Sisters run organic farm, give back


Jessica Else - The Garden Island

Posted: Wednesday, October 25, 2017

HANALEI — Fruit leather made simply from guavas, acai, and apple bananas fueled childhood for the Ben-Dor sisters.

“You know as kids everyone has those fruit roll-ups? Well, our parents didn’t let us have that,” said Maile Ben-Dor, the eldest of the three daughters. “They made their own version.”

The three of them grew up on a family farm just past Princeville, at the end of Hanalei Plantation Road, and much of their food came from the 20-acres on which they lived.

Together, Maile, Summer and Marla Ben-Dor produce a line of fruit leathers, cacao nibs and chocolate spreads with ingredients sourced straight from some of the same trees they ate from as kids.

About 500 of those trees are cacao, and they’re peppered between breadfruit, guava, coconut and a plethora of other plants.

From those cacao trees, the family harvests an abundance of pods that are split and turned into products like sun-dried cacao beans and chocolate tea.

Moorhens, nene and other endangered birds hang around the edges of the farm in the wetlands the family created for them as a sanctuary, and fish populate the handmade ponds scattered throughout.

“We’ve had biologists come by and take a look at our wetland,” Ben-Dor said. “Nobody really goes out there and the birds really like it.”

The fruit leathers and other products from Hanalei Organic are made with simple ingredients. The fruit leathers are all fruit. The cacao is 100 percent cacao, and the Pure Mana Chocolate Spread is made with cacao, macadamia nuts and honey.

And while healthy snacks made with locally sourced ingredients are important to the sisters, giving back to the community is also at the top of their priority list.

After growing up on Kauai, they each went to the mainland for further education. When two of the three returned, Maile and Summer, the three sisters decided to donate a piece of their property to the Kauai Community.

They turned it into a small park at the end of Hanalei Plantation Road, with stone tables and a view of the rice fields and mountains in Hanalei.

A green building sits at the end of the park, where the Ben-Dor sisters plan to start a fruit stand.

Another way they’re working to help the Kauai Community is through product sales.

Hanalei Organic sells products at local health food stores and online, but they also use their fruit leathers as a way to make money for community groups.

“It’s like the Girl Scout cookie sales, but instead of selling cookies, groups can sell our fruit leathers,” Ben-Dor said. “It works just like that, too. You have a sheet and knock on doors.”

Any Kauai club, organization or collection of people can get involved with Hanalei Organic and sell fruit leather for $10 a bag, with half the proceeds going to Hanalei Organic and half going to the group.

“It’s a way to really partner with the community and give back,” Ben-Dor said. “We really want people to take advantage of this. Anybody can do it.”