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Aloha AgriTour Hawaii 2007

By Jane Eckert

Quick quiz: Name a state with over 5,500 farms, a 50% growth in agritourism in the last three years alone, and a jump in sales from $26 million in 2000, to $34 million in 2003?

Okay, how about naming a state accessible only by boat or plane, continues to grow in land mass, and known for its niche crops such as exotic fruits, coffee, macadamia nuts, flowers, and foliage?

I’m talking about Hawaii, of course, our 50th state. While it may take a little more effort to visit, Hawaii has a bustling and growing agritourism industry, and now, you are invited to join me for a unique agritourism tour of this fascinating state.

This story begins in August, when I was contacted by the Big Island Farm Bureau Agritourism Leader, Stacy Davis, about bringing a group of farmers to Hawaii. Her vision was that perhaps mainland farmers might enjoy a little vacation, while at the same time, tour the working farms of Hawaii to see firsthand how the islanders cater to the tourists and maintain a farming operation.

Now, I have spoken there a couple of times in recent years, and have met some of these hard working farmers. I believe they have a real message to share with each of us. The Big Island Farm Bureau has 450 members, and started a division called Hawaii Ag Ventures as a marketing effort to bring more people to the islands to visit farms.

So Stacy and I talked, and I decided that Hawaii might be a pretty good place to work in January. So, now that we have hand-picked the farms to be toured, I want to invite you to join me January 15, 2007, for the Aloha AgriTour! We’ll begin with a pre-cruise land package in Honolulu on January 12-15, followed by a cruise to four islands on January 15-22.

The best way to see Hawaii is via a cruise –we will have an opportunity to visit four islands during the trip, setting sail in the evenings at sunset in the beautiful waters of the Pacific, awaking at our next port in the morning. While for many, this may be a once in a lifetime vacation experience, it is also a great opportunity to be with new as well as familiar farm friends as we explore several agritourism stops to discover unique and useful techniques. You will come to appreciate that these farmers rely exclusively on tourism for their business, and you’ll understand why and how they encourage tourists to include farms as part of their Hawaii vacations.

Let me tell you about a few of the farms that we will be visiting. On Maui, we are going to visit The Surfing Goat Dairy and meet the owners, Thomas & Eva Kafsack. Winners of 13 national cheese-making awards, they sell over 50% of their cheese on site at their 42-acre farm. Even more important, they have spent time building a great network with the islands chefs so that Surfing Goat cheese is featured in hotels and restaurants. They also work closely with the Culinary Academy on Maui, and students of every class are spending a day at the dairy to learn about goats and goat cheese.

In addition, Thomas & Eva host many special events and special tours, including one called, “Evening Chores & Milking Tour.” Their connections with the island hotel chefs also has developed tours which include the chef preparing their meal at their dairy. I think you’ll agree that the Kafsacks are truly creative marketers, and a must see when on the island of Maui. (www.surfinggoatdairy.com)

Another great stop on Maui will be the Alii Kula Lavender Farm, owned by Alii Chang, an 8.5-acre farm with over 50,000 lavender plants. You may recall that I wrote about Alii in this column last year, talking about his Internet marketing savvy to encourage visitors to continue to purchase his products from his Studio Gift Shop. He also has a very unique promotion associated with the Hawaiian Airlines Elite membership. Alii made the Hawaiian culinary connection by hosting lunch and dinner on his property for pre-arranged groups, and offering his beautiful farm as a site for weddings. You won’t be disappointed when you visit. (www.aliikulalavender.com)

We are also going to experience a new specialty niche in the tourism industry-similar to agritourism, it’s called “culinary tourism,” and there is no better place to taste and hear how these linkages have been made than in Hawaii.

Hawaii has been one of the first places to create a very strong farmer-chef program through their Hawaii Regional Cuisine program. We will be stopping for lunch at Peter Merriman’s restaurant. Peter is known throughout the islands as the program innovator, working with farmers to grow the top quality produce featured on all of the islands. The chef will share with us his thinking about how important local foods are to his menu and to the tourists visiting the islands. (www.merrimanshawaii.com)

Naturally, a trip to Hawaii must include a visit a tropical cut-flower producer. We will be going to Green Point Nursery, one of Hilo’s largest flower producers, to meet Eric Tanouye. We will visit his greenhouses as well as see how they handle all of their custom flower shipments to the mainland. These greenhouses are absolutely awesome, with colors and fragrances almost beyond imagination.

We’ll also see a farm where the crop sells for $190 a pound. The Reddekopps, proprietors of the 8 year-old Hawaii Vanilla Company, produce Grade A vanilla beans. (Did you know that vanilla comes from an orchid?) Jim and Tracy Reddekopp not only grow vanilla beans, they also have a commercial kitchen and dining room, and offer gourmet luncheons, afternoon tea and vanilla tastings. Jim understands the tourism business and was one of the first to offer tours for cruise ship passengers. www.hawaiivanilla.com

Of course a visit to Hawaii would not be complete with stopping at a coffee plantation, a commercial banana plantation, or a working ranch. We just don’t have the space to tell you about all of the stops in this article. Trust me, we will have a full sampling of the Hawaii agritourism experience!

While we are in route, we also will provide onboard networking time to meet at breakfast and in the evenings to continue to share and meet new friends. Our agritourism topics will be determined by the farmers traveling with us, so each discussion will likely be something new and interesting. Of course, we know that the informal times we spend together can be just as worthwhile as touring the farms.

In the off-chance that you might have forgotten, a cruise to Hawaii isn’t all about visiting farms. If you have never been to Hawaii, you need to soak in the tropical beauty, the floral fragrances, and the infinite and inevitable wash of the ocean across the sands. Everyone should enjoy watching (and perhaps participating) with the hula dancers, going to a luau or learning to make a flower lei. And, oh, has anyone told you about the fresh seafood, or the abundance of pineapple, papaya, and mango’s adorning the dining tables?

Interested? Here are the basics: the trip begins in Honolulu, and you can choose to come in two days early for the pre-cruise part of the tour. This earlier arrival will allow you to spend time on beautiful Waikiki beach, see Diamond Head and, of course, do some farm visits—including the Dole Pineapple plantation, and the very busy Oahu Farmer’s Market. The two day pre-cruise in Honolulu is strictly optional, but a great way to get your bearings before setting off on the cruise.

The cruise departure is January 15. We’ll spend seven days aboard the ship, Pride of Hawaii, part of the NCL Cruise Line, debarking back in Honolulu at 9 a.m. on January 22 for flights back to the mainland U.S. All travel bookings will be handled by Dehoney Travel in New Albany, Indiana.

(Note: Details are now available: Click here for Itinerary. )

To obtain a cruise brochure, please contact Dehoney Travel at 800-325-6708 and ask for Angela, or call me at 314-862-6288. You can also contact me by email at jane@eckertagrimarketing.com Additional cruise information will also be posted at www.eckertagrimarketing.com

Please note that the actual farm cruise stops will appear on the brochure. Due to limited parking at several of these farms, our group will be limited in size and accommodated as the deposits are made.

This will be my eighth trip to Hawaii and I will tell you it’s beauty, peacefulness and touch of the exotic will be a part of your memories for a lifetime. I hope you will join me for the Aloha AgriTour. You won’t be sorry!

Jane Eckert is the founder of Eckert AgriMarketing (www.eckertagrimarketing.com), a full-service marketing and public relations firm that helps farmers to sell directly to consumers, diversify operations and become tourist destinations. She is also CEO of www.RuralBounty.com, a search directory for agritourism farms and ranches in North America. Jane can be reached at 314-862-6288 or you may email her directly.