Ag Tourism: Save the land, local economy, your health

There are many positive benefits to the recent success and continuing efforts to grow agricultural tourism on Kauai. The Kauai Office of Economic Development is keenly interested in exploring and expanding this line of profitability because it is simply a win/win all the way around. Local farmers partner with restaurants or other farmers and small local business people to produce sought after local products such as body treatments, jellies, soaps, cookies, sherbets and ice cream and many more products as well as regionally sourced cuisine that leaves tourists impressed, and feeling connected with Kauai in a deeper way than simply visiting our lovely beaches — which they can do for free once they arrive.

Ag tourism is a rapidly growing industry in Hawaii generally as farmers partner with others to produce upscale and creative products as well as promote tours that educate and delight tourists who are looking for an authentic Hawaiian experience and one that they cannot get anywhere else in the world.

As well as adding value to a tourist’s experience the emergence of ag tourism adds profit to the farmer’s labor and land. It brings people back to the land in a way that they feel connected to the agricultural roots of Kauai. Kauai, especially, of all the Hawaiian Islands remains proud of its agricultural history and our residents are not eager to see the rapid development that has taken place elsewhere. When Kauai’s economy based on the sugar plantations faltered, it was tourism that saved the local economy. However, rather than seeing a future with development of farm land into high rises and hotels, Kauai’s focus on agricultural tourism blends Kauai’s past with the present to envision an optimal future where the land brings people together and supports the local farmer in doing what he or she does best.

An early champion of agricultural sustainability and partnership with local farmers is Peter Merriman who has focused on pursuing local raised products to feature in his restaurants creating a regional cuisine that is acknowledged as world class. He has noted that the variety of products now offered locally has grown and that agricultural tourism in Hawaii is by far the most promising venture for our future economic success. Others involved, understand that the professional presentation of locally produced authentic goods is an imperative. Our “only in Hawaii” products such as Mac nuts, coffee, chocolate, vanilla, sugar, lavender, pineapples, honey and salts can be converted into many products from body treatments to ice cream or jellies by a collaboration between farmers and others who wish to expand their offerings to eager tourists who delight in buying something that is real and perhaps something that they have seen produced, if a farm tour is part of the experience. Kauai Coffee is a prime example of agricultural tourism on Kauai where guests get to see the operation, learn about it, sample the product and buy souvenirs and products to take home and share with other prospective guests.

As for those of us lucky enough to live here on Kauai, we too can support the local agriculture by buying our fresh fruit and vegetables at the local Sunshine Markets. The Kauai Economic Development Department has carefully and thoroughly ”cleaned up” the official markets and removed the so-called “Costco farmers”…. All farmers are checked to make sure that what they grow is what is on their table. If they have goods on their table — perhaps from a neighboring farm, they are verified that they are Kauai grown or produced. The farmers are checked for their GET license and also checked by the health department. The sunshine markets are a great way to help local farmers stay in business. You can see the schedule for the sunshine markets by Googling Sunshine Markets Kauai or going to the Department of Economic Development website.

Other businesses that carry a good amount of local product are Hoku Foods in Kapaa, Papayas in Kapaa, Living Foods in Poipu, and some other “health food stores.” As well, many local restaurants partner with our farmers and the various festivals, and special events which celebrate the harvests throughout the year help keep Kauai known as the Garden Island. The Department of Economic Development is devising a system so that local chefs can become aware of where local sources for their creations might be, as well as where abundances of certain products might be so that waste is reduced and sustainability enhanced.

Community gardens such as the Kilauea Ag Park are going concerns with a vision for the future which requires education and training for those interested in developing Kauai’s sustainability.

We are all concerned about over-building, and a loss of our small island sense of community. This is a very real way that you personally can help. You can improve your own health by buying local fresh produce. You can help our community be strong and self-sufficient rather than supporting the big box industries that bring in foreign or Mainland commodities. You can help Kauai blend the two economies of agriculture which is the foundation of Kauai’s attraction and tourism which has emerged as big commercial agriculture was overtaken. Support our local small business people who are growing our future.

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Dr. Jane Riley, EdD, is a certified personal trainer, nutritional adviser and behavior change specialist. She can be reached at janerileyfitness@gmail.com, (808) 212-8119, www.janerileyfitness.com.

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