You say tomato, I say Blue Beauty: Costumer turned farmer grows new career in Waimea

  • Toni Reed picks ripe Blue Beauty tomatoes fresh from the vine inside one of five greenhouses on her Mo Betta Farm in Waimea. (LANDRY FULLER/SPECIAL TO WEST HAWAII TODAY)
    Toni Reed picks ripe Blue Beauty tomatoes fresh from the vine inside one of five greenhouses on her Mo Betta Farm in Waimea. (LANDRY FULLER/SPECIAL TO WEST HAWAII TODAY)
  • A basket full of meaty Blue Beauty heirloom tomatoes, low in acid and high in antioxidants, harvested from Mo Betta Farm. Reed supplies them to select restaurants and health food stores throughout the region.COURTESY PHOTO
    A basket full of meaty Blue Beauty heirloom tomatoes, low in acid and high in antioxidants, harvested from Mo Betta Farm. Reed supplies them to select restaurants and health food stores throughout the region.COURTESY PHOTO

WAIMEA — From the bright lights of Hollywood — where she worked as a costumer for nearly a decade — to the natural sunlight in her Waimea greenhouses, Toni Reed has enjoyed two successful careers in her lifetime.

Today in Waimea, she can be seen proudly wearing a T-shirt that reads “#localfarmer.”

As the sole proprietor of Mo Betta Farm, Reed spends part of every day tending to her heirloom tomatoes grown in five greenhouses, set against a verdant green backdrop in Waimea. Her “Blue Beauty” tomatoes are an ingredient Executive Chef Massimo Falsini pairs with roasted beets in a popular salad recently added to the Beach Tree menu at Four Seasons Hualalai.

Before she became a farmer, Reed spent her days dressing well-known actors as a costumer on television shows and films produced in Hollywood and Hawaii. She got her start when an Oahu show was looking for a seamstress.

After sewing on two shows, Reed said, “That was it. My sewing was done. I didn’t like sitting down. I like moving.”

So she became an energetic costumer instead, responsible for dressing actors instead of making their costumes.

“People think, ‘Oooh, costumer designer, what a glamorous job.’ But it’s not,” Reed said. “You’re making sure the actors look glamorous, and it’s a lot of work making sure they look the same in the morning and afternoon if they shoot the same scene again.”

Reed joined the local union and worked successively, show after show. She was eventually promoted to key costumer where she ran the departments, making sure all the costumers knew what they were doing for the day, that all the costumes were ready and that they had backups.

About the same time Reed’s husband, Harland, took a job in Los Angeles. A costume-designer friend of Toni’s was also working there and encouraged her to come.

Again, she joined the union and over the next eight years worked on many films and shows, such “Ghost Whisperer” with Jennifer Love Hewitt, and a number of other projects with A-list actors including Adam Sandler, Huge Jackman, Christian Bale, Sir Michael Caine and Scarlett Johansson.

Reed said she was never star-struck and all the actors were nice.

“They are all amazing, so good at their craft,” she said. “Because I was older, I often felt like I was a mother to them.”

Her fortuitous return to Hawaii came while she was invited to work on a film shot on Maui starring Sandler. Her next job was on “Pirates of the Caribbean,” where she worked with Johnny Depp’s double.

Then came the pinnacle — the new “Hawaii Five-O.” Although she ultimately left the show, Reed still stays in touch with cast members Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan.

In December 2013, she returned to Waimea to care for her husband who succumbed to pancreatic cancer. Before she left, Reed made a conscientious effort to train others in her craft.

“I made sure I passed the torch,” she said. “I trained two amazing costumers — Erika Aresta and Michael Fong.”

The two are from Hawaii and had not been previously involved in costuming. They are still working on the Five-O set today.

After leaving the costuming business, Reed chose to continue the work she and her husband had planned with greenhouses on their Hawaiian Homestead property. She now has five greenhouses that, when full, house 560 plants each.

Reed credits much of her success at starting and “growing” Mo Betta Farm to her friend and neighbor, Mike Hodson of WOW Farm.

“He has not only helped me, he has helped so many of the farmers here,” she said. “Many of us had properties back here but we never farmed.”

Hodson teaches classes and offers personal assistance and timely advice to the local farmers. Through his work, he has, in effect, grown his own crop of local farmers.

“Truly, in the back here, a lot of us farmers live in a giant salad bowl,” Reed said. “Mike has taught us to grow pesticide-free, so how much better can it get?”

After much research and with Hodson’s concurrence, Reed decided to specialize in heirloom tomatoes several years ago; in particular, the Blue Beauty variety.

“It’s a beautiful tomato with purple shoulders and red underneath,” Reed said.

And when she read reviews about the tomato she learned it is very meaty and not watery, low in acid and very high in antioxidants. Reed now supplies them to numerous outlets in the region including Four Seasons Hualalai, Tommy Bahama restaurant at Mauna Lani, Red Water Café and Luna’s in Waimea, and health food stores in Waimea and Kona. She also provides tomatoes to her friend, Moumen, who owns Pacific in Flight Catering in Honolulu, catering to private jets on Oahu.

Reed also grows purple bell peppers exclusively for Chef Massimo. A seasonal vegetable, they are served in a summer caponata of peppers, onions, zucchini and eggplant at Four Seasons Hualalai.

“People are fascinated by the purple pepper,” Reed said. “They don’t believe they’re real. They think they’re dyed.”

Despite all the hard work, or perhaps because of it, Reed is happy to be back in Waimea, working the land that she and her husband acquired in 1979.

Throughout all of her time working in Los Angeles and Honolulu, she said, “I never lost sight of Waimea. When I returned home, I literally kissed the ground.”

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