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Hawaii: Steelgrass Farms on Kauai is a grab bag of agribusinesses

April 22, 2012|By Russ Parsons | Los Angeles Times Food editor
  • Clowning around with rambutans at Steelgrass Farms on Kauai.
Clowning around with rambutans at Steelgrass Farms on Kauai. (Kathy Parsons / Special…)

Small farmers today have to do a lot of things to make a living. Still, you get the feeling that the Lydgate family at Steelgrass Farms on Kauai is overdoing it a little.

The first Lydgates arrived in Hawaii in the 1860s. Will and Emily are fifth-generation Kauaians, the great-grandchildren of John Mortimer Lydgate, in whose honor Lydgate Park on Kauai is named. In the 1990s, the family bought 8 acres of scrub on a hill above the town of Kapaa.

There they started growing cacao, the plant from which chocolate is made. For years, their harvest went to increasing their orchard and then to sharing seeds with other farmers in order to raise enough cacao to justify putting in a processing plant. They are just about there and say they will soon be able to begin making and selling single-origin Kauai chocolate.

But that’s only the start of the story. They also offer tours of their grounds, not only showing off the cacao trees and their fruit (which look like large, glossy highly colored footballs) but also giving tastings of the various tropical exotics they’ve planted on the property – longans, soursops, native passion fruit (or lilikoi), rambutans and even vanilla pods.

There’s a gift shop where you can buy some of the family’s favorite chocolates (and, eventually, their own), as well as their prize-winning honey and vanilla pods and cacao nibs.

And then there’s the farm’s recording studio. Yes, a recording studio. It is used not only for making music (acts as varied as gospel’s Dixie Hummingbirds and ukulele sensation Jake Shimabukuro have recorded there). And there is a minor specialty in recording background music for yoga classes. There’s also voiceover work: Actors Ben Stiller and Jack Black have both recorded parts of movies there.

Still not enough? The farm also sponsors a bamboo sculptural program, offering artists a two-week residency every summer to create bamboo sculptures on the property.

Just another farm family trying to make it.

Tours, including chocolate tasting, are $60 and reservations are required. Info: (808) 821-1857.


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