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Hawaii: Greenwell Farms

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After a reflective evening and excellent first night’s sleep at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, I woke up ready to hit the road. I spent the morning at the South Kona Green Market, a small farmer’s market in the Kona area.

I poked around and picked up a small breakfast consisting of a scone and the most delicious lilikoi juice ever, then I headed to Greenwell Farms for a tour.

a time for a cup of coffee

Photo credit: OiMax

A few months ago I wrote about my coffee story. Drinking coffee from an early age, it is an integral part of my daily life. But only recently have I really begun to understand what goes into a really good cup of coffee.

Of course, working in San Francisco, I am exposed to phenomenal coffee all over the city, but I really started to think about it more deeply with the opening of Coffee Cultures in the Financial District. Then during my recent AFAR Experiences trip to Seattle, I got to hear about the importance of buying high-quality green coffee from the experts at Caffé Vita.

But it was only after an amazing afternoon at Greenwell Farms did the story come full circle for me. I had the unique pleasure of spending several hours with Tom Greenwell full-time coffee farmer, part-time mad food scientist, and all-around nice guy. I enjoyed my time immensely and highly recommend you visit the farm if you find yourself on the big island.

Tom is the fourth generation of Greenwells that have been growing coffee in the Kona Mountain region. They are one of the oldest and most respected Kona coffee farms on the Big Island of Hawaii. The first Greenwell arrived and began buying land to produce coffee in 1850. The coffee industry in Hawaii has gone through many phases with many cultural influences, but the Greenwell farm has been a mainstay on the island from the beginning.

Greenwell Farm Boys

Greenwell Farm Boys, photo credit: Elyse Butler

Henry Nicholas Greenwell was an entrepreneur and understood the concept of marketing your product and building awareness and demand. His coffee was awarded a certificate of excellence for best coffee at the World’s Fair in Vienna in 1873 and it was presented at the first World’s Fair in America which took place in Philadelphia in 1876. As you can see, they have been perfecting this for a while.

Coffee is the reason why Tom gets up in the morning, literally and figuratively, but he is insatiably curious about growing and experimenting in general. Farming was not his original life’s passion, but he definitely embraced it. He has built a farm with a unique variety of foods.

So while it is first and foremost a coffee farm, there are six different varieties of avocados, ones that had this California girl drooling as well as tons of citrus trees too. The more you talk to Tom and the deeper you walk on the farm, the more surprises you’ll find. Like peppercorns from Micronesia.

Tom-Greenwell-with-Peppercorn

Tom Greenwell showing me his peppercorns

I have never seen peppercorns in their natural state or tasted it right from the vine. I immediately had visions of recipes in my head inspired by the unique taste of pepper…

Some of the experimenting comes from the fact that Tom is the only coffee farm in the world that has hired its own full-time biologist. Together they are exploring new varietals of coffee and other pursuits. He is also using every part of the coffee bean including the skins that go into a product called Kona Red which I tasted and loved.

Greenwell Farms believes in educating as part of its ethos and they train farmers who sell their beans wholesale on producing quality beans, they train farmers producing in other parts of the islands, sharing their best practices. Tom wants to share his knowledge while gaining new insights that can allow the entire Hawaiian coffee industry to grow for generations to come.

Tom_Greenwell-at-Kona-Expo

Tom Greenwell speaking at Kona Expo, photo credit: Kona Coffee Farmers

The coffee farm is a foodie’s dream. Along with oranges and other fruits, avocados, and peppercorns, there are vanilla and cacao beans as well. They have 5 acres of macadamia nut trees also. I spotted chickens. There are wild pigs. Nature has provided everything you need in one spot. It is such a stupid thing to say, but it wasn’t until I was standing on this farm that I ever thought about what having a farm could really bring.

Tom-Greenwell-Greenwell-Farms

Tom Greenwell checking out his vanilla plants.

A farm is an ecosystem on its own, it is self-sustaining, a little microcosm. But for most, it is much more than that, because farms nourish the world. Whether it is through the food they produce, the ingredients they harvest that goes into something on your plate, or the cup of magical elixir that wakes you up in the morning, farmers are contributing to the community. It is a theme I would see over and over during my week in Hawaii.

Tom Greenwell

Photo credit: Greenwell Farms

The Greenwells have been providing a community in more ways than one. It turns out there aren’t a lot of places for kids to be kids. So while Tom’s children were growing up, if the baseball team a place to practice, Greenwell Farms supplied it. If there was a need for motorcross trails, Greenwell Farms created some on their property. Tom’s only rule…”no funny business.” Meaning a safe drug-and-alcohol free zone for kids to just be kids.

Greenwell Farms sells there coffee to some big names, but for direct to the consumer it’s only sold in Hawaii but is available on their website. They roast their coffee three times a week and goes roast to your house in three days. Their coffee club is very popular and a great way to always have some on hand. I tasted several of their offerings and there wasn’t one I didn’t like. So much so that I couldn’t imagine not drinking them black, no need for cream and sugar, so smooth and tasty you don’t need it.

Greenwell-Farms-Tour-Guide-Keiko

Greenwell Farms Tour Guide Keiko holding one of the 6 types of avacados

Tours run daily [for FREE] from 8-5 by a fabulous (and super friendly) team of folks, knowledgeable and passionate about the farm. If you visit their Yelp reviews you will see time and time again mentions of how warm and friendly the staff here are, with no pressure sales tactics.

If you are extra lucky you may see Tom out and about on the farm with Buster and Lola, Greenwell Farm mascots and constant companions. Buster even decided to take a nap on my foot!

Tip: Mid-day on Thursdays at the Kona Historical Society’s (Tom’s great grandfather’s house) they use the stone oven to make Portuguese sweet bread. You can help roll dough into balls to put into pans. [Coming from a Portuguese family the next time I visit, I will make sure it is on a Thursday!]

I absolutely love this video montage of the farm, check out all the various parts and pieces that go in this magical place:

Visit the Greenwell Farms website to learn more.

How about you? Have you visited a coffee farm before?

More of my Hawaii Big Island stories:

My visit to Hawaii was courtesy of the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, my visit (as all are visits to Greenwell Farms) was free. 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.

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Harmony, Momma To Go

Thursday 22nd of June 2017

we visited this farm last summer and it was great! Loved the coffee! I wrote about this experience here: http://www.mommatogo.com/big-island-activities/

Funny story, when we got there we realized my 4 year old didnt have shoes. I thought husband grabbed them, he thought I grabbed them... BUT we realized no biggie, its Hawaii!

Kyle Gruber

Thursday 30th of April 2015

Excellent blog! Looks like you farmers know your stuff about coffee. Truly dedicated and hard workers farmers are!

Marty

Sunday 1st of March 2015

Wow, I'm actually heading to Hawaii soon to check out some of the farms. I was super-excited to come across this post, its extremely informative and is all about my favorite place of origin for coffee - Hawaii! Awesome.. :)

LIv

Wednesday 29th of October 2014

This is a really cool experience and honestly until i started reading never thought about what goes into a farm or a farm like this one. How did the coffee skins coffee taste and does the skin have caffeine. sill question but I wondered if it was more flavor than caffeine.

Andi Fisher

Saturday 1st of November 2014

@Liv, I know it is really interesting to peek inside where ordinary things that are a major part of our lives are grown!

Ayana Pitterson

Monday 27th of October 2014

I am not a coffee drinker at all, but the folks in my office would truly appreciate this. HEAVY coffee drinkers for sure. Gorgeous pics by the way