Farm Hands

Ag-Tours offer clients an off-the-beaten-path look at Hawaii’s farms

By: Karla Aronson

I had wanted to explore the mountainous northern region of the Big Island of Hawaii, east of Kona and west of Hilo. As a traveler, the question always arises of how best to see remote areas marked by fewer tourist landmarks. I found the perfect entree to an insiders’ view of Hawaii through Hawaii agricultural tours.

Hawaii AgVentures, an ag-tourism project of the Big Island Farm Bureau, sets up agricultural tours across the island for groups and individuals. Visitors get to take part in a behind-the-scenes view of farms and ranches, while gaining access to property and stunning scenery ordinarily off limits.

“Most of the farms truly are off the beaten track,” said Stacy Davis, Coordinator of Hawaii AgVentures.

Our ag-tour was organized in conjunction with the 10th Annual Taste of the Hawaiian Range in September, sponsored by the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources of the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Nearly 100 farmers, ranchers, restaurant chefs and agriculture organizations, many of which host on-site farm visits, showcased their products on the premises of the Hilton Waikoloa Village. It was a food lovers’ paradise.

On display and available for tastings were: fresh Hawaiian heart of palm, Yamashiro Farm genuine wasabi (distinct from the daikon root most sushi restaurants serve,) Kohala Mountain oysters, Hamakua Heritage Farm specialty mushrooms, Hawaii Island Goat Dairy goat cheese, the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory dark and milk chocolate, Mac Pie macadamia nut pie, Hawaii Coffee Company Royal Kona Coffee, Kailua Candy Co. chocolate-dipped Waimea strawberries and 12 Trees Project exotic tropical fruits. There were also many dishes featuring island grass-fed lamb and beef and kalua pork.

The next day, the agriculture tour started at the Waimea Homestead Farmers Market. About two dozen of us boarded a mini coach and drove the high road along the Kohala Mountain range to Kahua Ranch. In what seemed like the middle of nowhere, we turned onto the 8,500-acre ranch property. The coastal views from 3,000 feet above sea level spurred everyone to get their cameras. The land has been a working cattle and sheep ranch since 1928. Today, Kahua Ranch also draws visitors for horseback and ATV rides. It also offers BBQ ranch dinners with entertainment provided by any guests willing to try their hand at roping livestock.

We then headed to Wiaka Farm and Beamer-Solomon Halau O’ Po’ohala for a buffet lunch, where students of the hula dance school performed several ancient hulas and made us dance one hula with them. From there we traveled to a picturesque lavender and organic vegetable farm, Honopua Farm, located on Hawaiian Homestead Lands established for native Hawaiians. We strolled through the winding paths of the lovingly tended farm that featured native plants and treasured flowers used by master lei maker Marie McDonald, the farm owner’s mother.

Honopua Farm sells its vegetables to the farmers market, a local restaurant and several health food stores, and makes its lavender into wonderful teas, soaps and creams.

One tour participant, an annual visitor to the Big Island from California since childhood, said she was delighted she and her husband had found out about the Hawaii AgVentures tour at their hotel.

“It gives you the chance to share and experience the local culture,” she said.

While true agricultural enthusiasts may spend time swapping secrets of the trade, the non-aggies of the group equally will be rewarded. These days only two out of every 100 Americans work in agriculture. Hawaii AgVentures’ programs aim to provide interaction with local farmers and ranchers to learn about their livelihoods and customs on Hawaii. Best of all, everyone who participates in the tours helps support the sustainability of Hawaii’s agriculture. Proceeds benefit members of the Big Island Farm Bureau, and visitors also can purchase products directly from the farms as gifts and souvenirs.

The Details:

Hawaii AgVentures offers themed agricultural tours, regional tours, cruise ship passenger tours and seasonal tours tied to special events. Some participating farms and ranches offer tours independently.

Themed tours range from $80 to $125, including lunch or dinner, taxes and gratuity. Group sizes range from a minimum of six to a maximum of 25.

Private group excursions can be arranged for visitors traveling in their own vehicles or by chartered transportation. Availability and cost depend on group size and place of departure.

Travel agents may negotiate an added commission rate.

Some but not all of the farms can accommodate larger groups in chartered buses. Large groups of more than 50 can be divided into smaller groups.

Themed Agricultural Tours

Chocolate Treats & Tropical Temptations
Tour of coffee farm, tropical fruit farm, chocolate producer; includes picnic lunch; departs from Kailua-Kona

Mauka to Makai (Mountain to the Sea)
Tour of historic cattle ranch, vegetable and flower farm, state ocean science and technology park; includes lunch at Merriman’s Restaurant; departs from Kailua-Kona

Merriman’s Farm Visits & Dinner
Tour of coffee estate, vegetable and flower farm and cattle ranch; followed by four-course dinner at Merriman’s Restaurant; departs from Waimea

Pele’s Bounty
Tour of orchid nursery, Volcano National Park, coffee plantation and tropical flower farm; departs from downtown Hilo

Regional Agricultural Tours: Create your own AgVenture

East Hawaii, from Hilo to Volcano
Visit a papaya producer, orchid nursery or coffee estate.

North East Hawaii, along the Hamakua Coast
Visit a native forestry ranch, specialty mushroom grower, banana plantation, coffee grower, honey producer or vanilla vineyard (derived from the orchid.)

North Hawaii, from Kohala to Kamuela
Visit two cattle ranches or a vegetable and lavender farm

West Hawaii, from Kona to South Point
Visit Kona coffee producers and roasters, ethno-botanical garden highlighting Hawaiian plant uses, tropical fruit and flower gardens, ocean science and technology park or chocolate factory.


Hawaii AgVentures
Big Island Farm Bureau
P.O. Box 2341
Kealakekua, Hawaii, 96750