Hawaii’s agricultural legacy comes from the old, plantation-style, export-based industry that has been in place for centuries. That model helped create our melting pot of Asian peoples, cultures and foods, but this old industry model has been in decline for the past 50 years and bankrupt for the past 20.
Our existing ag institutions, composed primarily of the state Department of Agriculture, the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and the Hawaii Farm Bureau, are inbred with "old think" and must take responsibility for this bankrupt model. This "old think" conformity is one of the major impediments to our state’s goal of moving toward "new think" called Food Security.
This is not a new issue — everyone knows Hawaii imports 90 percent of its food supply; however, the effort to change this deficit so far has been haphazard, and resulted only in developers putting more vacation homes on our ag lands. Hawaii is the only state in the nation that has to reinvent agriculture, if we expect to move to a new model of small, family-run, diversified farms. However, there is no coordinated government effort to promote this new model, and there is no leadership to attain any level of local food sustainability and security as called for in the state’s 2050 Sustainability Plan.
From legislator to consumer, we have given only lip service to promoting our local food supply. For example, Gov. Linda Lingle’s administration included ag as an important industry only after 7 1/2 years in office; every request to Mayor Mufi Hannemann’s administration to convert ag land to residences was approved; the "Important Ag Lands Act" was a cop-out to permit large landowners even more development; following the largest mango festival this summer at the Moana Hotel, none of the chefs continued to order that local fruit; and not only is genetically modified seed corn now our largest agricultural product, but GMO grower Pioneer has now cut down existing mango orchards to plant more of the non-food product!
While state tax collectors beat up on farmers market vendors, other leaders in our ag infrastructure are embracing another mainland import called "food safety." This knee-jerk super-regulation of our already few farmers will further reduce our local food supply to the ultra-sanitized, lowest common denominator of immune system deficiency: One person allergic to peanuts on the plane? No one gets peanuts.
Proponents of the onerous "food safety" inspections insist on only "food safety certified produce." Do the math: There are 7,500 farms in Hawaii; only 47 farms (including mine) are certified, meaning this movement eliminates 99.5 percent of the farms from supplying fresh produce to Hawaii’s consumers.
There is no shortage of ag land, only poor land management by our "old think" institutions that are more enamored with the problems than with potential solutions.
There are more than 1.1 million acres being "farmed"; less than 10 percent of those acres grow fruits or vegetables, and most of that is exported. Our entire beef production feeds less than 1 percent of local consumption, yet all 1.1 million acres get the same subsidies and tax breaks as our food growers — even my neighbor with his two hobby horses.
Let’s stop shooting ourselves in the foot. Stop promoting the export model, stop subsidizing imported food, stop proliferating hobbyist farmers and stop listening to "old think." There is only one song that will lead us closer to food security: "Local food production for local consumption." Once we sing the same tune, impediments and solutions both become obvious.