Ever toured a farm or picked your own strawberries in Kula? That’s called agritourism, and on Maui, it’s really growing. Statistically, agriculture jobs are on the decline everywhere, and here on Maui they’re projected to drop by 12 percent by 2018. But with increasing popular interest in food transparency, self sufficiency, 100-mile lifestyles and agritainment, (that’s agriculture plus entertainment), the agritourism industry earned the state $38.8 million in 2006. Culinary events where chefs tout the farms and fishermen they get their products from are also boosting the industry and putting a face on your local food chain.
“I believe the role of the chef in agritourism is still being defined,” says Chris Schobel, executive chef at Hula Grill in Ka’anapali. “Being passionate about local agriculture and participating in events is the tip of the iceberg for what is to come. Being able to showcase our talents with the talents of the farmers will lead to many more opportunities in the future. This will help define cooks tours and other activities that tourists can base their schedules around.”
Europe has been developing their agritourism industry for centuries and leads the way with destinations like Tuscany, where people stay at farms with restaurants, and learn to make local cuisine from nearby chefs as well as pair that food with locally grown wine. We may not have the old farmhouses to convert into inns for our visitors–in fact, just creating a bed and breakfast business seems to be a challenge for our county–but Hawaii is making headway into the industry with the help of the Hawaii AgriTourism Association and a few other key players.
Like the Ka’anapali Beach Resort Association. When Executive Director Shelley Kekuna wanted to create a new signature culinary event, she focused on creating one of the biggest agritourism events on the Westside–one that also showcases the chefs of Ka’anapali. Along with Warren Watanabe from the Maui County Farm Bureau, they linked together Maui’s bountiful agriculture to Ka’anapali’s culinary prowess. The result became the three-day Kaanapali Fresh event, which takes place over Labor Day weekend.
Francois Milliet, executive chef at the Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas, says Ka’anapali Fresh exposes him to new farmers and helps him discover items they’re growing that he might not even have known was available. It also allows him to share his needs with the farm community.
For farmers like Walter Evonok (pictured on this week’s cover) of Kula, Ka’anapali Fresh is one of maybe three events his family-owned and operated farm participates in a year. He also uses it to connect with Maui chefs to let them know what he grows on his second-generation herb farm. Evonok Farms also runs farm tours by appointment.
“These types of every events are a great opportunity to meet individuals who are using our herbs to produce wonderful meals at home for their families,” says Evonok. “It’s rewarding for us to have this kind of connection to our customers. These events are also a great opportunity to meet and build relationships with the chefs who use our produce. There are just a few chefs that we work directly with but many more of the island’s chefs have visited our farm to meet with us and tour our operation. It’s a great way for chefs to get a feel for what we do and to get inspired when developing their menus. We’re also able to ask questions to better understand how our produce is used and what chefs are looking for. It’s a mutually beneficial experience.”
Sheraton’s Executive Chef Greg Gaspar says Ka’anapali Fresh shows how the dynamic has changed for sourcing products. Forty years ago, all restaurant food came from the mainland. Now Gaspar features locally grown fruits and vegetables on both his restaurant and banquet menus and even lists the farmers and regions where they come from.
At Ka’anapali Fresh, each of the 12 chefs is paired with a farm to specifically work with, feature and highlight in their dishes for the weekend. Others, like Monica Bogar’s Napili Fresh, Local, Organic Farm (Napili FLO) and James Simpliciano of SimpliFresh farms, will provide locally grown ingredients for the chefs as well.
“I will be pared with Ono Farms of Hana Maui this year,” says Gaspar. “On Friday night I will be featuring local fruits like star fruit, passion fruit, guava and dragon fruit for my dessert table that the Sheraton Maui will offering. I’m really looking forward to being able to share great fresh locally grown produce with locals and visitors alike. I want to see everyone enjoy the food that we as chefs create in our kitchens and offer it to food lovers. Those who enjoy great food, great wine and top quality Hawaiian entertainment are in for a treat.”
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Ka’anapali Fresh kicks off on Friday, Aug. 30 with a mixology class held outside at the Royal Lahaina Resort at 2pm. Chandra Lucariello will take students on a tour of craft-tail freshology while attendees snack on pupus from the resort. Later that day, the Westin Maui will host a progressive dinner that ends at the Sheraton Maui, where guests will be treated to a performance by Jake Shimabukuro.
Then on Saturday, the Grown on Maui Farmers Market at Whaler’s Village starts at 7:30am. Here’s your chance to rub elbows with local farmers, buy produce and goods and see the island’s wide range of farms. Chef’s booths will feature breakfast items, and the Maui Coffee Association will offer java. There will also be representation from the Neighborhood Farm, Hana Herbs and Flowers and the Maui Flower Growers Association along with the Hawaii AgriTourism Association. After the farmers market, there’s a chance to take a tour of the Ka‘anapali Estate Coffee Farms to see their exotic mokka, catuai and other kinds of Maui-grown coffee.
