A mound of yellow and white flowers sits on the plastic table, their gentle perfume wafting through the small room. I pierce the center of a delicate plumeria bud with a needle threaded with string. Within minutes, I’ve strung a dozen flowers onto what’s beginning to look like a lei, the iconic Hawaiian garland.
Sure, I could’ve bought one in a store, but there’s something special about this hands-on activity. It’s like baking your own apple pie instead of buying one frozen. As the farm’s owner Dick Wheeler says, “If you’re making the lei yourself, there’s just more ‘Aloha.’”
On the day we visit, Dick’s cheeky turquoise t-shirt, “Who’s Your Farmer?” belies his soft-spoken manner. Tall, slender and silver-haired, he bought the property in 1994 when it consisted of what he recalls as “100 scrubby, little struggling bushes.” Today, Moloka’i Plumerias spans 10 acres and boasts thousands of trees, Dick says. Work crews pick between 10,000 and 15,000 flower buds a day.
A visit to the plumeria farm can be as long or as brief as you’d like. Dick or his wife, Aome, will greet you personally and escort you into a trove of plumeria trees. They provide a little history, a brief agriculture lesson and a nice-sized green bag. Dick: “At this point I say, “You know what to pick, you know what to do. Go for it.” And we just turn them loose out there.”
Some folks spend as much as an hour and a half picking flowers, he says. When they ask him how long they should be out there, Dick replies, “Until you’re not having fun anymore.”
The lei-making room is downstairs from the Wheelers’ burnished red two-story farm house. Someone has painted leis on the pale yellow walls, and a sign reads, “Gone Surfing.” Dick supplies the needle and string, and tells us to have at it.
Occasionally, tourists will show up unexpectedly, eager for the grand tour. Because it’s a working farm – with work taking priority – Dick insists that visitors call and make reservations first.
1342 Maunaloa Highway
Kaunakakai, HI 96748