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Proposal would allow tours and gift shops at small farms

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HILO » Hawaii County lawmakers are considering a bill that would make it easier for small farmers to give tours to visitors, usually for a fee, and to sell related agricultural and nonagricultural products at a gift shop. Large agricultural operations already can do this.

The legislation, which the council is scheduled to hear today, proposes separating agricultural activities into "major" and "minor" operations, West Hawaii Today reported.

Minor operations would be required to limit annual visitors to 5,000, with a maximum 100 visitors per week. Major operations would be allowed up to 30,000 visitors per year. The Hawai‘i Agritourism Association and other supporters say the bill will help small farmers survive the vagaries of the economy and weather by providing a reliable supplemental income source.

Opponents worry the measure will distract farmers from their primary occupation of food production, while increasing the value of agricultural land and property taxes.

Freshman Puna Councilman Zendo Kern proposed the bill. He’s been trying to draft a measure balancing the needs of small farmers and would-be "agritourism" businesses with rural neighbors who worry about impacts such as increased traffic and noise.

Major agritourism operations still would need to get their plans approved, while minor ones would not. Both types would be required to turn over financial records upon the request of the planning department to verify compliance.

North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff said she hopes the bill can be delayed a little longer to ensure it’s the best it can be before moving it on to its final hearing later this month.

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