ON MONDAY, Alec and Mike Sou, owners of Aloun Farms, will be sentenced. This should be a matter of grave concern to all of us. Their incarceration would threaten the food security of the people of this state.
This article is not intended as a defense of the Sous. It will not discuss the case against them, or what they did or did not do. They have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit forced labor. This writing in no way condones or excuses their actions. The purpose is, rather, to point up consequences that their incarceration would have for us which might otherwise go unnoticed before their sentencing.
Hawaii grows less than 15 percent of the food we consume. Aloun Farms produces a major portion of what we grow. They raise more than 70 percent of locally produced pumpkin, cantaloupe, honeydew and sweet corn; more than 40 percent of locally produced broccoli, beans, romaine lettuce and zucchini; and significant amounts of our apple banana, Chinese parsley, head cabbage, won bok, green onion and watermelon.
Recent studies show that vegetables lose their nutrients in days—that "fresh" spinach and broccoli, for example, lose almost all of their nutrients within eight days of being picked. Locally grown crops that are quickly trucked to our markets are important for our health.
Mike and Alec Sou have knowledge no one else possesses for successful growing of many crops. There was little or no diversified agriculture during sugar and pineapple days. It’s all new. The Sous had to find their own way, stumbling along, learning by trial and error what crop succeeded where. Different crops grow well under different conditions. The Sous have far more rain, and far less sunshine, on their farms in Koa Ridge and Waiawa than they encounter on their Ewa farms. Some crops take the rain well, with little mildew or rot. Some require warmth and sunshine. There are a hundred similar variables. Over 33 years, the Sous have slowly acquired the knowledge and have it in their heads. Their knowledge is essential to uninterrupted production of "truck crops" on Oahu.
Additionally, they have developed the markets and the ways to get their crops to markets. All of the structure they have built over decades, which assures the smooth running of a large part of our food chain, would be lost if they were incarcerated. Even if the farm operations were sold, the new farmer would have to go through a long planting and marketing learning curve.
Further, there is fear about who it would be that might buy the farm operation. Large corporations growing genetically modified crops for seed have already bought up huge areas of Oahu and other islands. They have no interest in diversified agriculture, and would replace the fruits, vegetables and melons with crops producing seed that is shipped elsewhere, serving no one in our islands.
The destabilization of the farms on the Ewa Plain could also provide reasons for the current owner of the land, a developer, to return to the Land Use Commission in pursuit of its quest to cover the Ewa farmland with houses. This 1,550-acre area is the highest producing farmland in the state, and is vital to our future.
It is true, then, that the incarceration of the Sou brothers would actually threaten our food security.
The Sous have pleaded guilty to criminal actions, and they will be punished. This article makes no request for a lighter sentence, for leniency. But there are options to incarceration, such as fines, community service, or a combination of those. And sentences of comparable harshness, or burden, can be crafted for time outside the walls as well as within.
Elements for two possible community service projects are suggested here.
Hawaii greatly needs farmers. But young farmers have no way to get started. Aloun’s 1,550 acres on the Ewa Plain border the University of Hawaii-West Oahu. The brothers could set up a program in conjunction with UHWO to train prospective farmers—sharing their knowledge and lending land to students to learn on.
A second possibility: Aloun Farms employs "commercial farming" methods. "Organic farming" works with nature to solve its problems. It also replenishes the nutrients taken from the land, passing richer soil to future generations. But it is difficult to employ on large farms. The Sous could be sentenced to slowly convert to organic practices.
The Sous play an essential role in the continued well-being of our state. We all suffer if they go to jail. Let some way be found to allow them to serve their sentence while serving the community, for the good of us all.