Photo: Farmers Planting Seedlings at Ili’ili Farms

Tucked into the beautiful Lualualei Valley on the leeward coast of Oahu, are dozens of family farms growing a range of produce for the island. One of the newest in the valley is Ili’ili Farms, a certified organic aquaponics farm which we recently had the pleasure of visiting. Aquaponic farmers typically grow vegetables in water, instead of soil, where they place fish to nurture the plants.

Owners Dan and Mia Ching retired years ago, but decided to come out of retirement and become farmers. Currently, they grown cilantro, lettuce, bok choi, watercress and green onions, all of which you can find in our stores on Oahu.

At the Ching’s farm there are two greenhouses. One houses three huge fish tanks. Instead of using a filtering system like a regular home fish tank, the waste water is sent through a series of pipes headed to the other greenhouse, which houses dozens of garden beds.

Each bed is about four feet wide by 50 feet long. The beds are made from wood and lined with plastic to hold the water. The plants ‘float’ on styrofoam trays with their roots reaching into the nutrient-rich water below. In this way, the Chings are able to grow high quality vegetables.

Ili’ili Farms is continually trying new crops in their aquaponics system.  During our visit, we saw beautiful lacinato kale and a proliferation of mint.

Though plants are usually grown in soil, the root systems develop well in the nutrient rich water.  And because the planting beds are above ground, the plants are free of soil and most pests, and are easy to plant and harvest. Just look at the root system on this cilantro!   

Photo: Cilantro Plant with Exposed Roots