Living the Dream: Life on Maui

When you move to Maui, you don’t just change your own life; you change your whole family’s. Just ask Autumn Hurlburt. When she was 2 years old, her family relocated from Canada to Kipahulu. The family took root and grew on the island, helping to start ONO Organic Farms. And Autumn, now 38, has since moved back to the mainland and back to the island again — with her own 2-year-old daughter in tow. We talked to Autumn to find out how it feels to work with her family, what her daughter loves most about island life and why she’s staying on Maui for good this time.

Q: What was it like growing up on an island farm?
A: It was much like growing up on any other farm — a lot of hard work. But it's always gratifying when you can see such noticeable results. To plant a seed, water, feed and care for it just like a child and then watch it grow into an amazing life source that continues growing and giving new life for so many generations to come is very rewarding. I was blessed, for sure. When I wasn't helping out on the farm, I always found ways to enjoy the island. Some of my favorite childhood memories are of playing in the streams next to our house, running through the neighborhood picking and eating wild fruits. We used to have coconut-husking contests, fishing tournaments and sandball races with ice-cream bars for a prize. I could go on forever!

Q: Sounds like a dream. Why did you ever leave the island?
A: I wanted to get to know my dad's side of the family, so I went to Louisburg College in North Carolina. I lived there with my grandmother for two years getting to know my cousins, aunts and uncles. Then I came back to Maui for a stint and worked at the Fairmont Kea Lani and the Kula Lodge & Restaurant. But eventually, I moved to a small town in Washington state called Point Roberts, near where I was born. That's where I met my husband, Michael. We hit it off right away, and in just a few years, we were heading to Kipahulu to get married on my family's farm. Then in September 2006, our daughter, Serena Louise Hurlburt, was born.

Q: Is that when you started thinking about moving back to Maui again?
A: Yes. After Serena was born, we came to Maui to visit my family every six months or so. And in 2009, we decided to move back. We wanted to live in a place where our daughter could run freely in the warmth, play safely in her backyard, learn how to be self-sufficient, to laugh and learn in such beauty — the way I did. And I wanted to be close to my family again.

Q: What's it like watching your daughter grow up as an islander?
A: I'm so grateful every single day. She can walk out to the back porch whenever she wants and pick up whatever fresh fruit she wants to eat — she loves fruit. She even has her own vegetable garden. She's also been learning how to swim, and she's joining a hula class this year. Living here, she never gets bored.

Q: Has the farm changed much since you were a kid?
A: It has grown tremendously since my childhood. When the farm was first started, the first nine acres were really just a few papaya trees and banana trees. Now we've got 380 acres of land, and about 70 of those are fully farmed with all different varieties of crops. To grow one variety of anything is simply not productive. Last year the weather was really dry and our bananas suffered. But the dryness helped our avocados. Plus, some crops just grow well together — like avocados and lemons, which both like to grow on a rocky terrain and come into season at the same time. They taste good together too!

Q: Is that the kind of dynamic that makes your family work so well together?
A: We're very, very close, so it's always been really great working with them. My mom and I work together hosting farm tours and preparing jams and jellies. My husband does all of our farm deliveries two days a week and works the rest of the time on whatever needs to be done around the farm. My brother is the farm manager, and his wife works in the office. We all have our own little spaces and niches on the farm, so we work really well together.

Q: It must be nice for your daughter to grow up so close to her family.
A: She loves it. And I never have to worry about a baby sitter! She'll go out on the delivery runs with her dad or sit with grandma or visit her new baby cousin down the road.

Q: Now that you're back, can you see any drawbacks to living in Hawaii?
A: Hours can get long when you work on a farm, but in the end, it is definitely worth the time. Every morning I wake up knowing I love what I do and where I am and that it's going to be another day in paradise.

Q: So do you think you're on Maui for good this time?
A: Absolutely. I was up in Haleakala National Park the other day. We had hiked all across the crater and wound up standing on a ridge, where all you can see through the clouds is Hamoa Beach near our farm. I just kept thinking, wow. When you're standing on top of the world and all you can see is the little sunny spot where you get to live, you really know how blessed you are.

Facts of Life

  • Climate: Tropical
  • Population of island: 130,000
  • Percentage expats: 50%
  • Population of main town: Kahului, 20,000
  • House starting price: $200s
  • Travel from mainland U.S.: Several nonstop flights on various airlines to Kahului.
  • Closest hospital: Kahului, with several clinics across the island
  • Price of local beer: $5.75 for Longboard Island Lager
  • Language spoken: English
  • Ease of immigration: Easy
  • Ease of buying a home: Easy
  • Website: gohawaii.com