When Fred Lau purchased an 18 acre parcel in Mililani back in 2008, his intent was to use the space to grow numerous small gardens to coincide with his landscape construction company. Named after his daughter, he hoped that Mari's Gardens would be a place where the public and landscape architects could see how plants look as they mature and decide whether a particular plant could grow and thrive in a given space.
Now more than ten years later, Mari's Gardens aims to be a design prototype for a slightly different type of gardening. Over the years the company has grown and evolved into a flourishing aquaponics and hydroponics farm with a mission to promote sustainable living, organic urban farming, and buying local. Mari's is dedicated to practicing sustainable methods of farming and utilizes aquaponic and hydroponic growing techniques to produce a variety of vegetables, fruits and fish. They also offer farm tours, farm to table dinners, workshop events, private events and nursery plants.
Both Fred and his son Brendon are graduates of the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa's College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) and now manage various divisions within Mari's Gardens.
We asked Fred and Brendon a few questions about Mari's Gardens, their time at UH and their most valuable lessons learned.
What’s been the most rewarding aspect of Mari’s Gardens?
Fred: The most rewarding aspect has been to be able to work with my three children in our businesses and see them develop their own business acumen and hopefully, they are able to learn from all of my mistakes.
Brendon: It’s also been rewarding seeing the amount of growing interest local people and communities, schools and institutions have in plants and agriculture.
What’s been the most challenging?
Fred: The most challenging event had to be COVID-19 and having to pivot so many times just to keep the business open. We’ve almost come full circle and are back on track, hopefully our restaurants and hotels will get back to work soon and our markets for produce will return.
Why did you choose to attend UH?
Fred: I had been working in the nursery industry since early high school and UH CTAHR in 1972 was a very well respected agricultural program, especially for the study of tropical agriculture in the US.
Brendon: I didn't want to leave home and UH has the best sub-tropical climate to learn agriculture and nursery management in.
What do you value most about your time at UH?
Fred: I think that it gave me the horticultural background and people skills that I needed to build a successful nursery, landscape and landscape maintenance business.
Brendon: The best thing about my time at UH was that I was able to form and retain relationships with local experts and authorities on particular subject matter.
Looking back at your UH experience, what was one of the most impactful or valuable lessons you learned?
Fred: Keep learning new things, even if it is not in your field of study the knowledge will be priceless.
Brendon: The most valuable lesson I’ve learned is that we need more people involved in agriculture. Sometimes I get worried about the irreplaceable people involved in Hawai‘i agriculture. If something happens to them, there currently is not a substantial enough pool of successors to the teachers, staff, extension agents, farmers, farm workers, farm managers, and almost every other position along the way.