An Upcountry Maui Farm Welcomes Drought

Lani Medina Weigert
Lani Medina Weigert
Ali'i Chang
Ali'i Chang

KULA, Maui (KHNL) -- The sun pounds down on our state, prolonging the drought, and crippling our agriculture. But dry conditions mean good news for a farm in upcountry Maui.

Ali'i Chang and Lani Medina Weigert ride around their three and a half acre farm. Chang's been a farmer for more than 40 years.

"I was growing plants in the rainforest all my life, and when I bought this in 1990, I really didn't know what grows in this kind of drought area," said the 65-year-old Native Hawaiian farmer.

He eventually chose lavender, a plant native to the Mediterranean, Africa, and India. It made its way to upcountry Maui, thriving in warm, dry conditions while needing little water.

Beyond that, lavender doesn't require irrigation or pesticides. In this climate, it may very well be the perfect herb.

"The bugs didn't like it. The deer didn't like it. The cows didn't like it," said Chang. "So I figured, 'Wow, what a good plant to put into the fields!'"

So good, Chang turned his drought-plagued property into a lavender farm in 2002. Soon after, Weigert came in.

Her job? Market lavender into products like lotions and even food.

"Our lavender lilikoi jelly, we use our local jelly maker right down the street," said Lani Medina Weigert, marketing & public relations director for the farm. "We have our lavender dressing made and it is also done right down the street."

While some upcountry farms and ranches are downsizing, this lavender farm continues to grow.

"If you have drought year after year, it's obvious that a change has to be made," said Weigert. "And if we ever want the result to be different, then we need to start that change and it is going to be grounded in education."

Education on what will grow in a dry environment.

"So, last night we just happened to have rain, and everything look like nothing happened," said Chang.

"And that's all you need?" asked KHNL.

"That's all we need, and the plants all look happy again," said Chang, with a hearty laugh.

And so do the folks enjoying a lavender breakfast.

The farm has expanded its business, working with neighbor islands to make lavender candy and other food products.