This section currently includes two articles about agtourism:
Introduction to Agtourism
Agtourism Comes of Age in Hawaii

Introduction to Agtourism

Kent Fleming, Ph.D.
CTAHR, University of Hawaii-Manoa

Very simply, "Agtourism" (or "agritourism") is the overlap between agriculture and tourism. It has been called "farm tourism" and described as "travel associated with farming." It includes a range of components, including but not limited to farm visits with retail sales of locally-grown produce, longer-term farm stays, bicycle, walking and automobile tours throughout a farming region, farm-related bed and breakfast (B & B) accommodations, restaurants serving regional cuisine, agricultural fairs and festivals, and living history farms. (Are farmers' markets a component of Agtourism? Perhaps, to the extent that farmers are actually directly involved in selling and in making a direct appeal to visitors and to the extent that tourists are visiting the market, farmers markets could be considered part of Agtourism. But for the purposes of this discussion they are not included.
Isamu Sakata from Tokyo picks coffee cherry on a tree he purchased for one year at Love Family Farms in South Kona on the Big Island. Coffee trees are purchased on a one year contract and in return buyers receive anywhere from 25 to 150 bags of coffee
Photo by Ken Love

Tourists increasingly are interested in learning more about the region they are visiting, learning about its local culture(s), traditions, environmental issues, and agriculture (including the regional cuisine). The "new visitor" wants to learn about and experience regional characteristics that make a particular place unique. The new visitor is not attracted by the increasing global homogenization that is a consequence of vast retail, food and accommodation franchises. The new visitor is relatively less satisfied by the conventional pastimes and entertainments offered by most resorts. These new visitors are often more well-educated and well-traveled, with many alternative travel opportunities from which to choose. Given their array of choices, Hawaii is in competition with a wide range of other tropical destinations vying for the visitor's attention. Hawaii cannot simply rely, as it has in the past, on advertising Waikiki, golf courses and sunny beaches.

Agtourism is not new. It is well established in many parts of Europe and the Mainland, especially Italy, France, Ireland and the UK, New England, and Northern California. And almost universally Agtourism is becoming economically more important. Wherever Agtourism has become a priority, it is now a significant component of the agricultural economy. A number of Hawaii farmers have already been reaching out to the visitor, but in general Hawaii Agtourism is relatively underdeveloped. Strengthening Hawaii Agtourism is the single development that could have the greatest impact on (a) the economic viability of most individual farms and the farming community as a whole, and (b) the visitor's desire to extend his or her stay.

Farm visits:
Some farmers have made their farms accessible to visitors. Visitors are invited to observe the growing crop, to view the processing of the harvest, and to taste and to purchase the final product. The whole visit usually takes just one or two hours, but some farms have facilities for visitors to linger, perhaps to have a picnic and simply enjoy the rural ambiance.

Junichi and Yumiko Yamamoto plant a cinnamon tree while on their honeymoon in Kona Hi. June 99. Love Family farms offers visitors a chance to pick the type of fruit tree they wish to plant on the farm. Yumiko planted a fig tree in 1988 on her first trip to Hawaii.



Photo by Ken Love

In the Kona region coffee farmers have taken the lead in organizing their farms to be open for farm visits. However, there is a wide range of crops grown in the "Kona Coffee Belt," and most of these crops have the potential to be part of a farm visit. Of course, there are many issues involved in making a productive commercial farm into a visitor attraction. There are legal issues, such as liability insurance and lease-rental agreements. Location is also critical, especially ease of access. Extra capital investment in buildings and infrastructure is almost always necessary. Perhaps most important is the farmer's personality, the farmer's enthusiasm for what he or she is doing and the farmer's desire and patience to educate the visitor. The Holualoa Coffee Farm in Kona is a good example of a successful commercial coffee operation that effectively integrates enjoyable farm visits.

Similar to a farm visit in many ways, a pick-your-own operation additionally allows visitors to pick their own fruit or vegetables. There is a wide range of pick-your-own arrangements in practice, but few have been shown to be appropriate for the Kona region. These kinds of operations are more common in New England.

