Agritourism as an alternative ag enterprise.
Doing agritourism requires careful consideration of
logistical and regulatory issues like parking, restrooms,
and liability insurances. The following resources can
help you get started.
the First Step: Farm and Ranch Alternative Enterprise
and Agritourism Resource Evaluation Guide
Published in January 2004 by the Southern Maryland
Resource Conservation & Development Board, this
27-page booklet includes a series of worksheets designed
to help farmers assess their goals and potentials with
regard to agritourism ventures.
Available from Southern Maryland RC & D, 303 Post
Office Rd, Suite B4A, Waldorf, MD 20602, from the NRCS
Resource Economics and Social Sciences Division at 202-720-2307.
Tourism Project, Small Farm Center, University of California
The Small Farm Center website features a wealth of
agritourism resources, including a searchable database
of Californian agritourism destinations and a series
of fact sheets for those interested in getting started
For more information write to Small Farm Center, Univ.
of California, One Shields Ave., Davis, CA 95616-8699;
Farms! Open to the Public
A number of states have leveraged USDA Rural Development
grants to launch online and/or print directories of
farms open to the public.
|| March 4, 2004:
To get to the Cedar House Bed & Breakfast and Coffee Farm on Hawaii's
Big Island, you turn east uphill from the main road in the town of
Captain Cook (in 1778 the great navigator met his tragic end in Kealakekua
Bay, just below) and follow a single-lane track as it climbs sharply
up the mountain, walled in on both sides by eight-foot-high coffee
This is the heart of the Kona coffee belt, less than 50 square
miles of steep, rocky terrain yielding 2.5 million pounds of beans
a year, and the land is too valuable to waste on grassy road margins.
Short pullouts allow you to pass workers' cars and farm trucks coming
from the other direction. After a series of twists and turns, a
small sign points you to your destination, and the view opens up
down to the sea.
Here you will be greeted by Cindy and Tim Brady, farm and B &
B managers since the Cedar House's owners, Diana and Nik Von der
Lühe, returned to their native Germany last year. Cindy works
four days a week at Adaptations, a local organic vegetable farm
and small-scale distributor, Tim works the 3 acres of coffee, and
together they manage the B & B and vacation rental.
"It balances out well," explains Cindy, "because
the slow period for the B & B is October, November, and the
early part of December, and that's the busiest time [harvest season]
for the coffee."
Although small coffee acreages like this one are the norm in Kona--and
have been since the crop was first developed here by Japanese immigrants
in the late 19th century--the Bradys say that Cedar House's income
from accommodation now exceeds its coffee income, greatly boosting
the farm's overall viability.
Having guests at the farm also enables them to increase the amount
of coffee they sell directly to the consumer, since nearly every
visitor to the farm buys at least a pound or two, and many also
visit the farm's website for subsequent purchases.
Cedar House is one of many small farms on the Big Island that have
gotten into the hospitality business in the past decade. So-called
'farm-stay' accommodation is well established in many European countries,
with websites, publications, and quality-rating systems to help
travelers find the experience and the amenities they're looking
Guests at such establishments will tell you that farms make great
B & Bs because they tend to be quiet, interesting, off the beaten
path, and run by generous, friendly people who serve up terrific
breakfasts made from fresh, locally-grown ingredients. (At Cedar
House you get not only the farm's own just-roasted coffee but an
array of delicious tropical fruits like apple bananas, starfruit,
and cherimoyas--all grown on the farm or very nearby.)
In Hawaii, however, farm-stays are just one part of a burgeoning
agritourism movement. Among American states, Hawaii may not have
the greatest number of farms participating in agritourism ventures--Pennsylvania,
New York, and Vermont are leaders in terms of absolute numbers and
percentage of farms involved--but it may very well be doing the
most to explore the full range of what agritourism can mean. A survey
conducted by the Hawaii Agricultural Statistics Service (HASS) in
2000 found 126 farms (out of a total of around 5500) engaged in
agritourism statewide, with another 84 farms planning to start agritourism
activities in the near future. But the total value of agritourism
in the state of Hawaii at that time was pegged at $26 million. And,
everyone agrees, all those figures are on the rise.
The key word is diversity
Hawaii Agricultural Statistics Service defines agritourism as
"a commercial enterprise on a working farm conducted for the
enjoyment, education, and/or active involvement of the visitor,
generating supplemental income for the farm." As such, it may
not even capture some elements of the trend, such as private farm
visits organized by professional tour guides. Any guidebook you
pick up—including the freebie magazines prominently displayed
at the airports—will feature at least one, if not dozens of
farmers' markets, sensory smorgasbords where locals and mainlanders
alike can stock up on jackfruit, rambutan, tree tomatoes, Asian
greens, giant avocadoes, and much, much more.
||. . . the total value of agritourism in
the state of Hawaii [in 2000] was pegged at $26 million.
Rob Pacheco, who with his wife Cindy owns and operates an eco-tourism
company called Hawaii Forest & Trail (www.hawaii-forest.com),
believes that "the number of people doing ag-tours is almost
certainly underestimated," especially in the Kona area, where
many tourists just drive the belt road, taking in the sights. A
free "Kona Coffee Country Driving Tour" map encourages
such behavior, as does the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival. Held each
November since 1970, the latter features coffee picking contests,
coffee 'cupping' competitions to determine the farm producing the
best brew, and the crowning of a Miss Kona Coffee.
