Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Big Island - Kalapana - Uncle Robert's Farmers Market

Uncle Robert's Farmers Market

 A Taste of Old Hawai‘i

by Denise Laitinen
published in Ke Ola Magazine issue Sep-Oct 2012

Judging from the size of the crowd, Uncle Robert’s Farmers Market is the worst kept secret in lower Puna. Held every Wednesday night from 5-9 p.m. at Uncle Robert’s in Kaimū, Kalapana, it’s the only nighttime farmers market on the island. It’s also one of the busiest. With vendors offering locally grown produce, baked goods, hand made jewelry, freshly cooked food, and live music, it feels more like a festival than a market.

“I don’t call it a farmers market, I call it a social market,” says Ikaika Marzo, one of Uncle Robert’s hānai grandchildren, as he looks across the crowd. Long, communal picnic tables in the dining pavilion are filled with people listening to the Kalapana Awa band perform and enjoying food from one of the many vendors at the market. A little girl is on the dance floor trying to dance hula to the music.

Beyond the picnic tables, throngs of people can be seen strolling the aisles of the farmers market, admiring the produce and wares available. “It’s a family place,” says Sam Keli‘iho‘omalu, one of Uncle Robert’s 11 children. “It’s a fun place.” It’s reminiscent of old Hawai‘i, and that’s the way we like to keep it,” says Prince Keli‘iho‘omlau, another one of Uncle Robert’s sons. “It’s very local, very relaxed.”

Situated on Uncle Robert’s four-acre family compound at the end of Kapoho-Kalapana Road in Kaimū, the site was already home to Uncle Robert’s Awa Bar and the starting point for Kalapana Cultural Tours (operated by Marzo and Andrew Keli‘iho‘omalu, one of Uncle Robert’s grandsons)
when Uncle Robert’s son Sam decided to establish the market. The market is truly a family affair and many of Uncle Robert’s extended family can be found working either behind a booth counter, directing traffic and parking, or up on stage performing. “The majority of people that come down here have jobs, so we decided to have the market at night,” adds Marzo.

Upon opening at the start of this year, the market was an instant success. Within six months there was a waiting list of vendors wanting to participate. Some of the vendors, like Tina Aiona, are related to Uncle Robert (she is his niece), while many others are area residents looking to supplement their
income, or just make an income.

Vendor Dave Cardall says he’s a house painter by profession but work has been hard to come by with the recession, so he started a second career creating custom jewelry. The market gives him an opportunity to showcase his wares. “I’m reinventing myself,” he says with a smile.

“We’re pretty much making our own economy down here,” says Marzo. The market is about more than food and music. It also features a permanent display depicting information on the history of the area with pictures from the 1990 lava flow. There’s also extensive information displayed about the
Hawaiian sovereignty movement, something dear to Uncle Robert Keli‘iho‘omalu’s heart and soul.
“Everything about Uncle Robert is about sovereignty,” says Garry Hoffeld, the island-wide organizer for Moku o Keawe Reinstated Lawful Hawaiian Government. For visitors and recently arrived residents, the displays are their first, and sometimes only, exposure to these historical and political issues.

The market is also reflective of Uncle Robert’s strong spirit of aloha, attracting residents and visitors alike. “You see a lot of local people and a lot of visitors,” says Lisa Bowring of Aloha Exotics, who sells chocolate-covered chili peppers and strawberries. “It’s a very festive atmosphere.” “It’s a mini ho’olaule‘a (festival) every Wednesday,” says Kea‘au resident Tracey Kauahi.

Contact writer Denise Laitinen:


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