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Hawaiʻi Could Soon Have Its Own Domestic Garlic Industry

Jensen Uyeda and Kylie Tavares
University of Hawaiʻi Cooperative Extension

Researchers say Hawaiʻi has the potential to support a domestic garlic production industry despite climate challenges and import competition from the U.S. mainland.

For the past five years, Wahiawa Extension Agent Jensen Uyeda has been running field trials exploring the possibility of growing garlic on the islands.

Test plots in Waialua, Kula and Waimea have yielded data that Uyeda and his co-principal investigator Kylie Tavares have been sharing with growers — the news coming out of the fields is positive.

Island farmers are successfully producing savory, pungent cloves.

Even better news, Hawaiʻi County has just awarded Tavares a $23,000 grant to bring the garlic trials to Kona and Hilo. The Conversation sat down with Jensen Uyeda to learn about local garlic.

"Garlic can be grown here. There's a potential for a higher-end, high-value market for local garlic in Hawaiʻi. I don't think that we're going to compete with China and California for the wholesale market," he said. "Developing products that have higher value — so like garlic chili oil doesn't require a lot of product, but you can market it as a Hawaiʻi-grown product and that value would be significantly increased."

Because Hawaiʻi does not experience seasons, garlic cannot be planted before a winter frost like it is in other climates, Uyeda said.

"In Hawaiʻi, we don't have that chill period that the U.S. mainland has, so we have to basically put the bulbs into a refrigerator during that period to mimic that winter frost. And then we can plant in the spring," Uyeda told Hawaiʻi Public Radio.

Uyeda said one Maui farmer was able to produce 900 pounds of garlic this year — marketing at $6 to $7 a pound, which is higher than the price of California garlic.

Partnering directly with restaurants allows farmers to sell in bulk, Uyeda said. As long as restaurants have enough refrigerator space, garlic can last four to six months.

If you want to try growing garlic yourself, Uyeda said Filaree Farm in Washington state will ship garlic seeds to Hawaiʻi. He recommends the German Extra Hardy variety.

"It's the only one that has been consistent every year that we've planted it at all three locations," he added.

Be on the lookout for locally grown garlic in a market or restaurant near you. If you're not sure what to do with your garlic, Uyeda said he likes to infuse chili oil with crispy, pan-fried garlic.

Uyeda and Tavares are part of the Department of Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences at the University of Hawaiʻi's College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. This interview aired on The Conversation on Aug. 19, 2021.

Lillian Tsang is the senior producer of The Conversation. She has been part of the talk show team since it first aired in 2011. Contact her at ltsang@hawaiipublicradio.org.
Sophia McCullough is a digital news producer. Contact her at news@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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