Iolani Palace is the last official residence of the kings and queens who once ruled Hawaii and is also the only royal residence in the United States.
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Boyd leads me down a footpath through the grove, past placid lily ponds and museumlike placards devoted to the lives of those who have left a mark here, including King Kakuhihewa, who ruled Oahu in the late 1500s. As the story goes, Kakuhihewa was visited by a rooster spirit, which descended from a mountaintop and scratched the Earth as if to challenge him, only to vanish suddenly. The king took this encounter as a sign that he should do some planting, and the royal coconut grove was born.

“And it happened right here,” Boyd says. “We could have turned this space into more retail. But this is our past. It’s part of who we are. It’s not something we’re trying to sell.”

At Boyd’s suggestion, I take some time to follow in other regal footsteps. Their trails lead me to the Iolani Palace in the heart of Honolulu, the only official state residence of royalty in the United States, open to the public in all its restored grandeur; and to the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, named in honor of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the great-granddaughter and the last lineal descendant of King Kamehameha, unifier of the Hawaiian islands. Home to the world’s largest collection of Polynesian cultural and scientific artifacts, the museum also houses Pacific Hall, a newly renovated two-story gallery that celebrates the peoples and cultures of the Pacific and explores the early settlement of Hawaii, tracing the journeys of skilled navigators and seafaring people who first turned up on the islands millennia ago. 

Early Hawaiians lived sustainably by fishing, farming and foraging. But in the 1800s, with the rise of plantations and mono-crops for export, the islands started losing touch with their self-sufficient ways. Oahu still feels this impact. Of all the food consumed on the island each year, an estimated 90 percent is produced elsewhere.

Recently, though, a movement to reverse that has been gaining ground. One of its stalwart supporters is the cheerful, 40-­something Ed Kenney, an avid surfer who makes his living as a chef. I meet him one evening at his restaurant, Town, a casual-chic outpost on the residential outskirts of the capital that, with its laid-back sophistication and culinary sensibility, reminds me of the best farm-to-table hot spots near my home in Oakland, Calif. Except that Kenney’s sources aren’t on the West Coast. Instead, his menu brims with Oahu-grown ingredients — breadfruit, mango, spinachlike tatsoi — many of which are supplied by Ma’o Organic Farms, the largest organic farm in the state.