The Story Behind Oahu’s Famous Greens:
How a Veteran’s Son Turned His Farm into a Household Name
Nestled on the base of the dewy Koolau Mountains sits fields of lush greens and fragrant herbs, growing in abundance from Waimanalo’s nutrient-rich soil and passing showers. The picturesque scene is the home of Nalo Farms, a second-generation, 11-acre farm that is the leading source of flavor-packed salad mixes for Oahu’s leading tastemakers.
Nalo Farms was established in 1953 by Charles Okimoto, a 100th Battalion World War II veteran who got his running start with basic crops such as daikon, green onion, eggplant and papaya. A couple decades later, business boomed under the close watch of Charles’s son and current owner, Dean Okimoto.
Dean took on the job after he returned from college in hopes to attend law school, in which he missed the deadline and went on to work for his father. With a knack for growing herbs, he expanded operations to include more crops like basil, rosemary and thyme and exported much of his yield to mainland buyers. Then, in 1990, the farm hit a roadblock. Much of the herbs Dean sold to support the family business contracted a disease and his shipments were unaccepted. “I almost quit farming,” he said, noting that the farm took a major loss. With the help of a long-time friend and a genius connection, the business survived and Nalo Farms continued on.
Hawaii’s own James Beard Award-Winning Chef Roy Yamaguchi was close companions with Dean and was known for leveraging his celebrity status to garner support for small farmers. After the crop failure, Chef Roy worked closely with Dean to curate a special mix of greens to be used exclusively in his restaurants. The mix is now famously known as “Dean’s Greens,” a delicate combination of seven varieties: green lettuce, red lettuce, kale, tatsoi, swiss chard, mizuna and red and green mustard, and has grown to become a staple ingredient in fine dining. The partnership ultimately revived the business and put Nalo Farms on the map for herbs, micro-greens and specialty mixes.
According to its Farmer’s Market Manager Dillan Hanawahine, Nalo Farms has grown to service over 40 local restaurants, three grocers and seven farmer’s markets per week. “The day starts around 6 a.m. with harvesting. Then everything we grow is hand cut and washed at our processing facility and, from there, it is packed out and ready for delivery,” Dillan added.
When asked what community members can do to continue to support farmers like Nalo Farms, Dean put it simply, “Just keep buying local and keep supporting the elected officials who care about ag in Hawaii.”