17 Jan Experience the Organic Bounty (and B&B!) of Kauai’s North Country Farms
“Nice weather for ducks, as they say,” Lee Roversi remarks, apropos of this rainy Hawaiian morning, and apropos of the actual ducks we’re about to meet. Unlike the chickens that would wreak havoc in the garden, she says, “We can keep them free range — these guys just wander around, doing their thing.”
Lee owns and runs North Country Farms, a beautiful, fully organic four-acre property in Kilauea, Kauai. In addition to growing produce (the farm has had its own CSA program for over two decades), the farm houses two bed-and-breakfast cottages; the bathrooms are stocked with Dr. Bronner’s, and guests can pick their own fruit for breakfast.
Crops include white pineapples, macadamia nuts, avocados, pomelos, ruby red grapefruit, papayas, breadfruit, several varieties of lettuce, kale (including an Ethiopian one that’s well-suited for the climate), radishes, beets, bok choy and tatsoi. There’s also a grove of apple banana trees that we could wander through for hours.Twenty-six years ago, Lee moved here from Manhattan with two children and her then-husband in tow.
“I felt strongly about my kids growing up outside,” says Lee, a warm, frank and welcoming force of nature herself, who also writes the farm’s Food for Thought blog. “So we took a leap of faith, packed everything in a van and drove cross-country for six months with our kids, which was very venturesome and fun. Five days after landing on [Kauai] we bought our property. It’s the softest island. When we landed on Kauai it felt like this embrace — we felt immediately welcomed.”
At the time, they had no neighbors within a three-mile radius, and there was only one stoplight on the entire island. The site that would become their home and business was originally “wide open pasture land,” Lee says. “We literally planted everything from cuttings or seeds.”
They also built everything: The family lived in the shed for the first three years while they built their home. Today that family includes Lee’s youngest son Bay, 23; daughter Nell, 27; and oldest son Sky, 30. After stints on organic farms in Austria and Vermont, Sky has returned to Kauai and is diversifying the crops at North Country, which now grows staple foods like taro, sweet potato and cassava under his influence.
Volunteers from the WWOOF program also help to keep the farm cranking. In addition to the delicious organic edibles (lovely Lee sent us on our way with avocados, a “hand” of apple bananas and an enormous pomelo), the garden is gorgeously landscaped with orchids, a must-see variegated hibiscus, ornamental ginger, a showstopping song of India, a snow bush that blushes in the rain, water lilies, Norfolk pines, and blessings-bestowing ti plants.
“I love sharing what we have to offer on the island,” says Lee, who was raised in Stamford, Connecticut. “We get really great intrepid travelers. We’re booked 85 percent of the time. I’m so grateful. I think it’s important that visitors who come to the island see what’s really happening here. It’s kind of like Disneyland when you go just to the resorts, and you don’t get out among the people who live and work here.”
One thing that’s brought much of the “real Kauai” together is Bill 2491, passed in November. The new ordinance requires disclosure of pesticide use from the five heaviest users of restricted use pesticides on the island. These ag corporations include Syngenta, BASF, DuPont and Dow AgroSciences, which have planted thousands of acres of GMO corn and soy on the west side of Kauai, blitzing the crops with highly concentrated pesticides and herbicides in heavily populated areas. The ordinance, which is now being challenged by those heavy pesticide users, also requires a buffer zone between sprayed areas and schools, hospitals, residential areas and waterways.
It’s a cause that has galvanized Lee and her fellow organic farmers, she tells us when we take a break under a shelter at the farm. Curly, the 20-year-old cat, paces between our laps.
We ask, What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
“To let go of control,” Lee says as the windchimes ring. “I can only work with the elements; I can’t fight them. That’s the biggest lesson. It’s also a life lesson.”
Below, Lee leads us through the farm and garden, bestowing tips on growing greens, blooming orchids and landscaping in paradise…