Marilyn Jansen Lopes narrated the coffee tour at last year’s Ka‘anapali Fresh, and this year Pomai Weigert from Ali‘i Kula Lavender farms will be chronicling the excursion that concludes with coffee tasting and a special catered lunch at MauiGrown Coffee.
Lopes, the owner of Maui Country Farm Tours and is Vice President of the Hawaii AgriTourism Association, says she started the tour business as farm-to-table culinary concepts were just taking off. She thought sharing Maui’s farms could inspire people to support the farms and bring together her love of cooking and gardening.
“It was do or die,” she says. “I needed to create a business and make it work. We specialize in personalized farm tours Upcountry and West Maui Coffee Tours. The cost of gasoline, insurances, reaching out to the visitor industry for the first time was challenging for me. My other inspiration was Lani Weigert, co-founder of the Lavender Farm. I felt they are the role model for all farms to create added value products and show the world that farmers can make a living by partnering with others within a 50-mile radius and make a community thrive.”
At the Ali’i Lavender Farm, Lani Weigert says it’s the experiential process of agri-tourism that keeps it a success. Each farm is different, and at Ali’i Lavender guests get to stroll and sniff, taste and touch the various varieties of Lavender and other plants on property. They have a gift shop selling more than 70 different products that feature lavender.
Saturday evening, farmers and chefs will converge yet again at The 5-0 Book ‘Em Dinner. Ka‘anapali will entertain with teams like Hyatt Regency Maui’s Executive Chef Gregory Grohowski and Evonok Farms with Walter Evonuk. The chefs will present a chilled dish and a hot dish, and Grohowski is going with a Vietnamese-inspired menu that will honor the herbs from Evonok.
You can almost taste the thrill from reading the menu. There’s a “Vietnamese Style” salad with seared Maui Cattle Company Beef, Ali’i Kula Lavender Seasoned & Marinated in Lemon Juice, Evonuk Farms Salad of Mint, Cilantro, Basil, Arugula & Romaine and a Lavender-noun cham Vinaigrette, Shallots, Peanuts and Shrimp Chip. Or there’s the “Ahi Blossoms” Hawaiian Rib Eye Tuna with Sushi Rice, Opilio Crab, Tobanjan Sauce and Green Onion.
Multiply this by a dozen chefs and you have a culinary celebration that’s 50 years in the making. Another treat? There will be live performances by internationally renowned Hawaiian artists Amy Hanaiali‘i Gilliom and Makana.
“I’m excited to hang out with other professional chefs,” says Chef Christian Jorgensen about Saturday night. Jorgenson, who owns CJ’s Deli, will create a menu using Maui Gold Pineapple. “We all work too hard and need to get out of our restaurants and see what creative items each other is making. I also hope to see some new products being grown upcountry that I can start using in my restaurant. This is a wonderful opportunity for the farmers to showcase and sell their products.”
One intriguing pairing is that of Chef Milliet of the Westin, who will be teamed with Āina Haumana, the non-profit educational leg of Ho’o Pono farms. Aina Haumana operates five acres as a living classroom with three different levels (grades) of student groups. Their program teaches sustainable farming education to grow future farmers.
“As chefs, our responsibility is to provide the best tasting food to our guests,” says Milliet. “By utilizing local product that are just picked and ripened we are achieving this goal as well as supporting the local farmer and the community. When we talk to our server about the product that we serve and are passionate about the product, the server become ambassador of the product. They share our passion with the guest and this help to create an awareness of the product.”
Finally, on Sunday people can book ocean and sand play activities in Ka‘anapali. If they mention the words “Maui Food Bank” when doing so, the activity companies will make a donation to that non-profit.
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Lani Weigert, who is also the executive director of the Hawaii AgriTourism Association, says that there are more battles to be won to develop the industry. That ranges from getting new legislation to promoting awareness of the local farms and the restaurants that use them. She says that sometimes the community fails to see the upside of jobs and the additional spending at peripheral businesses when looking at agritourism, and instead focuses things like dust and traffic.
“Lack of political will is definitely one of the challenges,” says says. “Without the lawmakers stepping up and pushing through legislation that can create economic opportunities for farmers, with laws that promote (not prevent) and welcome diversity, it continues to be a hard, long road. On Maui, the next step is getting an ag tourism bill adopted. Councilman Mike White and, previous to him, Gladys Baisa are the champions on deck to make that happen for Maui County.”
She says culinary events like Ka‘anapali Fresh play a role in moving things forward and help pump money into the industry.
“The trends have directed people to agriculture,” she says. “Ag is cool and sexy now. People want to be a part of it. Events like this raise awareness to both visitors and locals alike. Ka‘anapali Fresh stimulates both tourism and agriculture industries. They are necessary.”
For more information on Ka‘anapali Fresh, visit KaanapaliFresh.com. You can find more information on the Hawaii Agritourism Association, at Hiagtourism.org.