Hawaiian Vanilla Company tours that explain how vanilla is grown and cultivated appeal to all ages. // © 2014 Hawaiian Vanilla Company
Feature image (above): Hawaii Island visitors tour a Kona coffee farm. // © 2014 roundTAIWANround HTA/Tor Johnson
During specialty farm tours on Hawaii Island, guests can go behind-the-scenes to see diversified agricultural endeavors and savor the results.
While sugarcane once covered the destination, today’s entrepreneurs are coming up with creative new approaches to farming. Better yet, they invite visitors to learn about the process, eat free samples and purchase island-derived products as souvenirs.
Following are five forward-thinking farms that present tours and tastes to food-loving travelers.
There’s only one U.S. state that grows cacao, and it’s Hawaii. Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory owner Bob Cooper leads tours of his six-acre working farm in Kona. Along the way, he provides an insider’s description of his operation, from tree to bean to bar. After salivating over samples, clients can stock up on the hand-crafted chocolate that has been fashioned into squares, nibs and floral shapes.
While Kona coffee has been thriving on Hawaii Island since the late 19th century, contemporary growers are upping the ante on quality. For anyone who appreciates a fine cup of joe, farm tours feature an eye-opening look at the raising, harvesting and roasting that goes into making the mighty brew. Kona has dozens of perky coffee tours, among them Greenwell Farms, Hula Daddy and Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation.
Big Island Bees owner Garnett Puett is a fourth-generation beekeeper whose natural raw honey draws inspiration from its environment. Year-round, his bees feed on the blossoms of local ohia lehua trees, macadamia trees and Christmas berry trees, enriching the honey with uniquely Hawaiian flavors. Clients can tour the hives, try some products, learn about beekeeping history and buy jars of artisanal honeys like no other.
Hamakua Mushrooms puts the fun in fungi during 80-minute tours of Hawaii’s sole commercial gourmet mushroom farm. Owner Bob Stanga takes his cue from Japan by growing his mushrooms in bottles, an efficient method allowing him to produce 5,500 pounds each week. After touring the factory in Laupahoehoe, guests enjoy a cooking demo and nibble on cookies, butter, chips and other edibles — all made from mushrooms.
It’s a family affair at the Hawaiian Vanilla Company, located on the Hamakua Coast. Jim and Tracy Reddekopp and their kids chip in to cultivate the vanilla and share the process with travelers. Vanilla-oriented tastings and luncheons are accompanied by a presentation on raising vanilla and making its extract. The gift shop helps clients take home sweet memories from this must-visit Hawaii Island specialty farm.