Not the oil-soaked Gulf Coast - it's Hawaiian lava black sands. Photo by Steve Cadman via Flickr
Salamanders zip by, wild flowers grow along the mountainside and a misty marine layer floats up from the Pacific. Sounds like it could be Hawai'i but it was Will Rogers State Park near Topanga Canyon where I took a hike recently and learned the latest about the Big Island. While climbing to Inspiration Point, I remembered scrambling across moonscapes of volcanic lava rock previously and caught up on the current molten smoldering glow of Kilauea Volcano, plus news of its plentiful farmers markets and locally sourced eateries. Some recipes may wet your appetite:
From California's coast looking westward toward Hawai'i. Photos by R Cruger
While climbing the trail, I looked across the Pacific longingly at the islands and met Ann Shepphird who blogs for her Gardens-to-Tables website and has written extensively on Hawaiian agritourism and restaurants aboard the locavore movement. It's a natural way to eat in Hawai'i, as she says, they live in an "agricultural paradise!"
With the goal of sourcing 60 percent of its produce from certified local farms, thanks to the Hawaii Farm Bill 1471, Hawaiian chefs tap into farms, a goat dairy, fish companies, and their own gardens. Ann shares some chef's enticing recipes, like Apple Banana Kabucha Pumpkin Soup from the Fairmont Orchid, the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows' Grilled Vegetable Gazpacho with Hamakua heirloom tomatoes and watermelon, and Hamakua Mushroom Risotto from the Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort. Try them with your own local ingredients.
Poi, anyone? Pineapple and rambutan at Hilo Farmer's Market. Photo by Synthetic Aperture via Flickr
Not-to-be-missed, the historic daily Hilo Farmer's Market is filled with papaya, mango and macadamia nuts, and coffee from the nearby Puna Coast. More than 200 local farmers and crafters sell their produce and wares. In season now is soursop with its pineapply, strawberryish and coconutty taste. There's also tropical fruits such as jackfruit, longan and rambutan, vegetables like taro and warabi (fiddlehead ferns), and exotic flowers from anthuriums to protea. Wash down a coconut pastry with an awa juice and pick up locally fished opihi or uhu.
Hawaiin ecotourism has played an important role in keeping the islands sustainable and Big Island Farm Bureau's Hawai'i AgVentures offers informative agri-tours of sustainable and family farms, tastings and harvests. There are 65 farm stop's on the Big Island (a/k/a Hawai'i), including the organic Honopua Farm and Waimea Lavender -- plus Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawai'i Authority's research of deep-ocean energy generation, whales and micro-algae farming.
Check out organic farms on Big Island Farm Agventures. Photo by Kanu Hawaii via Flickr
The classic complaint about Hawaii is that the food is expensive. I realize it's a long way to the mainland for supplies, but still I've wondered why. Is it the little orchids decorating every plate instead of a sprig of parsley that ups the cost? In a fertile and diverse environment with 11 of the world's 13 climates, ideal for farming, agriculture accounts for $1.9 billion of the local economy and the Big Island has 820,000 acres of the state's 1.3 million acres for agriculture, according to the University of Hawai'i, per Gardens to Tables. Much is exported but there's plenty of local fresh food to be had on the Big Island.
Topanga Canyon or Big Island?
The east side of the Big Island doesn't offer long stretches of white sand beaches, but there's plenty of exotic black sand, lava tubes, waterfalls, and an endless to-do list from snorkeling to mountain climbs, landscapes from rainforests to jungles, World Heritage sites--Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park and the Marine National Monument. And now my favorite island can be reached directly with United/Continental Airlines nonstops between Hilo and California, starting June 9 from LA/June 11 from San Francisco. Since direct flights are generally more energy-efficient, I'll skip hopping from Honolulu and Maui.
Also, you can stay at the solar powered guesthouse on the organic Kona Rainforest Coffee Farm where geese handle weed control and rain is harvested for the 41-acres where beans are picked, dried and roasted or the Ka'awa Loa Plantation and Guest Retreat on a 5.6-acre sustainable plantation.
Hawai'i produces 65% of the world's macadamia nuts. Photo by 4Nitsirk via Flickr
When not eating, visit the lush HÄmÄkua Coast, pastoral Waipi'o Valley, hike up Maunakea, bike KÄ«lauea volcano -- if it doesn't erupt and temporarily cool off the planet while spewing.