Fields of Gold: A morning on the Maui Gold Pineapple Co. tourby: Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi
posted: Mon May 12, 2014 at 11:06 AM
After a walk through Maui Pineapple Co.'s production facility, the tour heads to multiple stops on the company's plantation to sample varieties of fresh pineapple. Photo: Steve Brinkmann/Maui Gold Pineapple Co.
I’m standing in the middle of Maui Gold Pineapple Co.’s 1,500-acre plantation near tiny, rustic Haliimaile town, savoring a just-picked, golden spear of the company’s world-famous namesake fruit. The midday Maui sun is intense. There’s no shade in sight. Still, sweet pineapple juice dribbling down my chin and hands, I’m in heaven.
An hour into one of Maui Gold’s weekday 90-minute tours of its pineapple acreage on the 1,100-foot elevation of Haleakala volcano’s west side, I’m enjoying pineapple and a bit of Valley Isle pineapple history. Founded in 1912 as Maui Pineapple Co., it once claimed vast fields, more than double its current acreage, in the Kapalua area of west Maui and the Haliimaile-neighboring area of Haiku.
The story of the century-old company, and how it and Maui-grown pineapple was saved from the brink of extinction nearly five years ago, is explained with entertaining and informative gusto, and a good amount of pineapple tasting, on what Maui Gold claims is the only tour of a working pineapple plantation in the United States.
In its heyday, Maui Pineapple Co. employed upward of 2,000 workers and harvested 250,000 tons of pineapple annually, all of it packed on-island and shipped worldwide under the Maui Gold brand. However, by November 2009, faced with harvests down to 92,000 tons annually and 285 employees, parent company, Maui Land & Pineapple Inc., decided to shut down all of its pineapple operations.
Guide Steve Potter cuts some fruit for the tour group to taste. Photo: Aubrey Hord/Maui Gold Pineapple Co.
Founded on Maui Pineapple Co.’s final day of business, Dec. 31, 2009, by a cadre of in-house executives determined not to allow the end of Maui pineapple production, the company reopened as Haliimaile Pineapple Co. on Jan. 2, 2010, with a brand-new business plan and lease on life for the Maui Gold brand. (HAWAII Magazine documented the team’s heroic efforts in the November/December 2010 feature, “Saving Maui Pineapple.”)
Recently renamed Maui Gold Pineapple Co. after its signature fruit, the company’s pineapple receives consumer raves for its incomparable sweetness, low acidity and juicy flesh. Developed over a half-century of selective crossbreeding, the Maui Gold succulent variety is cultivated year-round, utilizing sustainable agricultural practices such as composting, field rotation and water conservation.
Check out these related HawaiiMagazine.com posts:
Maui-grown pineapple lives on! New company to continue growing Maui Gold brand.
End of an era: Maui Land & Pineapple closing its pineapple operations
New Maui Vodka