Koa Kea Hotel and Resort
A new industry is taking root on Hawaii’s Big Island. Eager to share one of the most fertile and ecologically diverse natural environments in the world and its idyllic island allure with travelers, the visitor industry has teamed up with local farmers for an unparalleled experience.
A blend of travel and agriculture, "agritourism" appeals to those who want to sink their teeth into the flavors of the island. Tours (including farm-fresh tastings), educational presentations about remarkable Hawaii Island products, harvesting and the opportunity to connect with local people and customs, are just a few ingredients that make agritourism one of the most appealing trends in travel.
According to the University of Hawaii’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR), annual agriculture sales in the state of Hawaii contribute $1.9 billion to the economy, making "ag" one of the state’s top industries. The United States Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service data shows that the Hawaiian Islands accounts for the lion’s share, or 820,000 acres, of the state’s 1.3 million acres of ag land. The Big Island is also home to all but two of the world’s 13 main climatic regions, making it an agricultural paradise. It’s a worldwide leader in harvesting macadamia nuts and orchids and is the only place in the United States where vanilla, cacao beans and gourmet coffee are grown commercially. Lesser known, but yielding equally scrumptious products, are the Island’s innovative aquaculture, mushroom, honey, tropical fruit and wine ventures. This bounty makes agritourism on Hawaii’s Big Island exceptional — and unmatched.
Realizing the potential of a collaboration between the farming and tourism industries, the Big Island Farm Bureau created Hawaii AgVentures, a project that addresses the visitor’s desire to not only see, but to experience Hawaii firsthand. Lorie Farrell, administrator for the Big Island Farm Bureau, explains that AgVentures facilitates on-site farm visits, group excursions and single-car referrals to expertly coordinate the interests of visitors with specific farms.
"Hawaii AgVentures invites visitors to see how some of Hawaii’s finest products are made while supporting the marketing operations, profitability and sustainability of local farmers," Farrell said.
The comprehensive Mauka to Makai (mountain to sea) agventure begins at Parker Ranch (www.parkerranch.com), one of the largest, most historic cattle ranches in the U.S., and continues on into the heart of Kamuela’s Hawaiian Homestead Lands to the picturesque Honopua Farm. After an intimate, family-member led tour featuring organic vegetables and Waimea lavender, guests indulge in a delectable lunch at Merriman’s Restaurant (www.merrimanshawaii.com), famous for its fresh Hawaii Regional Cuisine. The tour concludes on the Kona Coast with an investigation of the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority (www.keaholepoint.org) , an ocean science and technology park where activities range from deep-ocean energy generation and whale research to farming abalone, lobsters and micro-algae. Of course, visitors wanting to design their own agri-tour have many choices of farms, facilities, markets and gardens to graze their way around the entire island. Visit www.bigisland.org/ag-tourism for information.
Visitors with a sweet tooth will delight in Hawaii’s newest culinary wonder: Hawaiian vanilla. The Hawaiian Vanilla Company (www.hawaiianvanilla.com), cultivates, hand-pollinates and distributes its seductive Hawaiian vanilla from the Reddekopp family-owned mill on the Hamakua Coast. A gallery and gift shop are open Monday through Friday and the family hosts a variety of tours from an Upcountry tea brunch to a gourmet four-course luncheon, each accompanied by an in-depth presentation on how vanilla orchids are grown.
An eye-opening excursion along the Kona Coffee Belt is another visitor must-do. The narrow stretch of land, approximately two miles wide, runs parallel to the ocean and is peppered with more than 700 farms cultivating robust Kona coffee on the western slopes of Mauna Loa and Hualalai. Many coffee farms and mills are open to visitors and offer the opportunity to learn how coffee is hand-picked and roasted. A more theatrical tour can be found at The Kona Coffee Living History Farm (www.konahistorical.org/tours-farm) where visitors walk through the coffee and macadamia nut orchards, tour the restored historic farmhouse and see live animals while costumed interpreters "talk story" and answer questions on the daily lives of Japanese coffee farmers circa 1900-1945. In East Hawaii, which once boasted 6,000 acres of coffee, visitors can learn how the Hilo Coffee Mill’s commitment to resurrecting East Hawaii coffees, is putting 100 percent Kau, Hamakua and Puna varieties on the worldwide coffee map (www.hilocoffeemill.com).
Some visitors want it all: the locally-grown produce, the savory treats, the specialty gifts and the fresh-cut flowers. With about 20 farmers markets located around the Big Island it is easy to get just that. These charming local markets can often be found tucked under banyan trees and in quaint little towns and are a sure thing for local and fresh products.