By Tracey Leigh Yager Special to West Hawaii Today
When you ask Randyl Rupar what he loves about mangoes, he answers with an enthusiastic, “Everything.”
“When God or Goddess created mangoes, it was to put smiles on people’s faces,” said Rupar, a member of the Sanctuary of Mana Kea Gardens and the original founder of the Big Island Mango Festival, now in its seventh year.
As a champion of Big Island tropical fruit, Rupar seeks to spread that smile across thousands of faces again at this year’s festival on Saturday at the Sheraton Kona Resort &Spa at Keauhou Bay.
“The roots of this really began 10 years ago on a small farm in Honaunau,” Rupar explained. “Out of nowhere, 300 people showed up. It was really crazy. Then I knew we were on to something.”
From there, the festival moved to Amy B.H. Greenwell’s Ethnobotanical Garden in Captain Cook, but the 2,000 visitors overwhelmed the parking. This was followed by a stint at the Keauhou Beach Resort. And then finally, the celebration moved to the Sheraton, which is now its official home.
With 40 booths, 10 which are given away to community service organizations, the festival features the most unique and varied mango dishes the island has to offer.
“This festival is so much fun,” said Rupar. “Kamaaina and tourists alike can get samples of delicious local foods they‘ve never tasted. That is coupled with a strong Hawaiian cultural element, along with local arts and crafts. And it’s a free event. There is a real sense of freedom at the festival.”
Rupar feels the true purpose of the event is to strengthen the community, which is why keeping the event free is an important component. A fundraiser dinner was held on July 18 at Under The Bodhi Tree to help with the cost of this year’s festival.
“We have had to come up with some pretty creative ideas on how to raise the funds to indeed keep it at no charge,” he said.
Ken Love, executive director of the Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers Association, has been instrumental in assisting Rupar in his efforts. For Love, the festival is a chance to raise the consciousness of our community of what local produce really means and why it is important.
“Why we are bringing in lychees and mangoes from different tropical markets from around the world when we are at the height of our season is beyond me,” Love said. “The variety of our own mangoes and their level of food quality and nutrition just can’t be beat.”
For example, Love compared the flavor and nutrient-rich mangoes grown in West Hawaii soils to containers of unripe mangoes shipped here from Asian growing areas that are artificially ripened.
In flavor and food value, he said, these imports can’t compare.
In addition to showcasing this year’s bumper crop of the island’s 200 varieties of mangoes, the festival is a zero-waste event. Last year’s festival generated ten 33-gallon bags of recycling, and only one small kitchen bag that went to a landfill.
“Things can be devastating today, making you not want to leave your house or read the news,” Rupar said. “But we are adamant about showing people that you can have an event with literally thousands of people and it can be done. We can compost. We can recycle. We do not have to trash our island.”
This year’s festival master of ceremonies will be Big Island’s Kahikini Tommy Ching. The Mayoral Proclamation will be delivered by Guinevere Davenport, who was Miss Kona Coffee 2013 and Miss Mokihana 2015. At 10 a.m., Lily Dudoit will conduct the opening pule. This will be followed by Bolo Slack Key guitar and Ukulele Hula Joy Ka Lea Galagate Rothe.
From there, the sky is the limit for mango tasting and entertainment — from artisan foods and beverages, demonstrations and lectures about local agriculture and keiki activities until 5 p.m.
For more information visit mangofest.org.