But that's all budget-agritourism compared to the private tours
and high-end 'culinary weekends' also on offer, usually through
one of the luxury hotels. In 2002, the Pachecos began working with
the Hilton Waikoloa Village—one of the Big Island's largest
and ritziest resorts—to develop farm-based culinary tours,
including stops at vegetable farms, grass-based livestock ranches,
and the Kona Coffee Living History Farm (run by the Kona Historical
Society and representing a Japanese-American coffee farm in the
1920s). Hosted by Waikoloa Village executive chef Wilhelm Pirngruber
and executive pastry chef David Brown, the all-day farm tours are
followed by a second day in which participants watch the chefs work
with the local farm products in the kitchen and then get to enjoy
|. . . their underlying goal with all of
their tours is to educate visitors about "the biogeography
of the place."
Pacheco says that working with private tour operators enables farmers
to access some of the benefits of agritourism—or to try it
out—without making a big investment of time and other resources.
As eco-tour operators, the Pachecos have long been using private
ranches as locations for their natural history tours, and they say
that their underlying goal with all of their tours is to educate
visitors about "the biogeography of the place."
Hawaii's vast potential for agritourism is grounded in at least
three factors. First, of course, there is the enormous stream of
tourists coming to Hawaii—from all over the world—in
search of sun, fun, and relaxation. Second, Hawaii's tropical climate
and rich natural and cultural history present dozens, if not hundreds
of farm types and products to the touring public. On the northern
arm of the island, vast cattle operations like the Parker Ranch
run tours; in the south, the Big Island Flower Company does a roaring
trade in orchids and other exotic tropical plants. In between, there's
coffee, macadamia nuts, citrus, pineapples, exotic fruits, vegetables—almost
anything can be grown here, if you just find the right microclimate
for it. As Charlene Cowan, owner and operator of Macadamia Meadows
Farm B & B in Ka'u and head of the Hawaii Agricultural Tourism
Association, explains, "we're not just trying to market one
or two crops. Something new comes into fruit every day of the year."
Sugar boom, and bust
Surprisingly, however, it was not always so. Hawaii's agricultural
economy has been going through a period of enforced diversification
since the collapse of the sugar industry over the last three decades,
as protective tariffs have been withdrawn and cheaper sugar from
overseas has entered the US market. There were once 24 sugar plantations
in Hawaii; today there are just two.
One of these, Gay & Robinson on the island of Kauai, offers
visitors a view into the past and present of Hawaiian sugar production.
For $30 per person, you get a fascinating two-hour tour of the plantation
fields and factory from Wilfred Ibara, a mechanical engineer with
more than 20 years of experience in the sugar industry. Ibara is
also a third-generation sugar plantation employee, so his perspective
on the industry goes way back. Pricier tours go up into the mountains
for views of sites used in the movie "Jurassic Park."
Chris Faye, Gay & Robinson's tour supervisor, says that although
the small-scale tour operation makes no significant contribution
to the plantation's $25 million annual budget, she feels it's a
valuable program. "We get engineers, farmers, food processors,
and people who like sugar—sometimes it's kids, dragging their
parents along," Faye explains. Those not involved in food production
tend to be "shocked at how much work it all is," but everyone
finds it interesting. "As little as two generations ago, most
Americans worked on farms," she observes, "so lots of
people still feel a natural connection to agricultural life."
Future opportunities—and challenges
The many faces of Hawaiian agritourism serve as a reminder that
although agritourism ventures are frequently presented to farmers
as an 'alternative' enterprise, they are not necessarily synonymous
with sustainable or small-scale farming. Just down the road from
the Gay & Robinson sugar plantation, the Kauai Coffee Company
has a gift shop and visitors' center with a continuous loop video
describing their large-scale mechanized processing methods. On the
north side of Kauai, the 450-acre Guava Kai Plantation receives
75,000 visitors a year, selling fresh fruit and value-added products
direct to the public as well as to mainland processors. Outside
of Honolulu on Oahu, the Dole pineapple plantation, open to the
public since 1989, attracts nearly a million visitors a year.
Back on the Big Island, residents are bracing themselves for a
proposed expansion of cruise ship traffic, from one a week to as
many as five a week. Debbie Ward, an extension agent based at the
University of Hawaii at Manoa, says her office would like to see
more agritourism development, particularly on the Hilo side of the
island, to meet this coming tide of daytrippers. Hopefully, she
says, it will include many small operations as well as a few large
The by-laws of the Hawaii Agricultural Tourism Association state
that activities must take place on a 'working farm'—without
attempting to specify precisely what that means. Macadamia nut grower
Charlene Cowan says that her rule of thumb is, "Does it help
people stay on the land? If so, I'm all for it." Another measure
of integrity in agritourism might be the quality of the educational
experience that farms offer the public. In Hawaii, such opportunities
are there for tourists willing to seek them out.