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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Tours to offer taste of Hawai'i

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer

The month-old Saturday-morning Farmers' Market in the shady Kapi'olani Community College parking lot below Diamond Head is just the beginning of a number of new projects pairing the University of Hawai'i system with local farmers, the tourist industry and the state.

Pupukea resident Charyl Beatty turns Hawaiian-style fried green tomatoes at the farmers market at Kapi'olani Community College. The Saturday-morning markets are part of a joint effort to encourage culinary tourism.

Rebecca Breyer • The Honolulu Advertiser

By January, Hawai'i visitors will be able to book a unique $95 O'ahu culinary tour that will give them a peek into Chinatown markets, a walk through a Waimanalo "greens" farm, and the fun of cooking and eating a meal featuring local produce and created by a KCC chef.

By next fall, multiday tours covering unique farm products on the Neighbor Islands will be available.

It's all part of a convergence of ideas that backers hope could launch Hawai'i as a "farmers market" city on the scale of Seattle or Vancouver, and a culinary destination in competition with California's Napa Valley.

The state Department of Agriculture envisions a state-subsidized farmers-market-style "Gathering Place" on 4 to 5 acres of state waterfront land that stretches between Fisherman's Wharf and John Dominis restaurant.

"We need a new attraction," said Matthew Loke, administrator for the Agricultural Development Division of the state Department of Agriculture. Four private developers are interested in the $25 million to $30 million project that would boost diversified agriculture, bolster Hawai'i's small farmers and create an estimated 460 new jobs in the first year alone, he said.

"You look at all the trends and the farmers market has been an immensely popular venue," Loke said. "The KCC market has been like a test pilot for us. It's fantastic."

"Gathering Place" plans created by consultant James Hollyer call for a low-rise, Lahaina-style open farmers' market along the Kewalo Basin waterfront that would boost tourism and provide a unique experience for residents and visitors as part of the rebirth of Kaka'ako. It could offer everything from fresh products to chef demonstrations, including cooking classes and even a culinary museum.

"Pike's Place (Market in Seattle) gets 9 million visitors a year, more than we have in the state with our population and 4 million visitors combined," said Hollyer. "It's a huge draw. So what if we got just a little bit of that? What if we created this culinary mecca? That's where the synergy with KCC comes together."

The Hawai'i Community Development Authority in charge of overseeing the redevelopment of Kaka'ako hopes to put out a formal request for proposals in the next year.

Karl Heyer, 9, and his sister Kelley, 7, select flowers for their mother at the farmers market at Kapi'olani Community College. The KCC market has been a "test pilot" for the state's diversification efforts.

Rebecca Breyer • The Honolulu Advertiser

"It's a very good niche idea for Hawai'i, and would be a good addition to the area," said Sandy Pfund, HCDA interim executive director.

As the state looks at a "Gathering Place" that could be complete in three to five years, Ron Takahashi, chairman of the two-year Culinary Arts program at KCC, has a much faster time line for pushing Hawai'i's Pacific Rim cuisine beyond Hawai'i shores.

"We have grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to work on a culinary tourism program," he said. "So what we've done is develop a 'farm-to-table' cooking class featuring the foods of Asia and the Pacific, where we introduce tourists to the farms, to Chinatown and also to cooking classes on campus."

There are even plans to to expand the program to all islands as a tie-in with local community colleges.

"The Norwegian Cruise Lines wants this, to be able to offer a different tour to their customers on every island," he said. "The wholesalers would arrange the ground and air and hotels, and we'd provide the culinary tour component. We'll have the optional (one-day) tour by January, and the rest we're looking at maybe by October of 2004."

The one-day tour is expected to net at least $100,000 annually for KCC in the first year — money to maintain equipment that the Legislature doesn't have to provide, he said.

Meanwhile, as the state's grand plans continue to percolate, several thousand Hawai'i shoppers are being drawn to the KCC farmers' market every Saturday morning from 8 a.m. to noon, looking for fresh Waimea strawberries, bento breakfasts and everything from organic beef to Hawai'i-grown vanilla.

Although the city has sponsored longstanding weekly open markets in neighborhoods around O'ahu, the upscale and exotic farmers' market is the natural next step, says independent farmer Dean Okimoto, who launched the idea together with the Hawai'i State Farm Bureau, food writer/consultant Joan Namkoong and KCC's Culinary Institute of the Pacific under Conrad Nonaka.

'Nalo Greens owner Okimoto sees it as the beginning of Hawai'i creating an elaborate experience around farmers' markets, exotic produce and culinary tourism.

"This is something that's been lacking," he said. "For people coming to Hawai'i, it's no longer just sand, surf and sea. They're looking for different experiences. This can be something pretty big. In Napa, it's huge."

Bok choy and rose grower Allen Hiraoka said markets like this build a whole new level of respect for a society's farmers and could inspire young people to choose agriculture.

"Get the young ones interested," he said.

Hawai'i shoppers, meanwhile, are just grateful to have another opportunity to find new local products at the 25 booths each week.

Last weekend, Lois Chong liked the freshness of the vegetables, while Warren and Shawn Nakamura and their granddaughter Kiralee, 5, had come back twice for the organic beef.

"We like the unique things," said Warren Nakamura, breaking open a freshly baked ginger malassada created by KCC instructor Daniel Swift, who was up all night baby-sitting bread dough. "And the fruits and vegetables are a lot more fresh. We tried the fried green tomatoes, and they're good."

"It's a great tourist entertainment," said Carol Mon Lee, nibbling on a noodle breakfast created by chefs from Chai's Bistro as she wandered among the stalls. "When I'm traveling and see a calendar item mentioning a farmers' market, I'll go. I think people are burned out with all the usual tourist stuff. You want to do something different and learn about the local culture.

"Besides," she said, "everyone has to eat."

Reach Beverly Creamer at bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8013.