In 2007 Mari’s Gardens began operation on what used to be a farm owned by Watanabe Floral. What started as an extension of the owner’s landscaping business has now grown to become the largest aquaponic farm in the state.
Set over 18 acres, the farm is hidden in plain sight at the edge of suburban Mililani. Neighbors and visitors are welcome to stop by Mon-Sat 7:00a-3:30p to purchase fresh produce, plants, organic fertilizers, planters, and other landscaping materials. Educational and guided tours for schools and the public are also offered during business hours, by appointment only.
The first stop on our tour was to a hydroponic greenhouse where a variety of lettuce is grown for their spring mix. The greenhouses provide a controlled environment, as well as protection from insects and disease, allowing the greens to grow happy and pesticide free.
Starting from seed, the lettuce germinates in one inch oasis cubes. After two weeks the cubes are transferred to the larger system where they receive water and a level of nutrients specific to the variety of lettuce. Another four weeks and they’re ready for harvest.
For areas with limited space, lettuce is also grown in vertical gardens. Nutrients are pumped to the top of the tower and trickle down to the lettuce below. By rotating harvests around the tower, one system could provide a family with a constant supply of fresh salad. The cost? $750
To back of the farm, a newer and larger greenhouse. The cooling system here is more effective, allowing them to grow both Manoa and baby butter lettuce.
With everything growing in a completely soilless system, all you need is a bottle of dressing and some crispy croutons. Kidding. Don’t do that. If you want to try some, it’s available for purchase at Safeway, Foodland, or Whole Foods–dressing ok, croutons a must!
They also works with many high end hotels and local chefs to grow a variety of micro greens by request for their restaurant menus.
Adjacent to the back greenhouse is the new aquaponic facility. With tanks both indoor and outdoor, spread over one acre, it’s the largest aquaponic farm in the state.
Like hydroponics, aquaponics is a soilless system. But with the introduction of fish, no synthetic fertilizers are needed. Living in a symbiotic relationship, the plants provide a healthy environment for the fish and the fish in turn fertilize the plants. Mainly catfish, tilapia, and swai, both fish and plants are harvested and sold to market.
The new facility is also completely off the grid, as is the rest of the farm. In addition to reducing their carbon footprint, the system provides continuous power for oxygen pumps–pumps that are vital to the survival of the fish during otherwise times of power outages.
On the way back, we pass a few Christmas goats. Apparently worth more than a flat screen TV at the annual company party. Does anyone else hear Frank Delima?
Back at the main facility we’re given a generous sampling of produce to take home. And we stock up on some award winning dressings to pair with our haul.
Meanwhile, the days harvest is cleaned and packaged. Ready for delivery around the state.
If you live in Mililani or in the area, stop by and get to know your neighbors. The staff at Mari’s is warm and welcoming and you’ll leave with some of the best organic produce on the island.
In addition to their daily selection and tours, Mari’s also works with local chefs to host various food events throughout the year. The most recent event was a collaboration with Lanikai Brewing Co. as part of the Farm to Chopstix series. See more of that event and check their calendar for future happenings on the farm.