The Kona Coffee Marketplace — Festival of Artists and Ethnic Foods drew hundreds of people on Saturday, including a couple who first heard of the event some three decades ago while visiting Hawaii on their honeymoon.
Nicki and Jeff MacKenzie of Campbell River, British Columbia, weren’t able to attend the coffee festival back in 1982 because their honeymoon on Oahu wrapped up in October, just before November’s Kona Coffee Festival. But the couple kept the hope in mind and while browsing the Internet this fall for a visit to the Big Island for their 30th anniversary.
Then Nicki came across a contest offering a seven-day, round-trip visit for two with full access to the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival.
She entered and on Oct. 15 — right around their anniversary — the couple won the contest. More than 7,000 people entered the contest sponsored by the festival, Alaska Airlines and the Sheraton Kona Resort and Spa at Keauhou Bay.
“We love it,” Nicki said as she wove a lauhala bracelet during the Saturday event, as she described the various coffee-related activities and events they’ve taken part in. “It has been fabulous, and I have a whole new respect for coffee. Everybody has got to do this because it was very enlightening.”
She also noted the festival is a great event for residents as well as visitors to attend since it shows the “real” Hawaii, not something fabricated to replicate the Hawaiian experience.
“We wanted to see what was going on — the real Hawaii stuff,” she said. “And it’s great exposure, a huge thing for Kona coffee.”
The coffee marketplace celebrates and promotes Kona, the area’s prized coffee and the edible heritage of the people who make up the community, said Glenda Yamagata-Passalacqua, event chairwoman and coffee festival board member.
“We’re trying to expose everybody to Kona coffee to keep the area coffee industry alive,” she said.
The event is presented by Kamehameha Schools, along with a handful of sponsors. Les Apoliona, who manages the schools’ Hawaii Island holdings, said nearly 70 percent of farms in West Hawaii — approximately 365,000 acres — operate on leased KS land.
“We want to be responsible landowners and help ensure farmers are successful,” said Apoliona, noting the reasoning is drawn from the schools’ strategic agricultural plan. … “With the amount of acreage we have in coffee, we have a responsibility to support the industry and farmers to make the industry more successful.”
Now housed in Old Kona Airport Park’s Makaeo Events Pavilion, the predecessor to today’s festival began nearly 35 years ago at Hale Halawai under a different name, the International Marketplace, she said. It moved to Makaeo four years ago.
“It evolved so much and just outgrew Hale Halawai,” she said, later noting she believes the festival throughout the years has been helping promote the area’s coffee, as well as the Kona name.
This year, the festival of artists and foods poured out of the Hawaii County pavilion.
Each booth has to have a heritage theme and be operated by a local nonprofit, Yamagata-Passalacqua said. No businesses or restaurants are allowed. The nonprofits do not pay a booth fee, but cover a county charge for vending.
“When they sell food the money goes straight to them,” she said.
The intent of the food portion of the festival is to promote the area’s food heritage, support nonprofits and encourage youth interest in the Kona coffee industry.
“Now, kids don’t know about coffee and we want them to realize this is our heritage,” Yamagata-Passalacqua said. “We want to get the young kids involved.”
The coffee festival wraps up today following several planned activities around the Kona area, including a scholarship bowling tournament, coffee 101 seminar and makahiki concert. For full details, visit konacoffeefest.com.