Farm stays:
A farm stay differs from a farm visit primarily in the time spent on the farm and the more active involvement of the visitor. For example, a visitor could live on a coffee farm for a week, learn how to perform a seasonal farming operation, perhaps pruning trees or picking coffee cherries, and then actually practice the activity. This form of Agtourism has potential in Kona, but as yet there are no well known examples here.

Bicycle, walking and automobile tours:
Obviously bicycle, walking and automobile tours throughout a farming region, simply to enjoy the environment and scenery, have been popular for a long time. Two very important issues need to be dealt with. Traditionally, farmers provide the views but generally have not benefited economically from their contribution to the visitor industry. However, they will begin to benefit as they reach out to the visitor. A number of things need to be done to improve overall access. The infrastructure (e.g., bike paths) needs to be improved. Visitor-friendly information needs to be made available (e.g., a Napa-Sonoma style "farm trails" map with coordinated signs at the various farms and farm-related sites along the farm trail.)

Farm-related bed and breakfast accommodations:
B & B's have also been popular for centuries in Europe, but until a relatively short while ago, not in the US. (In fact, they have only very recently become legal in Hawaii.) The range of accommodation in B & B's is as wide as it is for hotels, although in general the B & B cost is lower and the individuality is greater for the equivalent level of hotel accommodation. However, the distinguishing characteristic of the Agtourism B & B is its direct connection with the agrarian environment. As with farm visits, B & B operations can be profitable but there are many legal, location, and personality issues involved in their success.

Restaurants serving regional cuisine:
Many restaurants for a variety of reasons may serve locally-produced items. What distinguishes an Agtourism type restaurant is regional dishes prepared by chefs who have sought out the produce of local farmers. Furthermore, these chefs will clearly identify the ingredients as locally grown (e.g., "Hawaii-Grown") and work cooperatively with the farmer as a partner in a strategic alliance for their mutual benefit. There is always an educational component of Agtourism, and therefore it is also important that the visitor is served by knowledgeable staff who care to share their appreciation of locally grown food. Similarly, retail stores that wish to incorporate the Agtourism vision, such as KTA, will work directly with local farmers to feature local production, presented as estate-brands and other clearly identified brands (e.g., KTA's "Mountain Apple" brand). Ideally, they will also provide attractive, useful information for those possibly unfamiliar with the product.

Agricultural fairs and festivals:
Again, country fairs have long beenpopular, especially around harvest time. Often however, as an area has become more urbanized, fairs have lost their farm-related emphasis. To the extent that they have maintained their agrarian character or have been revitalized as primarily rural in nature, they can be an important aspect of Agtourism. Recently, a number of agriculturally-related festivals have been initiated, most notably the Napa Mustard Festival. The main focus is not necessarily a harvested product, but rather an integrated series of activities (e.g., photo contests, dinners, etc.) featuring the particular rural region.

Living history farms:
As with most other components of Agtourism, living history farms are a very well-developed, long popular feature of Western European tourism. And as with farm visits, there is an emphasis on the growing, harvesting and processing of the crop. But living history farms differ in that the focus is on how the crops were grown, harvested, and processed, with the additional important interest in how the farm family lived and worked (e.g., rural domestic architecture, farm implements and household utensils).Developing a living history farm requires vision and is a major community undertaking, well beyond the scope of an individual farmer. But the commitment of time, effort and expense is worth it. Kona's Uchida Coffee Farm, for example, is an extraordinary accomplishment , protecting an invaluable site and providing a fascinating educational experience for visitors. It also functions as a vital component of an overall Agtourism effort.

