Local culinary expert Audrey Wilson shares ideas with UH Hilo agritourism class

“Aunty Audrey” shares her love of food and her admiration for the culture and community of Hawai‘i. She also discusses what she believes to be underlying issues affecting the agricultural world.

By Anne Rivera.

Audrey Wilson stands for photo with class of eight and instructor.
Audrey Wilson (center front) stands with agritourism class taught by Brooke Hansen (back left). Courtesy photos.

Local culinary expert Audrey Wilson visited an agritourism class at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo on Monday to share her thoughts on her love of food and her admiration for the culture and community of Hawai’i.

While talking with students studying agritourism with Brooke Hansen, who is an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Anthropology, “Aunty Audrey,” as she’s known locally, also discussed some underlying issues she thinks are affecting the agricultural world.

Hansen invited Wilson to speak to her class because her cookbooks are a documentation of the richness and deepness of the cultural traditions here on Hawai’i Island. Wilson has authored Aunty Audrey’s Big Island Eats (Mutual Publishing, 2010, out of print), What the Big Island likes to Eat (Mutual, 2008),  and A Mother’s Gift to Her Three Sons (self published, 2007, see review by columnist Lee Cataluna.

“These books are academic sources about our diversity and appreciating it,” explains Hansen. “It is much more than just a cookbook.”

Audrey Wilson speaks to class.
Audrey Wilson during her presentation to an agritourism class at UH Hilo.

Wilson says the reason behind her visit was to bring awareness of the agricultural situation in Hawai‘i.

“It’s scary that 90 percent of our food is imported,” she says. “We need to improve that and bring that number down.”

Hansen believes the agricultural crisis can be solved by harnessing the tourist industry.

“Interfacing with the tourist industry will increase local food production,” she says. “Agricultural food tours are a great example of where everyone wins.”

Hansen says the goal is not just to inspire a generation of farmers but to change the thinking on food sources and to create innovative ideas on how to adapt traditional professions, like farming, to the modern world.

“The real vision is to start developing this pathway of sustainability in the College of Agriculture, across the campus, and invite anyone who wants to participate,” Hansen says.

She explains that people ranging in expertise and specialties are needed—such as social scientists, business professionals, agricultural specialists, and people interested in tourism—in order to curate and maintain a sustainability pathway.

Wilson and Hansen agree that teaching tourists, visitors, and local community members about how to contribute to sustainability is fundamental in increasing local food production.

“What it’s really about is the need to develop a more agricultural community because not being able to find locally grown food, even at the farmer’s market, is a problem,” says Wilson.

While sharing her thoughts, Aunty Audrey advocated that taking the time to grow a product that is needed and wanted makes all the difference—she believes farming in Hawai‘i is not based on competition but togetherness and unity.

Wilson uses Hamakua Heritage Farms as an example of how the local people of Hawai‘i can utilize the need and demand of local products to find an economic niche in farming. Hamakua Heritage Farms cultivates and harvests the ali‘i mushrooms for Hawai‘i and only sells statewide. By only selling within the state, Hamakua Heritage Farms is supporting their community—they also offer tours of the farm, inviting tourists to see the unique side of Hawai‘i Island.

Wilson notes that farming is a continuous job with no holidays or vacations, however it is extremely rewarding in many ways and is more sustainable than many realize. The demand for locally harvested products is high—chefs and restaurant owners want fresh ingredients because consumers and tourists demand tasty and original food.

Tourism supports the local restaurants, the restaurants in turn support local farmers—this simple equation can boost the economy in Hawai‘i as well as significantly lessen the dependence on imports which is vital for the advancement and independence of local communities.


Anne Rivera (junior, communication) is a public information intern and Zoe Coffman (senior, art) is a photography intern in the Office of the Chancellor.

-UH Hilo Stories