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Bureau works to nurture new crop of isle farmers


The Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation is reinventing itself, not so much to be “not your father’s” farm bureau federation, but to carry Hawaii agriculture into the future and help the state become more self-reliant in its ability to feed its inhabitants.

The federation is also preparing to host 8,000 to 10,000 members of the American Farm Bureau, which will return to the Hawai‘i Convention Center in January for its annual meeting.

As many nonprofits and businesses do, HFBF just completed strategic planning to delineate goals. It was established to protect and advance the social, economic and educational interests of Hawaii’s farmers and will still do those things, but “succession is a big thing in ag right now,” said Luella Costales, executive director. “Our farmers are aging, (so) who’s going to keep agriculture alive in our state? How do we support those who have chosen that as a field?”

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The typical HFBF member represents a small family farming operation. In many cases the children who would succeed their farmer-parents have been dissuaded, either by those parents or the realities of farming, from continuing the family legacy, choosing instead more lucrative, less difficult careers.

For Hawaii’s agriculture industry, hot-button issues include sustainability, food safety and food security, a term that addresses Hawaii’s dependence on costly, fuel-consuming, carbon-emitting shipments of imported food supplies. The federation sees its role as being at the forefront of resolving those problems for Hawaii in the ways that it can. As shipping-dependent as Hawaii is, we have been quite lucky that disasters have not yet resulted in long-term supply disruptions.

“Never before has the need to collaborate and come together as an industry been more crucial for our organization,” Costales said.

Toward that end, and as there is strength in numbers, the federation has joined with the Hawaii Florists and Shippers Association in a dual-membership program, boosting HFBF’s membership rolls by 10 percent — a number it hopes to increase with an aggressive drive to include nonfarming members and partnerships with other, like-minded organizations.

The federation found synergies and advantages in partnering with HFSA, “and we’re hoping to carry this type of relationship to other partners,” she said. “Our strategic plan was to get a sense of where people in the industry are … and to give all members an opportunity to chime in and be part of the movement in strengthening ag,” Costales said.

HFBF member services include legislative advocacy, health and dental insurance, multiple discounts and incentives as well as the quarterly Ag Hawaii newsletter.

The federation cites its network of farmers markets as another membership benefit, though the public is perhaps the best-known beneficiary of the events. Even avid attendees might not be aware that it is the HFBF that is behind the wildly popular Saturday farmers market at Kapiolani Community College and its sister-markets Sundays in Mililani, Wednesdays at the Neal Blaisdell Center or in Kailua town Thursday nights, as well as markets on the Big Island.

Visiting members of the American Farm Bureau might go to the local farmers markets while here in January. Many groups from within the national organization also are planning neighbor island meetings while here, and are working with a destination management company to plan agricultural tours on Oahu and neighbor islands, Costales said.

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