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Paradise found: This Kauai native turned his Virginia property into a taro farm

Published: Jul. 30, 2021 at 5:10 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - On his taro farm, Manny Manuel grows kalo plants. He uses the leaves for lau lau and at luau.

But his loi is 4,800 miles from his home island of Kauai.

“We lived in Kekaha right across from the beach. I had an opportunity to come here to Hampton, Virginia, to work at Langley Air Force Base as a DOD contractor,” he said.

Homesickness led the Manuel ohana to turn their Hampton home into a little piece of paradise. It all started with a koi pond they built in the backyard.

“This koi pond reminds us of Ala Moana, back in the 70s and 80s. It reminds us of Pagoda Hotel,” he said.

The fish pond led to a banana patch that led to his taro field, where he grows kalo that isn’t good for poi but perfect for lau lau.

“In my man-made loi, it grew. And I said, ‘Oh, wow! Oh, wow, lau lau,’” he said.

Manuel hosts luau and lau lau-making events for other Hawaii families who are far from home, and missing a taste of the islands. He teaches Hawaiians who grew up on the mainland about the plant.

“They don’t know about kalo, they don’t know about poi, they don’t know about lau lau and the makings of the lau lau using these leaves,” he said.

He started a business called Aloha Gardens USA that sells his Kalo Gold product under the brand name Kalo by the Bundle.

“We’re taking this product as far west as El Paso, Texas, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, Augusta, Georgia. And then we’re going as far north as Baltimore and Washington, DC,” he said.

Manuel is 60 and counting down the days until he retires and takes up taro farming full-time.

He now has thousands of taro plants divided into areas he named after the islands. He also has hundreds of banana trees on his property and hibiscus that makes it look like a lush tropical garden.

When other Hawaii transplants see it, their reaction says it all.

“They see this and that’s where the connection is made. They say, ‘Uncle, this makes me feel like I’m at home,’” he said.

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