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Oprah Winfrey's Latest Venture Is Farming In Hawaii

NPR icon by Peggy Lowe
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The local food movement has a powerful new poster girl.

More glowing than American Gothic, Oprah Winfrey and her pal, Bob Greene, appear on the cover of the June issue of The Oprah Magazine, standing in what looks to be a field of kale.

"Oprah's New Farm!" reads the headline splashed across the pair's checkered shirts. "How She's Growing Healthier — and You Can Too."

Naturally, we were curious about Winfrey's new farm, which isn't her first — the media mogul grew up on a 1-acre plot in Kosciusko, Miss., tended by her grandmother.

The new farm is worlds away — in Maui, Hawaii, near her palatial farmhouse estate of 60 acres, one of the many properties she has bought in recent years, according to real estate reports. It's situated "at almost 4,000 feet elevation on the side of Haleakala, a dormant volcano, where it gets consistent rainfall and plenty of sun," according to this online slideshow.

Winfrey writes in the magazine that she knew some of her property had been farmland in the past, but she didn't think about tilling it until Greene convinced her to "give back to the land — and find a way to give back to Maui." Greene, an exercise physiologist and personal trainer whom Winfrey first consulted in the early 1990s about weight loss, continues to advise her on health issues.

"His point was that about 90 percent of the food on the island is flown or shipped in from outside, which makes it very expensive to buy — not to mention the carbon footprint involved in getting it here," Winfrey writes. "We realized if we could grow delicious food ourselves, we could share it."

So they designated 16 acres for farming and ended up planting a single acre with 100 species of fruits, vegetables and herbs, Winfrey reports. Hens are also supplying eggs. They hired a Honolulu company called Bio-Logical Capital to create the farm, using "regenerative agriculture" to build soil health and save water.

The fertile volcanic soil is being further enriched with natural fertilizers, compost and cover crops. "Everything grows five times as big as you'd expect," Winfrey writes, describing one vegetable as "baboon-butt radishes."

It's also way more than the Winfrey household could consume — 145 pounds of food weekly.

"We're still figuring out the best way to make use of our bounty, but for now I walk down the road with bags of lettuce, going, 'Hi, would you like some lettuce? I grew it!' I feel like I can't waste it," she writes. She's also donating it to local restaurants and charities.

In a video on People.com, Greene says the plan is to sell it fairly soon.

Winfrey's farm was news to Katherine Kelly, executive director of Cultivate Kansas City, a group that promotes urban farming as a way to combat health, economic and environmental problems. But Kelly said she was happy to hear that the media mogul was growing her own food (at one of her many homes) and feeding other people.

"I hope in the same way her book club skyrocketed artists to fame, she will skyrocket local food to fame," Kelly said, "and that she'll bring in people we haven't reached yet with the local food movement."

While Winfrey was photographed in a $245 sun hat and was color-coordinated with her friend Greene, Kelly says, "I try to keep my outfits to under $15 when I'm out in the field."

And although the article claims Winfrey and Greene will be "rolling up their sleeves, tilling the soil and sharing one heck of a beautiful bounty," none of the dirty hands in the magazine's pictures were Winfrey's.

Peggy Lowe is a reporter for Harvest Public Media.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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