple-rimmed leaves bobbing at the end of long stalks. Visitors tend to think of flavorful deep-fried chips when they think of taro, but for locals, taro is deeply meaningful.

According to legend, taro was born of the gods Wakea (Sky Father) and Ho`ohoku-ka-lani, who came to Hawai‘i and had a child they named Haloa-naka. The baby died at birth, and his father buried him at the east corner of the house he had built on Hawai‘i. According to writer Leilehua Yuen, “each day Ho`ohoku tended the burial site. She carried water in Wakea’s ipuwai and gave Haloa-naka a drink. She stirred the mud as if she were tucking a blanket around her baby. She kept the area clean and free of weeds and animals. In a few days, a tightly furled green leaf poked up through the mud. “Oh, Wakea,” she called, “Look at our son! See how he grows? He stands already!” Ho`ohoku continued to care for her firstborn son, who grew into a large and handsome taro plant.” The legend goes that another son was born, a healthy human named Haloa, who would become the ancestor of all humans. A complete retelling of the legend can be found here.

Taro was the staple food of Hawai‘i for centuries, and as recently as 1948, some 14 million pounds of taro (kalo in Hawaiian) was grown on the islands. (Today, the number is closer to 4 million pounds.) But the importance of the crop is undiminished – it is still considered disrespectful to fight when a bowl of poi (mashed taro corm, or underground stem) is opened. The term for family, `ohana, is derived from `oha, the shoot or sucker which grows from the taro corm. As the young shoots grow from the corm, so people grow from the family. Taro can be cultivated using wet or dry methods; a dramatic stage for the former is Kauai’s north shore near Hanalei, where terraces of taro are grown in water.

Kukuiula’s taro is a dry-cultivated Chinese variety called Bun Long, with leaves that add a shot of purple and green to the landscaping at the Upcountry Farm. Foreperson Cindy Cardenas was given a little of the taro, and when she planted it at Kukuiula, it became a full-blown crop. It wasn’t long before Chef Ben was turning the root into chips, much to the delight of members. Make sure you get some next time you’re with us and stay at the best in Hawaii luxury homes.

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