Ex-East Bayite Celebrates Hawaii's Sustainable Farms
All images by Kristan Lawson
After St. Mary's College alumnus Tony DeLellis moved to the Big Island in 2002 sight unseen with his partner, fellow Californian Gary Marrow, the pair went exploring whenever their day jobs allowed it, and whenever Mainland friends came to stay.
"We didn't have two weeks going by without getting visitors," DeLellis said when Feast Bay was lucky enough to meet the pair recently.
Showing their houseguests the island's famous landmarks and lesser-known delights revealed in both men a keen tour-guiding talent, which bloomed into a new career: Soon they began leading tours for cruise-ship passengers, then for the public at large.
"We went places and did stuff that no other tour company was doing," DeLellis avowed. "We're still doing that."
"The point is to keep drawing the spotlight onto how things are done locally," Marrow said.
"Most guided tours are scripted, and their guides have to stick to that script, giving the same spiel every day," Marrow added. "But our tours are different because our guides have distinctive personalities, they don't follow scripts, and you can interact with them, so each tour is going to be really different.
"The one thing our guides all have in common is that they feel -- as we do -- really strongly about Hawaiian culture."
Because both men are avid foodies -- while studying business at St. Mary's in Moraga, DeLellis worked at trendy Walnut Creek bars and restaurants -- it's only natural that they've just launched a new Farm, Fork and Fire Tour.
As if devised with Bay Area-ites in mind, this all-day jaunt includes a walking-tasting tour of Hamakua Mushrooms (whose exotic fungi are sustainably "bottle-cultivated" in a mixture of corncob, wheatbran and eucalyptus sawdust); a tour and tasting at lofty Volcano Winery (whose blends and infusions feature whole guavas, honey, jaboticaba berries and silver-needle tea grown right on the premises, as seen in the uppermost photograph); dinner (including freshly harvested Hamakua mushrooms) at the rustic-chic Volcano House restaurant overlooking the caldera of Kilauea, the world's most active volcano -- and more.
Volcano Winery's wines include some that are tailored to pair perfectly with favorite local foods such as kailua pork, ahi poke and even Spam.
"I went to a lot of farms" while researching and assembling this tour, DeLellis explained. "I'm always thinking about sustainability, and I want to inspire other people on this island to think about sustainability too," so sustainability ranks especially high with the outfits that were chosen to be featured on the tour.
He also wants to inspire more farming on the island. After all: The Big Island's abundant rainfall and sunshine, rich volcanic soil, a wildly diverse landscape and other pluses help to make this the world's largest producer of orchids and macadamia nuts. Its historic Parker Ranch -- whose grassy pastures evoke Wyoming -- is one of the nation's largest. Kona coffee is among the world's best. Big Island avocados are sumptuously creamy, and buttery Big Island honey is becoming a thing.
"There's so much good arable land here," DeLellis said. "This is a huge opportunity."
Volcano House buys nearly all of its ingredients from local fishermen and farmers, and donates its compost to local pig farmers -- from whom it also buys pigs.
"That's a completely closed loop. It's the kind of thing you can totally do it here," DeLellis said.
Aloha to that.