Isle visitors enjoy getting hands dirty through agritourism


POSTED: Sunday, July 12, 2009

“;Agritourism,”; a hybrid of agriculture and tourism, is the state's newest travel trend. From beef and bananas to bok choy and beans—visitors are going to the source for a firsthand look at how the food they're enjoying at local restaurants is produced.

At the same time, these tours provide the farms, ranches and orchards with an additional revenue stream. Everybody wins.

In early 2008, three family-owned-and-operated enterprises in Ahualoa, three miles above Honokaa on the Big Island's lush Hamakua Coast, banded together to offer a weekly four-hour tour. Led by the owners of the coffee plantation, honey company and tea garden, the Hamakua Artisan Farms Tour shows there's a lot to discover about Hawaii off the beaten path.


Long Ears Hawaiian Coffee Farm

(808) 775-0385 / www.longearscoffee.com

Unbeknownst to most people, coffee has been grown along the Hamakua Coast since the early 1800s. Wendell and Netta Branco got into it by chance.

The couple ran a successful mule-breeding business for 28 years, but when their prize stud donkey Ozark Red died in 2000, they began considering options. Arabica coffee trees growing wild on their eight-acre property caught their eye. Producing ripe red cherries year-round, the trees had thrived on their own in Ahualoa's cool, misty climate.

On a lark, the Brancos began picking cherries; they collected 300 pounds of them in just two days. An idea began percolating; coffee could be a business! Thus was born Long Ears Hawaiian Coffee, named after their beloved Ozark Red's foot-long ears.

In the ensuing months, the Brancos planted 400 more Arabica trees; purchased processing equipment; and taught themselves how to pulp, dry, hull and roast coffee beans. Today, Long Ears is the only company on the Hamakua Coast that handles every step of the production process, from cultivating the trees to packaging the roasted coffee. It's also the only company in Hawaii that ages coffee for three years before roasting, which reputedly reduces the acidity and aftertaste, and gives it a more robust flavor.

A visit to Long Ears starts with refreshments—freshly brewed coffee and Netta's delicious banana bread. Following that, the Brancos take you on a leisurely stroll through their orchard and processing facility, providing entertaining and enlightening stories about their experiences with coffee all along the way.


Volcano Island Honey Company

(808) 775-1000 / www.volcanoislandhoney.com

Richard Spiegel and his late wife Laura started Volcano Island Honey Company (VIHC) in 1975 as a hobby, giving away honey to family and friends for six years before deciding to increase production for sale to the general public.

VIHC sells six delicious kinds of certified organic honey (one is blended with fresh lilikoi puree). It's best known for its Rare Hawaiian Organic White Honey, which comes from 130 to 150 hives set in a 1,000-acre kiawe grove in Puako on the Kohala Coast.

The trees' flowers bloom from April through October. During that period, five to seven million bees collect the flowers' nectar, add enzymes to it and deposit the nectar into honeycombs. The bees create honey by fanning the nectar with their wings to evaporate the excess moisture.

Once a week, 450 to 900 honeycombs are transported to VIHC's Ahualoa facility where the Rare Hawaiian Organic White Honey is carefully extracted and bottled. Its creamy texture, pearlescent color and delicate taste indicate it's in its raw, pure, natural state.

Tour highlights include a close-up look at an active hive, a honeycomb full of bees and the meticulous extraction process (in season). Spiegel also discusses the importance of bees to the world's food supply (they pollinate 30 percent of the food humans consume) and the challenges facing beekeepers today. One potentially devastating concern is the varroa mite, which has been found in Hilo, just 45 miles away.

The tour concludes with a tasting of at least three of VIHC's heavenly honeys.


Mauna Kea Tea

(808) 775-1171 / www.maunakeatea.com

Farming is Takahiro and Kimberly Ino's cup of tea. The owners of five-acre Mauna Kea Tea moved to the Big Island in 2005 specifically to grow tea and to perpetuate the centuries-old traditions surrounding it.

Taka is a certified Nihoncha Tea Instructor—a designation that proves his expertise in topics such as the history, chemistry, cultivation, preparation and health benefits of tea. He and Kimberly are proponents of natural farming, meaning they don't weed, till, or use fertilizers and chemical pesticides in their fields. Doing so, they contend, would disrupt nature's balance and ability to nourish healthy plants.

During your time at Mauna Kea Tea, you'll examine tea plants; learn when the leaves should be harvested and how they are processed; discover the best way to store, brew and serve tea; and participate in a lesson on tea appreciation. You'll also find out many factors affect the soothing beverage you sip, including water temperature (the “;ideal”; varies, depending on the type of tea) and the quality of the tea ware.

Like their partners on the Hamakua Artisan Farms Tour, the Inos relish the opportunity they have to be stewards of the earth and to live a simple, laid-back lifestyle that keeps them closely connected to the land.

Said Kimberly, “;I love walking out the front door in the morning; seeing green all around me; and knowing that whatever the weather, there are projects to be done, and I will be exhausted, satisfied and happy at the end of the day.”;





        » Meeting place: Long Ears Hawaiian Coffee, 46-3689 Waipahi Place, Ahualoa, Big Island

» Offered: Tuesdays


» Time: 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.


» Cost: $60 per adult, $30 for children aged 6 through 18. Kids 4 and under are free.


» Phone: (808) 775-1000. Reservations are required at least two days in advance.


» E-mail: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


» Web site: www.hawaiianartisanfarms.com


» Notes: You must provide your own transportation to each farm (they're located within a mile of each other, and you'll receive directions upon booking). Wear comfortable clothing, good walking shoes, a hat and sunscreen. Individual farm tours are available daily. Call the farm you're interested in directly for more information.




Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based freelance writer whose travel features for the Star-Bulletin have won multiple Society of American Travel Writers awards.