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A Unique Ag-Eco-tourism Opportunity on Hawaii’s Big Island

Green Gecko Coffee Farm – A Unique Ag/Eco-tourism Opportunity on Hawaii’s Big Island

Susan Perri

Green Gecko farm is set on Mauna Kea’s gentle western rise on the Big Island of Hawaii. From the top of the farm, you can see down the green slope clear to the blue arc of the Pacific Ocean. Operated by Kealaola LLC, the farm is part small-scale coffee plantation and part botanical garden, and produces premier estate, award-winning Green Gecko Coffee. In the Hawaiian language kealaola means “pathway to life and health.” We incorporate this value into our stewardship of the land, and everything we do. As you survey our environment, it is not just coffee trees that catch the eye but an array of tropical delights from papayas and white pineapples to limes, lemons, and lychees. The rich volcanic soil and considerable rainfall offer ideal growing conditions for world-renowned Kona coffee.

Grown only in the Kona district on the west side of Hawai'i Island, Kona coffee has been an agricultural tradition for over 100 years. Because of its rocky location and the fact that the coffee ‘cherry’ does not ripen all at the same time; therefore, Kona coffee farmers cannot mechanically harvest their trees. Most coffee grown in Kona is graded Prime or better because of the climate, the careful hand-cultivation, and the wet-method processing used throughout the region. Kona is well known for its year-round comfortable climate and low humidity, with temperatures hovering in the balmy low 80s. In order for coffee to legally be called “Kona Coffee” in Hawaii, it must be graded Prime or better. The Kona region contains approximately 600 independent coffee farms. Most are small, usually three to seven acres in size. Traditionally, as with most farms, they are a family business.

Green Gecko Coffee is the proud winner of the multiple Gold Award Medals at the Kona Coffee Council’s premier Cream of the Crop – A Kona Coffee Extravaganza event: both for the Chef’s Choice (awarded by the top chef’s on the Kona/Kohala Coast) and the People’s Choice (awarded by the attendees at the event).

In January 2000, owners Lawton Allenby and Michael Katz purchased the 5-acre parcel in Kealakekua. Though the property had been in agricultural use for centuries, at that time the property was home to a jungle of old growth coffee and a few fruit trees. With diligent care and a vision to create a sustainable family farm, Lawton and Michael managed its conversion to an operating farm and developed the Green Gecko brand.

The farm offers tours so visitors may enjoy the natural beauty of the farm and learn about the sustainable design of the farm and its operations. Visitors have the opportunity to take in breathtaking views and vibrant colors, ranging from exotic fruits to exquisite flowers. Enter a grove of construction grade bamboo, another farm experiment in sustainability, and experience an oasis of green backlit by the Kona sun. Draping its bright turquoise blossoms from a banyan tree, the lovely jade vine gives the landscape an otherworldly quality. Stop and smell one of the many different kinds of citrus trees in bloom: lemon, lime, tangerine or pomelo. If an olfactory experience can qualify as heaven, this would be it.

The unique beauty of Hawaii is alive and thriving at Green Gecko Coffee, and the land itself embodies the rich history of the island. As part of a larger project, Green Gecko Coffee has initiated through the Big Island Resource Development Council and Hawaii State Department of Agriculture, a cultural survey of the land conducted by archaeological experts. This process has unearthed the secrets and stories of the farm, from pre-contact ancient Hawaiian life to Japanese sugar plantations of the 18th century to the present age and what we see now.

For example, when looking at the historical use of the property by ancient Hawaiians prior to contact with western civilization, it is interesting to note the farm lies within a portion the Kona Field System, the largest pre-contact agricultural system of ancient Hawai‘i, which dates back to 1350 A.D. This agricultural system utilized long, low, mounded, inland/seaward running kuaīwi (Hawaiian for “backbone”) walls to form a network pattern of fields. Traditional staple crops such as sugar cane and bananas would be planted on the walls as windbreaks separating fields between clans and the farm contains several remnants of kuaīwi walls throughout the property. Ancient Hawaiian farmers at this spot would have offered prayers to the Hawaiian deity Lono, god of agriculture, with his main temple, or heiau, at nearby Kealakekua Bay. Before coffee became a staple crop in the area, the Kona field system once supported about one-half the population on 1% of the land. It had four zones, each with a different crop and microclimate: (1) kula: dry coastal, with sweet potato and wauke, pili grass; (2) kalu'ulu: ulu or breadfruit plantations; (3) 'apa'a: most intensively cultivated with dryland taro, ti, ko and sweet potato uala; (4) 'ama'u: partially forested with bananas, ferns, trees for canoes and birds for feathers. This speaks to the diversity of the Kona region’s agricultural past; where coffee and bananas now dominate was once home to a variety of endemic, indigenous, and Polynesian introduced plants and tropical fruits.

The rest of the farm is full of such remnants from the past, each telling a tale of how the land was held and cared for by its inhabitants. These tales are as diverse and complex as the history of Hawaii itself. A flat cement slab may have served as a furo (Japanese bathtub) foundation or perhaps for coffee processing. An old cart path which follows a previous kuaīwi is still visible and a possible leftover from a traditional fishing trail running from the mountain to the sea. A rectangular enclosure on the north central portion of the land was a privy or outhouse for Japanese coffee pickers from the plantation days.

The central portion of the land features an idyllic rise shaded by a young banyan tree with a seating area overlooking the ocean; a perfect spot for commemorating weddings, commitment ceremonies, and other special events.

On average, 1.5 million visitors come to the Big Island each year. The activities for tourists abound and offer a menu of choices to suit individual tastes. A tour of a working, small scale coffee farm like Green Gecko farm is a trip well worth taking and off the beaten tourist track. Walking the grounds and talking with the farmers you learn not only about the unique Kona coffee trade and sample their delicious brew, you have an unparalleled glimpse into Hawaii’s past, present and future.

Tour the farm: Tours are scheduled upon request and include group tours for any occasion or event, from high-end group and corporate travel to families, weddings and other ceremonies or celebrations. Private tours are offered for $100 for up to five people. Up to half of this fee can be applied to coffee purchases. Groups larger than five people can tour the farm at $20 per person. Water, coffee, and aloha beverages are included in the tour fees for all groups. Catered meals available by request for any diet. Visa, MasterCard, American Express, cash, and checks accepted.

Contact: or 808-324-1600

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