A walking tour of the Alii Kula Lavender Farm // © 2013 J. Anthony Martinez
Ask Maui Visitors and Convention Bureau (MVB) executive director Terryl Vencl to sum up the unique nature of Maui’s agritourism scene and she will likely point to Oo Farms — an Upcountry farm-and-lunch tour — as a perfect example.
“Oo Farms offers an unforgettable link to the land as you sit down to a gourmet lunch prepared in your presence with fresh, natural products you’ve just personally harvested,” said Vencl. “Visitors become gatherers, and they learn to appreciate the connection between farm and table as they see, feel, breathe and eat.”
More and more travelers are hungering for similar agricultural explorations, and Maui’s farms and ranches — home of such riches as lavender, orchids, pineapple, coffee, wine, goat cheese and sweet onions — stand ready to please. With agricultural festivals enlivening the landscape, agritourism has turned into an appetizing niche in the fertile destination.
“Agriculture is a vital part of the economy and lifestyle of Maui County,” said Vencl. “It safeguards Maui’s beauty, provides food and honors our heritage. Visits to farms and other agricultural offerings allow guests to interact with locals and sometimes entire families.”
Most of Maui’s farms are easy for visitors to reach, so it’s possible to check out several in one day. On the Maui Gold Pineapple tour, for instance, they learn about the ins and outs of a working plantation, with colorful commentary along the way. Java buffs can stop by the Maui Grown Coffee company store for background on the brew and tastes of its varieties. At Maui’s Winery, clients can join free guided tours of Tedeschi Vineyards and sip a selection of wines made from island pineapples and grapes. Tours at Surfing Goat Dairy teach visitors how to milk a goat and create fine cheeses, and offers samples of the results.
Flower lovers can take a farm tour at Orchids of Olinda, complete with an elegant luncheon and a souvenir bloom. Alii Kula Lavender farm, teeming with 55,000 lavender plants and 45 different types of lavender, awaits with guided walking tours, craft classes, lavender treasure hunts and fancy lunch baskets.
For clients who want to see a number of farms but leave the driving to someone else, a good option is Maui Country Farm Tours. The firm features a multi-farm Upcountry itinerary, a tour that focuses on coffee and an excursion that winds up at the new Ocean Vodka organic sugar farm and distillery.
Since not all farms offer tours, many growers share their products at roadside stands such as Kula Country Farms, a family-run favorite known for its strawberries, onions and sweet corn. Its newest addition is a food trailer that sells burgers made with island grass-fed beef, salads, smoothies and specials inspired by the week’s fresh harvest.
“We meet all kinds of visitors who come back to our stand every year,” said Kula Country Farms’ Teena Monden. “People get to sample our fruits and vegetables, pick up some flowers and talk about their home town and their local farm stands.”
Maui hosts annual events that pay tribute to the island’s bounty, including the Maui County Agricultural Festival. Held at Maui Tropical Plantation, the April fest raises awareness of island agriculture with farm animals, a farmers’ market, barnyard games for kids, cooking tips, food booths and grown-on-Maui recipes.
Rural Hana town sets the stage for the East Maui Taro Festival. The community comes together to celebrate the historical and cultural significance of taro, a cherished Hawaiian root crop and the source of poi. Guests enjoy live entertainment and hula, food booths and interactive demonstrations.
The Maui Onion Festival at Whalers Village showcases some of the sweetest onions in the world. Thousands of visitors and residents assemble each May for its recipe contests, games and prizes, beer garden, cooking demos, live tunes and the ever-popular Maui onion eating contest.
As agritourism grows as a viable tourism market, MVB is pitching it in newsletters, on its website and through its social media channels.
“Understanding Maui’s rich history and love of the land, we will continue to take every opportunity to promote our products and our delicious farm-to-table experiences,” said Vencl.