When was the last time you sipped on coffee that was grown 50 feet away? Or ate a salad you picked with your hands on the slopes of a dormant volcano? When was the last time you milked a goat and snacked on artisanal goat cheese or ate a pineapple right off the blade of a sharp, silvery machete?
Such are scenes from some of Maui’s most popular Upcountry farm tours, where tourism, agriculture, and sustainable farming have created a tasty new fusion. Gone are the palm trees, Mai Tais, and luaus that clichéd Hawaii is known for—replaced by tailgates, pastures, fence posts, and hard working, everyday farmers. As “farm to table” has exploded on Maui, many visitors are now going a step further and taking the table to the farm—dining, drinking, sipping, and snacking while literally standing in the fields.
Such is the case of the entertaining and informative Maui Pineapple Tour ($65), where visitors journey down bumpy dirt roads to feast on Maui Gold pineapple. Because Maui Gold is left on the plant to the point where it’s slightly overripe, the natural sugars help make it sweet, rather than bitter and sour. That’s the type of information you’ll get while standing out in the fields, listening as guides talk nothing but pineapples while slicing fruit right off the plant.
If it’s pastoral, rural romance you’re after, head to 8-acre O-o Farm on the side of Waipoli Road, where the Luncheon Tour ($58) has quickly become a legendary Upcountry outpost. Wander the grounds with a farm manager who is endlessly passionate about farming and sample exotic, flavorful crops that are plucked directly from the ground. The purple osaka really does taste exactly like leaves of horseradish, and sorrel, fennel, and Toscano kale are a break from Iceberg and Romaine. After all—part of the farm tour is picking your own salad that will soon be served with the lunch, where everything picked is then tossed in a basket and served just a few minutes later. Up at the long, exquisite picnic table that’s shaded by a vine covered trellis, a trained chef prepares the entrée of locally sourced chicken or fish, and French pressed coffee is carefully poured—using beans that were grown on the farm. Guests are invited to bring their own wine to sip in the Upcountry sun, and the setting is nothing short of a hidden, fairytale meal in the forest.
While the scene at O-o Farms is luxurious, a trip to quirky Surfing Goat Dairy is literally more hands on. Visitors really get in on the action while squeezing the teats of a goat, offered as part of the “Evening Chores and Milking Tour” ($14) that takes place at 3:15pm. When the “evening chores” are done for the day, feast on feta in the tasting room and sample the O Sole Mio—a goat cheese paired with sun-dried tomatoes that’s the darling of national contests.
For a much smaller, more intimate experience, and a look at the Upcountry lifestyle, take a tour of Shim Farm in the heart of Keokea. The Shims are a local Chinese family who’ve farmed here for generations and still grow coffee, vegetables, protea, and fruit on the small-scale farm. At $7 the tours are affordable, though are only offered between February and July during official Shim Farm tour season. Aside from seeing the inside workings of a small, family-run coffee farm, travelers will learn how Chinese merchants became the island’s first farmers—at one point even growing potatoes and cotton for Civil War soldiers.
To truly combine history with tasting, however, none of Maui’s Upcountry farm tours compare to the succulent “King’s Visit”—a new offering from MauiWine where some of the winery’s best varietals are served in the lava rock “King’s Cottage.” This humble shelter from the 1800s once housed King David Kalakaua, was used as a local jail and is rich with cultural history. Tastings are capped at only 10 people and can also feature pairings with food from neighboring Ulupalakua Ranch.
On the drive out to Maui’s only winery, stop at farms on the side of the road like popular Kula Country Farms, where farmers still ramble their diesel trucks while bringing their produce to market. At the 40 acre Maui Nui Farm that’s located on Lower Kula Road, peruse the stalls for potatoes, papayas, avocados, or broccoli, and marvel at how much the prices change when you buy food straight from the source. There aren’t any tours officially offered when visiting these working farms, but simply stopping is an experience in itself—feeling the crisp, Upcountry air that smells like freshly cut grass and talking with farmers who sell their crops from stands with huge ocean views.
And, while Upcountry might not offer the sound of waves lapping on sand, the smell of lavender wafting on the breeze is a different sort of enchantment, and ring-neck pheasants loudly squawk as they furiously flit from the fields. The coffee tastes just a little bit fresher when sipped in the spot it was grown—the vegetables pack a crisper snap when nibbling amidst the fields.