Here are some of my favorite agri-adventures from a recent visit.
Pomaikai "Lucky" Farm B&B: Set on an old Japanese family farm, Lucky Farm has plenty of chickens (and roosters) and farm cats sharing several acres thickly planted with exotic fruits and flowers as well as working coffee and macadamia nut orchards. There are three rustic but clean rooms — you'll probably want either the converted coffee shed, a light, airy space separate from the rest of the buildings, or one of the garden rooms, particularly No. 1, which is on the end and gets extra light. Hosts Johnsie Sumner and John Paul Jones are friendly and chatty and eager to give tours of the grounds. They might even play some of their music for you. Breakfasts include coffee and jams and jellies made from fruits grown on their property.
83-5465 Mamalahoa Highway, Captain Cook, Hawaii; (808) 328-2112,
. Doubles $90-$95 a night.
Hawaii Forest & Trail's Kona Coffee & Craters Tour: Kona is known for its coffee. But its landscape, which rises from the ocean to more than 6,000 feet above sea level in just a few short miles, is just as impressive. By taking this tour, you can get your arms around both. Explore barren volcanic landscape, peer into deep craters, examine the scraggly plant life that somehow manages to survive and even scramble through a lava tube or two. Then head to Mountain Thunder, a highly prized organic coffee farm and processor for an in-depth explanation of how coffee is grown and processed.
Tours through Hawaii Forest & Trail are $139 for adults and $119 for children. (800) 464-1993,
. A shorter coffee-only tour offered by Mountain Thunder is free. Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation, 75-1027 Henry St., No. 143, Kailua Kona, Hawaii.
Merriman's Waimea: When it comes to farm-to-table restaurants in Hawaii, all roads lead to Peter Merriman. He's the Alice Waters of the islands, forging connections between farmers and diners since he started his first restaurant in 1988. Today, Merriman has five restaurants (including a couple of smaller cafes) on three islands, but his first place in the heart of the Big Island's agricultural district is the flagship.
Merriman's Waimea, 65-1227 Opelo Road, Kamuela, Hawaii; (808) 885-6822, merrimanshawaii.com. Also: Merriman's Fish House, 2829 Ala Kalanikaumaka St., G-149. Koloa, Kauai; (808) 742-8385; Merriman's Kapalua, One Bay Club Place, Lahaina, Maui; (808) 669-6400.
National Energy Laboratory of Hawaii: What started as a futuristic experiment in generating electricity is now generating something completely different — abalone and lobster. The NELHA facility, which is near the Kona airport, still houses a plant for making electricity, but there's some serious aquaculture going on too. Big Island Abalone Corp. is now producing nearly 60 tons per year and hopes to hit 100 tons by the end of the year. The facility is also host to Kona Cold Lobsters, which distributes Maine lobster on the islands; a salt company; an outfit desalinating and bottling deep ocean water; and a company farming sea horses (not for consumption). Tours offered every Friday morning for $29 (students and seniors $25), reservations required.
73-4460 Queen Kaahumanu Highway, No. 101, Kailua Kona; 808-329-8073,
Ken Love: When you talk about exotic fruit in Hawaii, this is the guy. Though his tours are offered just a couple of times a week, by appointment only, this is an excellent chance to visit one of Hawaii's great orchards with the enthusiastic Love, president of the Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers group and vice president of the Kona Kohala Chefs Assn. One favorite tour is of 82-year-old Margaret Schattauer's home garden, where you can see the famed Archibald Menzies orange tree, planted in 1792 by the naturalist. There you'll also see everything from durian to jackfruit that grow to nearly human size.
Tours are free but must be arranged in advance by calling Love at (808) 323-2417 or emailing him at
. Check out his website at
Kahua Ranch: There may be no more beautiful spot on the Big Island than the bluff overlooking Tim Richards' ranch outside of Waimea. From the mountainside tropical rain forest to the ocean, there are 10,000 acres of mostly deep, green grass and a couple thousand head of lucky cattle and sheep.
You can arrange tours on horseback or by all-terrain vehicle, or you can just come for one of their regular barbecues. Info:
Hawaiian Vanilla Co.: The Hawaiian Islands are one of the few places where vanilla is grown commercially. And although there are several farms that have a few plants, this is the only one that specializes in it. Growing vanilla is definitely a labor of love — each flower must be hand-pollinated, and then it takes eight to nine months for a pod to develop. Hawaiian Vanilla Co. offers tours that explain the process, and there are frequent all-vanilla-
flavored luncheons. The gift shop offers more vanilla products than you probably knew existed.
43-2007 Paauilo Mauka Road, Paauilo; (877) 771-1771,
North Country Farms: Lucky you if you can wangle one of the two cabins Lee Roversi has built at her organic farm just outside the little town of Kilauea. This is Hawaiian rustic at a very high level, with plenty of seclusion. The windows are screened in, there are outdoor showers to wash off beach sand, and the cottages have kitchenettes. Everything is arranged so beautifully that it looks as if it's waiting for a photo shoot. Best of all, guests get full garden- and orchard-foraging rights; Roversi also grows fruits and vegetables to sell at local farmers markets.
P.O. Box 723, Kilauea; (808) 828-1513,
. Doubles $160 a night.
Steelgrass Farm: Will and Emily Lydgate bought 8 acres of scrub on a hill above the town of Kapaa, Kauai, in the 1990s and started growing cacao, the plant from which chocolate is made. They offer tours of their grounds, not only showing off the cacao trees and their fruit but also giving tastings of the tropical exotics they've planted on the property — longans, soursops, native passion fruit, or lilikoi, rambutans and even vanilla pods. There's a gift shop where you can buy some of the family's favorite chocolates (and, eventually, their own), as well as their prize-winning honey, vanilla pods and cacao nibs.
Tours, including chocolate tasting, cost $60 (free for children younger than 12), and reservations are required. (808) 821-1857,
Banana Joe's Fruit Stand: One of the best of the many fruit stands in Hawaii is this one on Kauai just outside Kilauea. The fruit varies with the season; right now you can sample rambutan and longan, which are like juiced-up lychees, and the sublime mangosteen. Perfectly ripe apple bananas have a flavor that shouts what supermarket bananas only whisper.
5-2719 Kuhio Highway, Kilauea; (808) 828-1092,
Hanalei Farmers Market: This farmers market is run by the Waipa Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to restoring the local watershed and connecting communities through agriculture. Or you can forget all that and just gorge on the tropical fruits and vegetables.
5-5785A Kuhio Highway, Hanalei; (808) 826-9969,
Common Ground: If visiting well-run organic gardens makes you hungry, this is the place to visit. Not only is there a perfectly manicured vegetable garden with fruit orchards, but there's a cafe that turns those fruits and vegetables into delicious holistic-oriented food. Try the breakfast burrito with purple Okinawan yams, raw white cheddar cheese and eggs from Raven Farm. Get there before yoga class lets out, or the wait can be seriously long. Garden tours are available weekdays.
4900 Kuawa Road, Kilauea; (808) 828-2192,