"if you go hungry out here, it's because you're not paying attention," declares Kristi Clay of Wailea Agricultural Group, as she pilots her battered yellow Gator truck past stands of palms and of huge heliconias laden with waxy scarlet blooms. Clay wears several hats at the farm; today she's playing tour guide. "Here!" she hollers, tossing a small tree into my lap. "Have some lychees!" Well, call me deprived, but I've never eaten an entire branch of my favorite prohibitively expensive fruit before. Nor, for that matter, have I bitten into a freshly shucked heart of palm, tasted an a'a banana or picked a Sexy Pink, but all this and more I am about to experience in a sampling of three wildly contrasting versions of the fiftieth state's next big thing: agritourism.
Here on the Big Island (which its residents invariably refer to as Paradise), agritourism does not mean shoveling manure at dawn or throwing your back out with a hoe. No, it's about getting a privileged glimpse of Hawaii's agricultural revolution, and then cooking withor simply feasting onits products. And, in every sense, the Big Island's products are growing.
Case in point: Kristi Clay located the lychees in Wailea's mixed-fruit orchards. Not mixed peach and apple and pear; mixed longan, lemon, lime and durian, as well as the spiny vermilion egglike thing that Clay next hands me. (And I thought by now I'd seen every fruit.) It's a pulasana softer, juicier, tarter, bigger lycheeand it's absolutely delicious. Much of the produce here, Clay says, including pulasans, goes wholesale to local distributors because it's too difficult to market on the mainland, where it would fetch a higher price. But Wailea has found a mainland market for fresh hearts of palm, its most novel product. Wailea has sold them very successfully ever since owners Michael Crowell and Lesley Hill first harvested them from the peach palms they'd grown from seeds that they'd brought back from Latin America. "We still have to get seeds from abroad," Clay explains, piloting the Gator through next year's crop, "because we don't have the pollinator here on the Big Island. Nobody knows what it is!"