Tasting the ‘aina: Kamehameha Schools ag tour, day 1

You may have seen some of my tweets and Instagrams from the Big Island last week and wondered what was going on. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to tag along with several members of the International Food, Wine, & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA) on a tour of Kamehameha School’s agricultural lands, to get a glimpse of what they produce and better understand the vision and use of their land.

Kamehameha Schools inherited about 365,000 acres of land throughout the state of Hawaii, 98 percent of which is in agriculture and conservation. Most of this is located on the Big Island of Hawaii, which makes sense as the island is not only large, but a starting point for much of the state’s culture and history. Through their continued agricultural development, Kamehameha Schools hopes to benefit the community by:

  • Increase market share of locally grown produce, bringing Hawaii a step closer to self-sufficiency
  • Boost the grass-fed beef industry and potentially bring local dairies back to life
  • Host a diverse mix of renewable energy projects to increase the State’s renewable energy mix and reduce carbon emissions
  • Provide new jobs and promote new industries in rural areas
  • Improve the quality of life for our people through healthy food, good jobs, clean energy and sustainable livelihoods

On paper, that sounds quite corporate, which is probably why the tour was a good opportunity to actually meet the farmers who lease this land, see what they’ve done with it, and hear how their products benefit them and the community. Our group landed in Hilo, and we drove across the island to Kona, stopping at Hamakua Springs Country Farm, Hamakua Mushroom, and Kekela Farm, all of whom are partners in Kamehameha Schools’ farm-to-table initiative. They provide their produce for Kamehameha’s commercial real estate lessees like Sam Choy’s and Sheraton Kona. RJ Enterprises (ranch) and Waiākea Uka Ranch are tenants who also provide food to Kamehameha’s commercial tenants for the farm-to-table efforts.

Best of all, we got to gather and taste the products to fully appreciate everyone’s efforts. Here are the people behind the produce:

Touring Big Island agriculture

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First stop: visiting Richard Ha of Hamakua Springs County Farms. The business was started by his father more than 40 years ago, and his mother, Florence, is still active on the farm at 82 years old. Richard and June Ha have since taken over; their daughter Tracy and son-in-law Kimo are the operations managers.

We later had dinner at Sam Choy’s Kai Lanai in Keauhou, where he used the produce we gathered:

Dinner with Sam Choy

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It's a little-known fact that Sam Choy is a lessee of Kamehameha Schools' land. His restaurant, Sam Choy's Kai Lanai, is perched at the top of the hill overlooking Keauhou Bay. When we arrived to drop off the produce we had gathered all day, he greeted us with poke shooters. Zesty!

Pretty cool, huh? Over the next few days I’ll share each day of the tour on my blog, so you can see the farm-to-table movement on the Big Island and get re-acquanted with the Hawaiian culture. The photos you see are just the highlights. To see all photos from the first day, click here.