I was never much interested in Hawaii. To me, the mere mention of it evoked images of umbrella drinks, honeymooners and plastic grass skirts. If there was anything authentic about America's 50th state, I figured, it was the kitsch. But when an airport layover left me in Honolulu for a day, I realized I had shortchanged the Aloha State. Yes, there is kitsch aplenty, but Hawaii's natural beauty washed over me like a Waikiki wave. Azure water, majestic volcanic slopes, lush tropical vegetation. I just had to see more. So when I got the chance to return, I set out to explore the beauty of this state from the inside out, as an agritourist.
Agriculture is Hawaii's third-largest industry, albeit a distant third behind the military and tourism. Indeed, farming has become increasingly difficult in Hawaii, which has high costs for land, labor, and shipping. To stay in business, a small but growing number of farmers are jumping into agritourism, bringing visitors to their farms for tours, tastings and shopping. In Italy agriturismo supports hundreds of family farms. There, hosts invite tourists to stay or even work on the farm. Crops you help grow become precious souvenirs.
According to the only reports done on the topic, agritourism in Hawaii grew 48 percent from 2000 to 2003, and professor and extension economist Kent Fleming from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, who studies agritourism, says it has probably increased another 50 percent since. In 2003, the last official count, 187 Hawaiian farms participated in agritourism, with their visitors spending $34 million a year statewide