[Uchida Coffee Farm]
The Uchida Coffee Farm

The mountainous Kona Coffee Belt has many of the Agtourism pre-requisites: natural beauty, a thriving commercial agriculture, interesting crops unfamiliar to visitors, culture of historical interest, unique architecture, and excellent weather. But it has another important advantage: a large number of visitors who already come to the Kona area. On-going Agtourism attractions and special events, such as a spring coffee cherry blossom festival, could entice these visitors to stay longer and to gain more from their visit to the Kona region. Eventually Kona would come to be a destination known, at least in part, for its Agtourism attractions. This situation would benefit visitors and the visitor industry in general and Kona agriculture in particular.
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Agtourism Comes of Age in Hawaii

Kent Fleming, Ph.D.
CTAHR, University of Hawaii-Manoa

Today the “new visitor” to Hawaii and other destinations throughout the world, desires something more than the traditional tropical beach resort vacation. This trend has become evident over the past decade with the rise of eco-tourism, sports tourism, adventure tourism and a wide variety of other interest-oriented vacation options. In August 1999 the San Francisco Chronicle’s Sunday Travel Section’s lead story told about one of the most extraordinary types of tourism: “disaster-tourism”, featuring whole families following tornadoes and other “real-time” weather disasters. The point is that special interest tourism is the real growth area of tourism. Agtourism dramatically enhances the visitor’s experience. And for those of us interested in the sustainability of agriculture, our primary concern is how agtourism reduces marketing risk and strengthens the profitability of farms that successfully entice visitors. The increased net farm income is particularly desirable because it can be achieved without compromising important environmental and social responsibilities. Often an agtourism enterprise provides greater active involvement for farm family members and makes the whole farming operation more interesting for all concerned.

Farms have always provided tourists with amenities, such as picturesque views, a sense of local color, and informal picnic spots, but farmers have also found it difficult or impossible to capture any economic benefit from these. Roadside stands offering surplus in-season produce, often at discounted prices, have sprouted up sporadically. But most who have tried this enterprise have also found that it takes excessive labor, labor that is often not readily available. Agtourism is different. It is a concerted year-round effort that is highly sensitive to the visitors’ special needs and interests. The South Kona Fruit Stand is a model example of a farm that markets to the “new” visitor. All of the six acre farm’s produce is sold at retail prices at a newly built, attractive roadside stand. A wide variety of tantalizing fruits are beautifully displayed, and the person who is in charge is committed to meeting the visitor’s needs, always well informed, helpful and patient with the constant flow of curious, potential buyers.

For the past 20 years thousands of Western European farmers, especially in Britain and Ireland, France and Northern Italy, have been offering “farm stays”. The same trend is seen in New Zealand. Farm stays, simple farm-related bed-and-breakfast style operations, are popular with both visitors and farmers. The popularity of agricultural-related visits is enormous and continues to grow with increasing urbanization in relatively nearby regions. Pockets of agtourism are well developed on the Mainland, especially in New England and California. A good example is the celebrated Napa Valley, still primarily agricultural but situated less than an hour north of the five million urban inhabitants of the San Francisco Bay Area. Today one-quarter of Napa’s multi-million dollar agricultural income is derived directly from agtourism activities. At the south end of the San Francisco Bay, the Santa Clara Valley runs from Palo Alto to San Jose, covering an area similar in size to the Napa Valley. The Santa Clara Valley is generally acknowledged to have the richest agricultural soils and one of the best growing climates in California. Thirty years ago both regions were agricultural valleys facing very similar urban pressures. Today Santa Clara Valley, now known infamously as the Silicon Valley, is completely non-agricultural; Napa Valley by contrast remains agricultural, invigorated by a vibrant agtourism component and assured of a sustainable future in agriculture. The former is one of the nation’s worst examples of uncontrolled urban sprawl; the latter continues to be one of the most beautiful of American landscapes and more economically prosperous and environmentally healthy than ever.

There are examples of successful agtourism attractions in Hawaii, but generally the potential of this niche market has not yet been fully realized in this state. Agtourism is not a “cure-all”, but wisely implemented, it can have comparably beneficial effects on Hawaii agriculture. Even when agtourism does not have a huge impact on the overall agricultural economy, for those individuals who do include an agtourism component in their marketing plan, the financial benefits are substantial, often providing the difference between a profitable and an unprofitable farming operation and between a sustainable and an unsustainable agricultural region.

