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FROM FARM TO TABLESIDE

10/08/2008

Hawai‘i Island’s Tasty Take on Tourism

Hawai‘i’s Big Island (Oct. 8, 2008)– A new industry is taking root on Hawai‘i’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, “agtourism” appeals to those who want to sink their teeth into the flavors of Hawai‘i Island. Tours, including farm-fresh tastings, educational presentations about remarkable Hawai‘i Island products, harvesting, and the opportunity to connect with local people and customs, are just a few ingredients that make agtourism one of the most appealing trends in travel.

According to the University of Hawai‘i’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR), annual agriculture sales in the state of Hawai‘i 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 Hawai‘i Island 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 agtourism on Hawai‘i’s Big Island exceptional, and unmatched.

Realizing the potential of a collaboration between the farming and tourism industries, the Big Island Farm Bureau created Hawai‘i AgVentures, www.hawaiiagventures.com, a project that addresses the visitor’s desire to not only see, but to experience Hawai‘i first-hand. 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.

“Hawai‘i AgVentures invites visitors to see how some of Hawai‘i Island’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 Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine. The tour concludes on the Kona Coast with an investigation of the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawai‘i 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 sojourners wanting to design their own agventure have many choices of farms, facilities, markets, and gardens to graze their way around the entire island. Visit www.bigisland.org/ag-tourismfor information.

Visitors with a sweet tooth will delight in Hawai‘i’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 Hāmākua 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 Maunaloa and Hualālai. 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.html) 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 Hawai‘i, which once boasted 6,000 acres of coffee, visitors can learn how the *Hilo Coffee Mill*’s commitment to resurrecting East Hawai‘i coffees, is putting 100% Ka‘u, Hāmākua and Puna varieties on the worldwide coffee map, www.hilocoffeemill.com

In addition to specific tours, the Big Island is home to a crop of ag and culinary festivals. The annual Mealani’s Taste of the Hawaiian Range (www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/taste) stars the finest culinary talents showcasing the abundance and diversity of Hawai‘i Island’s agricultural products. Extraordinary dishes using locally raised meats are complemented by specialty products, fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers. This year’s eating extravaganza was Oct. 3 at the Hilton Waikoloa Village Resort. Organic honey, coffee, vanilla, taro, beef, mushrooms and more can be sampled at Hāmākua Alive, a free food festival happening Oct. 25 in Pa‘auilo. And no one should miss the annual Kona Coffee Cultural Festival, Hawaii’s longest-running culinary festival, and the only coffee festival in the U.S. This year’s event takes place Nov. 7-16, and features nearly 50 events including tastings, art exhibits, cupping competition, farm tours, contests, parades, sporting events, and special workshops, www.konacoffeefest.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 if what you desire is local and fresh. Can’t make it to one of the markets and still have a hankering for local fare? Visit one of the six KTA Super Stores (www.ktasuperstores.com) located on the Big Island and look for the Mountain Apple Brand® label for food products grown, processed or manufactured in Hawai‘i.

To find out more about the Island of Hawai‘i’s diversity of agriculture, accommodations and activities, visit www.bigisland.org.

NOTE: BIVB recognizes the use of diacritical markings, i.e., glottal stop (‘), macron (ā), in place names of Hawai‘i, such as Kīlauea. However, BIVB respects the individual use of these markings for names of organizations and businesses.

Big Island Visitors Bureau Media Contact:
Jessica Ferracane, Irondog Communications, (808) 895-5740, jessica@irondogpr.com

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