One writer visited a luxury "agrihood" on the south shore of Kauai.

By Juno DeMelo
July 03, 2019
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Imagine a place—and it’s not a tech startup—where the freezer is always stocked with single-serving cups of premium ice cream and the fruit is still warm from the sun. Where you can drink a Mai Tai at sunset from a hammock overlooking the Pacific and, the next morning, pick herbs for your omelet, which you’ll cook on a range that costs more than your car.   

It’s called Kukui‘ula (koo-koo-ee-OO’-la), and it’s a luxury “agrihood,” a high-end residential development with a working farm or community garden. According to a report from the Urban Land Institute, 27 U.S. states and Canadian provinces have agrihoods, which provide high-quality food to people “who may not want to be personally engaged with agriculture every day.”

Kukui‘ula, on the south shore of Kauai, sits on what was once one of the “Big Five” sugar plantations. Sugar and pineapple used to dominate Hawaiian agriculture—at one point, roughly 25 percent of Hawaiians lived in plantation towns and camps—but the last sugar plantation closed in 2016. Now the island state grows just 15 percent of its own food.

Which makes Kukui‘ula’s 10-acre farm a particularly attractive amenity to residents, as well as guests of what’s called the Lodge at Kukui‘ula, which is not actually a lodge but a collection of privately owned bungalows, cottages, and villas travelers can rent. The nightly fee includes access to the farm and a plantation-style clubhouse, where you’ll find the ice cream plus a game room, restaurant, bar and grill, open-air lobby, and wraparound lanai overlooking a truly great lawn. It also gets you entry to the 18,000-square-foot spa, a golf course, and a series of lagoon-style infinity and saltwater swimming pools connected by waterfalls. The overall effect is one of a five-start resort within a gated community without the gate.

I stayed in a bungalow, about a four-minute walk to the clubhouse and a mile from the farm, with my family. Even though I mostly “cooked” macaroni and cheese and scrambled eggs for my toddler while we were there, I was curious about the farm. In a state where most of the food is shipped in, is the ultimate luxury locally grown kale?

On a Friday morning, we drove down a country road that turned to gravel and dead-ended near a chicken coop. There was a lake stocked with peacock bass, and a huge tree with a wide canopy. You could have a beautiful wedding there, and people do. The two head farmers, Saundri and Mahea, both in rubber boots and sun-protection gear, greeted us as we got out of our rental car already sweating.

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Mahea, who studied tropical agriculture in college, gave us a tour of the raised beds planted with neat rows of vegetables, the orchard, and the flower garden. She told us about breadfruit, which is sort of like a potato and has a whole Hawaiian institute devoted to it. Saundri let us sample an apple-banana, a tiny sweet-tart fruit we’d only been able to find inedibly unripe in the health food store on the island’s ritzy north shore.

My husband asked a lot of questions. He’s a plant-whisperer who’s turned our backyard, once mostly lawn, into an urban farm. He grows melons, beans, asparagus, lettuce, flowers—basically, whatever’s at the farmers’ market is growing behind our house. I love being able to pick my own salad greens and strawberries, but not so much that I would ever be willing to germinate seeds, install an irrigation system, or shovel compost.

At Kukui‘ula, you can reap nearly 80 fruits and vegetables. If you don’t feel like harvesting produce, you can grab some from the farm-stocked cooler that sits just outside the entrance to the clubhouse. Or eat the kale in a salad poolside. Or drink a cocktail with ginger-flower simple syrup from the bar.

And that’s the allure of extra-gentlemanly gentlemen farming: getting to feel connected to the land without being so connected that there are strings attached. With Mother Earth as a mistress, there are not fights over carpooling, just sexy dinner-dates. It’s grandparenting writ large, a cooking class in which everything’s already been minced. Enjoying all the best parts of a place without necessarily having to earn them, is the fantasy implicit in getting away from it all by escaping to your second home or, in this case, someone else’s.

Before we left the farm, Saundri gave us a paper bag with three heads of baby bok choy inside. I suspected I wouldn’t cook it—we had good pans and knives but no oil or soy sauce—and it did, indeed, wilt in the crisper of our Sub-Zero refrigerator. While I felt bad for wasting food, something I almost never do at home, I didn’t feel nearly as guilty as I would have if I’d grown it myself.

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