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Herb Appeal

This boutique herbal farm believes in healing from the inside out—and the ground up.

WRITTEN BY SARAH SCHULTZ
PORTRAITS BY DOMINIQUE DEFELICE

It’s a subtle sort of alchemy, but the transformative powers of herbs have been studied for thousands of years under Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, and by many cultures across the globe. Doug and Genna Wolkon of Kauai Farmacy—alongside a talented team of gardeners, blend creators, and three really cute kids—are bringing their products to the organic farming table.

The plants used in Kauai Farmacy’s arsenal of 100 percent organic herbal teas, culinary powders, and superfood blends is like taking a tasting tour of the rainbow: Deep purple tulsi, red hibiscus, calendula flowers the color of sunshine, and an assortment of jade, emerald and peridot-hued herbs that line the pathways of the gardens. They are all edible (or drinkable), and each one helps to tell the story of Kauai Farmacy.

This story begins with the noni leaf.

The noni is a canoe crop of Hawai‘i, and holds an important historical place in the islands’ commerce, diet and mythology. (The demigod Maui is said to have been resurrected by the noni leaf.) Now, scientists and integrative health professionals alike are looking into its cancer-fighting effects. The whole plant is packed with healing properties, but the fruit it bears has a pungent smell that makes it less than palatable. So, about nine years ago, Doug and Genna started experimenting with another part of the plant.

“The noni leaf was the first herb that we danced with when we got to the island, after a friend turned us onto it. It was charging our energy and circulation, making us hyper-aware of internal and external feelings,” the duo says. It was helping with Genna’s pregnancy weight from her first child; Doug lost 25 pounds of his former steakand- wine lifestyle. The leaf hadn’t hit the mainstream yet, and they couldn’t quite understand why. The Polynesians had used it for generations; it grows wild along the waterways, and across the islands. So, without much information at their disposal, Doug and Genna started answering their own questions about these lustrous green leaves. “We became knowledgeable. We began to harvest. And we started making tea,” Genna recounts.

They not only saw a business opportunity with their homemade tea blends, but also a way to reintegrate holistic healing back into people’s lives. In their previous lives, Doug and Genna worked in real estate finance and industrial design, respectively. Doug had even penned a book on economics, but says the business plan for a farm was harder to write. So, with just a palpable passion, an open-ended blueprint and a single tulsi plant in tow, the family took a leap of faith on the farm—and landed quite gracefully.

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The property is situated on a 180-degree bend of the Kilauea Stream, which hugs the land and affords it with nutrient-dense silt and volcanic rock, while acting as a natural irrigation system. The size of their operation is predicated on how their gardens naturally grow—they are not quick to take the ‘āina for granted, which may be why it has given them so much in return. “We talk about how big we need and want to be, and every day we are organically checking in with the land and our team to see what feels right,” says Doug. “We walk lightly, and we are constantly reminded not to go too fast, as to continue our mission towards sustainability.”

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Sustainability is a widely used term in organic farming circles, as opposed to traditional monocropping that strips the land of its good stuff—with no plans of replenishing it. Built around the concept of permaculture—a thoughtful method of developing ecosystems that simulates nature’s intentions—the gardens at Kauai Farmacy echo a sustainable community. Helper plants are used as purposeful shade for others; particular species reintroduce minerals and nutrients into the soil that others take away. Others are used to fence off pesky neighbors—a sentiment that may resonate with some. And insects play a large role in the community, from the microbials that break down the soil to the pollinators that keep things moving. (The bees even made it on the staff directory.) “The bees in our garden are cross-pollinating, creating new plant varieties for us,” says Genna. “For example, the African tulsi and lemon basil hybrid is very lovely and aromatically floral. We are actually letting nature dictate the business in a lot of ways.”

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But any type of agriculture can be unpredictable—and Kauai Farmacy’s success has not been without a few hiccups. The aptly named Garden Isle gets a lot of rain and just as much sun, so the elements can be as challenging as they are beneficial. In some cases, the growing conditions have been too good. “We were so excited that turmeric grew everywhere. But then it actually grew everywhere,” says Doug. One of the couple’s favorite plants— and a mainstay in the Children’s Wellness, Endurance, Green Energy, Love Potion, Vitalitea and Women’s Wellness blends— gotu kola is a healing herb, but it grows like a weed. It was running rampant throughout their gardens, and they had to individually hand-pick each root out. Today, they have a separate garden full of what they call “the brain tonic,” giving gotu kola its own space to thrive. They don’t see any plants as invasive, and understand that their resilience has a place in nature and in the blends themselves.

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The art of tea-making and the study of herbs have deep roots in many cultures, and Doug and Genna are helping to pioneer its resurgence. The team welcomes visitors to the farm on Wednesdays and Fridays at 10 a.m. (reserve first!), and offers educational tours and tea samples. Not only is it a visit to a beautiful sanctuary within the beautiful sanctuary of Kaua‘i, but it’s also a chance to see how much passion goes into the business. “This is our purpose. It’s a love that goes beyond words.”

For a full list of products and more information, please visit www.kauaifarmacy.com