The winding road from Haleiwa to old Waialua town passes by plantation style neighborhoods to elementary and middle schools and ends up at the historic Waialua Sugar Mill. The asphalt turns to dirt and leads straight to the old smoke stack that is now so downtrodden that it almost appears to be leaning slightly. Actually, I’m pretty sure it is. I couldn’t seem to get a single picture of the mill sans the tilt, like its a distant cousin to the leaning tower of Pisa.The Old Waialua Sugar Mill was the last sugar plantation on Oahu. Today it’s home to many local businesses.
Rounding the corner through a cloud of dirt kicked up by my car tires, I find what I’ve been looking for – the little farmers market filled with fresh produce and goodies all locally grown on the North Shore. And it couldn’t have been more of a country setting, with the cute little pop-up tents lined in neat rows, reflecting the mid-morning sun, and a few of the vendor’s dogs trotting around the dusty lot. More rust-covered relics surrounded the tiny market. But at closer inspection, these relics were far from that. The old factory warehouses have been turned into home bases for many local businesses, including the North Shore Soap Factory.
One of the first vendors to greet us had his tent off to the side, next to a structure that looked similar to an old barn. Vendors carrying trays of food rushed in and out of it; turns out, it’s the Waialua Community Kitchen. And the vendor that greeted us went by the name of Waialua Sugar Mill Ono Foods, which had a table with mason jars to the left and the best-pumpkin-bread-ever to the right.
I asked what exactly were in those glass jars, capped with a golden lid and a piece of aloha print fabric. Two older aunties pointed out that they were filled with the most ono (delicious) stuff inside, pickled stuff. From okra to beans to pineapples, the pickled goodies had to be the most unique items at the market. Jars of pickled treats and salsas has been a popular seller for this local family.
And they were selling quickly. I could easily tell the regular customers from the new ones. The regulars firmly pointed to the jars they wanted to purchase while first-timers carefully lifted each jar to the mid-morning sunlight, rotating it until its contents shifted. A very popular seller seemed to be the sweet pepper onion relish and tomato salsa. What a mouthful of a name! I bet you can guess which ingredients make up this salsa.
I liked how Waialua Sugar Mill Ono Foods remains a low-key family-run business. They don’t have a business card or a website, but you always know where to find them. Like clockwork, they set up shop every Saturday at the farmers market. Everything is grown on their Waialua farm and prepared at the Waialua Community Kitchen, available to small businesses that need a certified cooking space. I asked about the pickling/canning process and learned that while it takes an hour to make each jar, it lasts about four to five months. Some actually eat the whole jar the same weekend they bought it! In addition to the tasty treats, this vendor even has handmade aloha shirt aprons and recyclable bags made out of unused/hardly worn dresses.
Next time you’re cruising the North Shore on a Saturday, swing by the Waialua farmers market. You may find a unique treasure like I did, tucked away in such a historic landmark.
WAIALUA FARMERS MARKET • Next to Waialua Sugar Mill on North Shore • Saturdays, 830am-230pm • waialuaopenmarket.com