It all began with butter lettuce.
Waipoli Hydroponic Greens started back in 1997 with just a few sections of that lettuce on acreage in upper Kula.
“We’re right now producing and putting out about between 80,000 to 100,000 pounds of lettuce a month,” says Nathan Haines, who helps run operations at Waipoli Hydroponic Greens. You’ll find the brand on grocery store shelves and restaurant plates across the state.
Along with butter lettuce, Waipoli has now become known for its romaine, red leaf, green leaf and watercress. The farm remains on the cutting-edge; new types of greens are constantly being researched, thanks to one of Waipoli’s founders, who’s also a prominent agronomist. So you could say the farm “has its roots” in science.
“We’re constantly looking for different varieties and things that are not only going to grow well but look nice and taste nice,” Nathan explains.
Visiting the farm, we were immediately struck by the long, stunning rows of vibrant greens and reds. They all start as tiny seedlings in a special growing medium; after a few weeks, they’re transplanted and harvested within about 30 days, depending on the season.
“Working in channels, it’s eco-friendly. Within a day, normally everything that has been harvested has already been re-planted,” says Nathan, adding there’s room for around 180,000 plants.
The farm is on Waipoli Road in upper Kula, and co-founder Geoff Haines says they learned when it comes to lettuce, elevation can have an impact on taste.
“Bitterness in lettuce comes from heat stress,” says Geoff, “so the lower you get, the hotter it is, you’re going to get more bitter lettuce.”
Waipoli has an extremely efficient watering system which uses pumps and tanks to recycle and reuse the H2O, a big benefit of the hydroponic method.
“When you think about normal soil farming or sprinkler farming, a lot of that water is gonna be evaporated and it’s not even being utilized for the plants,” explains Nathan.
The plants, all neatly lined up in strategically-placed rows, pick up the nutrient-rich water through their roots. The farm has a semi-automated system with pH and electrolyte sensors to constantly monitor the fertilizer levels. Nathan says hydro also means a cleaner operation and more consistent size of lettuce heads.
Once those heads are harvested, they’re vacuum-cooled to suck out any excess moisture quickly, increasing the shelf life to about two weeks!
“We can bring the temperature of the product down from room temperature down to about 33 degrees in about half an hour,” compared to a traditional chill-down process of four hours, according to Nathan.
All the produce is food-safety certified with stamps and tracking codes to show the “who, when and where” of harvest before getting shipped out to stores, suppliers and restaurants. Waipoli even grows a special “chefs’ mix” in a section of its farm.
“Chefs are artists, so you want it to look good as well as taste good,” Nathan says.
At Fork & Salad, we’re stoked it does both. We proudly use the romaine and watercress from Waipoli (and we feature the butter lettuce at Three’s Bar & Grill). So you can experience Waipoli greens by trying our Caesar, Greek, Lo-Cal, Cobb, Super Salad and more. Join us in supporting this growing, longtime Maui farm! #EatLocalEatHealthy