8/12. Ai Lani Orchards, Ka‘u.
“I had a guy come in the other day and order a ram, a ewe and a cappuccino,” says Elizabeth Jenkins, laughing merrily as she wipes down her granite-topped espresso bar. The Ka‘u Tropical Espresso Bar and Organic Fruit Stand is a spare, open-air set-up: Four wooden posts and a roof, gravel floor and a few wrought-iron tables. Jazz drifts up from a portable boom box; a Hawaiian flag luffs in the light breeze. Twenty yards or so to the right, a good-sized flock of sheep frolics in the grass.
Elizabeth and her husband Barney own Ai Lani Orchards, the ten-and-a-half acre, certified organic spread that sits just beyond the espresso machine. They live here with their two young sons, do all the farming themselves and are also the proprietors and sole employees of the fruit stand. With the exception of the white and dark chocolate used to make two varieties of extremely decadent macadamia nut butter, everything that’s for sale at the stand is grown and processed in the orchard: Lemons, limes, red and white grapefruit, tangellos, tangerines, Ka‘ü oranges, apple bananas; coffee beans and macadamia nuts; fresh honey (yes, they keep their own bees). The sheep are highly efficient lawnmowers and, given their tendency to reproduce, they’re occasionally for sale, too.
“When we first got here we noticed there was an espresso void—sixty miles in both directions,” says Elizabeth, when asked how an Italian espresso machine and granite-top bar would find their way into a pasture that, roughly speaking, is somewhere near the middle of nowhere. “We’d come here from San Francisco, where there’s espresso on every corner. So I was like, ‘Where am I going to get my latte?’”
OK, that sounds a little San Fran ditzy, but don’t be misled: Elizabeth and Barney are serious on a lot of levels—about organic farming, about how they’re raising their sons. It’s just that she doesn’t seem interested in taking herself all that seriously. Anyway, the odd feng shui of espresso machine, orchard, Hawaiian flag, jazz and sheep works: Elizabeth and Barney fit in here, which is important these days because not everyone does. Ka‘u is home to the longest single stretch of undeveloped coastline in the Islands—some eighty miles of it—and growth has always been a sticky issue. Over the years, everything from a prison to a resort to a spaceport has been proposed for the area, invariably pitting preservation against economics. So far, preservation has the upper hand, but the Big Island is in the middle of a real estate boom, and prices in this particular neck of the woods have as much as doubled in the last year alone.
Sign of the times: “If you can believe this, we actually had a lawsuit filed against us because we had a fruit stand,” says Elizabeth. “State and county law says that if you are on land zoned for agriculture, you can have a fruit stand on it—if you grow coffee, you can sell coffee. But that’s the land speculators. They say we’re lowering their property values. We were told it was our hand-painted signs—that what we needed were some nice vinyl signs.” At which point one of her sheep lets out an indignant bleat.