“90% imported. 90% imported.” As I drove around visiting Greenwell Farms, Hamakua Mushrooms, Volcano Winery; as I had conversations with folks at hotels and looked a restaurant menus, I still found it crazy that 90% of produce to Hawaii is imported. It is crazy!
Coming from California where produce – fresh and local – is in abundance, I just can't fathom how lush and fertile Hawaii, where things grow and flourish, could be so upside down on this.
I still haven't quite figured out how Hawaii got into that situation, but I know who is helping to get it out, and she is a dynamo.
Meet Lani Weigert.
She is the lovely lady on the left, doesn't that smile draw you in? She is electric, energizing and passionate about one thing: agritourism.
She created the concept in Hawaii, beginning with the Ali'i Kula Lavender farm which used as a model for how to do it right. [A place I would visit a few days later.] She founded HATA, the Hawaii AgriTourism Association, to help the entire ecosystem as a way to “support the culture, values and resources that local people treasure.” She goes all over the country and the world teaching farmers how to do exactly that.
Agritourism is not just great for tourists (or foodies) looking for something unique to do, it is an economic lifeline, one that allows farmers with multi-generational family farms to get a leg up and support their local community. And for that reason, I am a huge fan.
I met Lani at Hamakua Mushrooms. Like many Type-A women, flying around the world, running an organization, creating tours, supporting agricultural reform, making appearances and doing Ted talks isn't enough on her plate, she is also the Marketing & Community Relations Director at Hamakua! Lani gave me my private tour and cooked up some tasty shrooms to devour (which of course I did).
If there is something happening on the island around supporting local food production or gaining visibility for farmers or educating anyone and everyone about the benefits of agritourism, Lani is involved.
Amazingly there is enough farm land on the Big Island to feed all the Hawaiian Islands and then some. Maybe that doesn't mean there will never be importing, but I envision a reduction being a good thing, more money in Hawaiian farmers pockets.
Time and time again, whether it was Tom at Greenwell, Bob at Hamakua, Del at Volcano or Ala'amoe at OK Farms (who you will read about real soon) all the farmers where gracious, humble and most of all hard-working.
Farmers are truly special people and my week in the Hawaiian islands reminded me of their importance to my life. Living in California I am extremely lucky to have the access to farm fresh foods, it is not something I took for granted, but I definitely forgot that it is not as easy in other parts of the country.
Hawaii is a paradise. Yes, there are gorgeous beaches and amazing waters, volcanoes to climb and waterfalls to see. Luaus to attend and pokes to eat, but next time you visit, consider also checking out and supporting a local farmer. Whether it is onsite or at a farmer's market, purchasing food and or food-related products will help farmers and the farm ecosystem no matter which island you visit.
How about you? Have you been to a farm in Hawaii?
My visit to Hawaii was courtesy of the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau. But as always, all opinions are my own.
You can also view more of my trip to the Big Island in my Big Island of Hawaii for Foodies Wanderlist on AFAR. I am also playing around with TagBoard, you can see all my Instagram photos together in one spot on my #MWAinHawaii board.