KHON2’s Wake Up 2day and Living808 present a special series from the Island of Hawaii. Trini Kaopuiki went exploring and found the joys of a staycation on Hawaii’s largest island.

Hawaii is the only place in the United States with a commercial cacao production. Cacao usually only grows 15 to 20 degrees north or south of the equator, so Hawaii is the only place in the U.S. where it can grow.

The Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory in Keauhou on Hawaii Island was the first to grow, hand-pick, sun-dry and process only Hawaii-grown cacao into chocolate. Its tree-to-bar operation was the first of its kind in the nation and it produces three Hawaii-grown types of chocolate: milk, dark and rare criollo.

Co-owner Pam Cooper says she and her husband bought the farm in 1997 after moving to Hawaii from North Carolina. Although they had no previous farming experience, there were pods to pick on the farm, so they harvested the cacao. The first batch of grown and made-in-the-USA chocolate was produced in September 2000.

Tours are offered at the farm Wednesdays at 9 a.m. and Fridays at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m.

The Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory is one of the participants at this year’s Big Island Chocolate Festival, May 13-14 at the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel.

Festival organizer Fern Gavalek says the festival brings in experts from around the country to provide education and acquaint mainland chocolate makers with Hawaiian cacao.

There will be agricultural seminars on growing and processing cacao, culinary demonstrations, a college culinary competition and a fundraising gala with the theme “Lavalicious: A Chocolate Salute to the 100th Birthday of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.”

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