Cultivating agritourism in earnest

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The farm at Kukuiula on Kauai's southern shore provides produce for the resort restaurant and is host to many public programs. The property is in the process of doubling its growing area.
The farm at Kukuiula on Kauai's southern shore provides produce for the resort restaurant and is host to many public programs. The property is in the process of doubling its growing area.
Tovin Lapan
Tovin Lapan

When Kukuiula, a property on Kauai's south shore featuring a resort and residences, started a farm seven years ago, the managers thought it would be a nice addition that would allow for some easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables.



But the farm, and other gardens and growing areas, have been a much more popular feature than originally expected, and Kukuiula is in the process of doubling its space used for growing.

Kukuiula is made up of a handful of residential neighborhoods and also features a boutique resort open to the public with a managed rental pool of accommodations that travelers can book. They now run several programs involving the farm, including farmers markets, a monthly farm-to-table dinner in the summer and community gardening plots.

Kukuiula is not alone in augmenting its farm- and food-related offerings. Agritourism has proven to be no passing trend, and now resorts and other properties are investing more resources and staff than ever into building their agritourism features.

"It's become bigger than I ever thought it would be," said Kukuiula landscape and farm project manager Roger Peckenpaugh. "When the agritourism stuff started I thought it would be a fad. But it's turned out to be a big movement, and people are really interested in seeing where their food comes from. It's somewhat surprising how interested they are. It seems to be only growing."

In addition to the farm, which grows tropical fruits like papayas and bananas in addition to chard, arugula and herbs, there is also an orchard and a medicinal herb garden. Chef Ben Takahashi runs Umeke Kitchen + Bar on property, using the farm's produce and coordinating the farm-to-table dinners, which often feature a local producer.

Kukuiula also has plans to add to the amenities at the farm, including camping areas, more bike trails, a zipline and a pavilion with a stone oven for hosting more food events.

Two Four Seasons properties in the Aloha State have also started digging deeper to uncover unique and rewarding agritourism experiences for guests.

At Four Seasons Resort Hualalai on Hawaii Island, natural resources director David Chai pushed to turn the golf course's features into more than just hazards for players. Below the surface of the course's manmade pond are 50,000 oysters, which help keep the water clean and also end up on the resort restaurant's menu. They have three varieties, including the popular Kumamoto oyster. Guests can get a behind the scenes tour of the oyster operation, including the chance to slurp down a fresh-out-of-the-water mollusk.

The Kaupulehu Marine Life Advisory Committee, which Chai is a member of, and local families recently worked together to establish a 10-year ban on fishing along a 3-mile stretch of coastline with the intention of allowing depleted fish stocks to rebound. Hawaiian law stipulates oceanside developments have to provide public access to the coast. When construction started at Hualalai in 1993 and roads were developed, that opened up the waters to shoreline fishing.

"There are not a lot of rules in Hawaii regulating take, and it was very unrestricted fishing," Chai said. "It is relied on by families that live here.  When it reopens after 10 years we want to work with the community to allow fishing in a sustainable way."

Guests can get hands-on and participate in marine life surveys in the protected zone, or enjoy activities like the resort's fish circus where a variety of fish perform tricks like shooting a ball through a hoop.

Chai and his staff have also restored a number of anchialine pools and fish ponds on the property, and run a hatchery that is currently producing Hawaiian yellowtail. Today the resort offers 16 programs related to its food, sustainability and conservation efforts, some of which are complimentary.

"It's growing more and more and word is getting out," Chai said. "When we first started we didn't have a lot of programs for guests, and my role was mostly maintaining things. But guests started to show real interest in these things, environmental programs and fish feeding."

At sister property Four Seasons Oahu at Ko Olina, the resort has partnered with a farm with a unique mission that has operated since the 1970s. Kahumana Farm provides transitional housing and employment assistance to homeless families and adults with developmental disabilities, and helps fund the services through its farm cafe and agricultural operations. Guests of the resort can arrange an hour-long tour of the farm. Chef Martin Knaubert of the resort's La Hiki Kitchen uses fruits and vegetables from the farm, including its flagship salad mix, and also hosts a farm-to-table brunch.

Kahumana Organic Farm on Oahu couples sustainable farming and a cafe with social services that include transitional housing for homeless families and adults with developmental disabilities.
Kahumana Organic Farm on Oahu couples sustainable farming and a cafe with social services that include transitional housing for homeless families and adults with developmental disabilities.

The oldest farmer at Kahumana, which works with approximately 70 different restaurants, is 30, and agritourism manager Rachel LaDrig says that has created an atmosphere of experimentation.

"We like to try things, and we're willing to fail," she said.

For example, staff have recently began knocking on doors in Waianae to inquire about backyard fruit trees to supply its community farm hub.

"Waianae has one of the largest native populations of indigenous Hawaiians in the whole world, and it's an area that has had a lack of educational resources and support," LaDrig said.

Kahumana wanted to address both the limited sources of income for the community as well as the high proportion of food that is imported. They asked residents with pomelo, tangerine and other trees in their yards if they would be willing to sell, and then set up a market for the community bounty of fruits.

Tours of Kahumana cover the nonprofit organization's social and community mission, including the transitional housing that provides shelter for 125 families, and how that connects to their food production goals. Guests can then see the farm's aquaponics facility, sheep, free range chickens and growing fields, where LaDrig touches on soil health, crop rotation and other keys to sustainable agriculture.

"I want them to come away with an understanding of the disconnect we have with food today," LaDrig said.  "Food is a universal vehicle and language we have to build connections around. If we're always busy, busy, busy and eating on the run or not cooking, then we lose that connection food and each other. Food can be the place where we start rebuilding those connections."

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