The so-called Kona Coffee Belt, a mountainous, picturesque region exceptionally conducive to coffee production, runs about 30 miles from Holualoa south through Honaunau. The area is about the same size as the famed Napa Valley. A few Kona coffee farms offer visitors a chance to see how coffee is grown and processed and to taste and to purchase the final product.
Desmond Twigg-Smith’s Holualoa Coffee Farm is an excellent example of an effective agtourism attraction. The farm is well-situated, reasonably close to the traditional centers of “tourist” activity but located in the pleasant Kona Coffee Belt environment. While this farm is not on the main highway, it offers easy access for cars and even for a bus or two. The farm is a “working farm”, but everything has been designed to accommodate visitors, including amenities such as picnic areas and restrooms. The capital investment is obviously greater than would be required for a bare-bones, low-cost coffee production system. All of the workers have their normal production duties, such as milling or roasting, but they also must be ready to show visitors around and answer questions. Therefore, labor costs are higher than for a highly efficient wholesale producer/ processor. However, the additional ownership and operating costs are more than offset by the fact that all of the coffee grown on the seven acre coffee farm is sold at retail prices, primarily through the on-farm retail shop and by subsequent mail orders from those who have previously visited the farm. Two years ago the wholesale price for coffee cherry averaged $1.40 per pound, well above the break-even cost of production. But today the wholesale price is less than half of that amount. However, during this same time period the retail price has only declined marginally. A successful agtourism enterprise thus not only helps to increase farm profitability, it can also function to reduce risk substantially.

While the economic benefits can be considerable, it cannot be stressed too strongly that agtourism is not for everyone, not even for most farmers. A successful attraction obviously needs a good location and presentation, but most importantly the owner/manager must have the appropriate personality. He or she needs to genuinely enjoy having visitors on the farm and to enjoy teaching them about the growing and processing of the crops. Agtourism includes a wide range of enterprises in addition to farm visits. Rural bed-and-breakfasts, for example, are an integral component of the visitor’s overall agtourism experience. But each kind of attraction demands different abilities and interests. Desmond Twigg-Smith, for example, operated a B&B in Holualoa before developing his coffee farm. He clearly enjoys the farm business but is less enthusiastic about his earlier B&B experience. He speculates, somewhat facetiously, that the average “burn-out” for a B&B operator is less than 2 years. By contrast Diane Shriner, who operates a nearby B&B and is the past president of the Big Island B&B Association, speaks with passion about the pleasures of having a B&B. She and her husband grow examples of various tropical fruits for the interest of their visitors but are not at all interested in growing fruit commercially.

Coffee farmers have taken a lead in developing agtourism attractions, and there is not a need for many new coffee agtourism enterprises. Rather there is a need for tropical fruit farms with an agtourism component. The South Kona Fruit Stand has demonstrated one approach. If one adopts the perspective of the agtourism visitor, the visitor’s needs become evident. For example, it is obvious that someone visiting the coffee region would like to visit a contemporary working coffee farm. But it is important to perceive that now the visitor, rather than touring yet another modern coffee farm, might prefer to visit a living history farm, such as the Kona Historical Society’s newly opened Uchida Farm. (The Uchida Farm, representing coffee farming conditions at the beginning of the 20th century, is an excellent living history farm in the tradition of the many popular living history farms found throughout Europe.) Another alternative for the visitor would be a tropical fruit farm. All visitors have had bananas and pineapple but few have experienced apple bananas or white pineapple. Other visitor options would include farms that grow and process macadamia nuts or vanilla or cocao. The agtourism possibilities for nursery grown flowers are also numerous. And of course any ag-related visit should include sampling the regional cuisine prepared with Hawaii grown produce. In short, the richer the variety in a region, the greater will be the agtourism appeal. With greater variety visitors will tend to stay longer (perhaps even for a night or two at a B&B) and in the process, spend more money.

This article in slightly different form was originally published in Hawaii Agriculture (Vol. 1: 1 [1999]).

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