Despite the economic strain brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the state Legislature passed a number of meaningful bills to help Hawaii stay the course in addressing not only sustainability goals but also longstanding food insecurity and resilience.
That’s why it’s discouraging to see House Bill 817, HD 2, SD 2 on Gov. David Ige’s intent-to-veto list. The announcement included a brief, unsatisfactory rationale for concern over a bill that, at its core, simply asks the state to do its part in buying local. Specifically, it requires each state department to ensure a percentage of the produce purchased by them is locally grown while reporting their progress to the Legislature. Goals set forth in HB 817 span a quarter of a century, beginning in 2025 at 10% of the total amount purchased, then increasing incrementally every five years to 50% by 2050.
Ensuring that the state follows its own marketing tagline to buy local will demonstrate that it really matters by supporting our island farmers and ranchers with a consistent market, providing fresh and healthy products to local families, and keeping state money circulating in the islands.
The governor’s rationale for a possible veto was that “benchmarks set in this bill conflict with those set in HB 767, which legislators also passed” and that the measure “incurs significant budget costs for some departments.”
HB 767 is a significant achievement to be sure. When the bill goes into effect, it will move the state’s “Farm to School” program into the Hawaii Department of Education (DOE) and require a minimum of 30% of the food served in public schools to be sourced locally by 2030.
However, by also passing HB 817 — to expand local food purchasing goals to all state institutional programs — the Legislature made a clear statement about the need for our state government to lead by example and support our local agricultural community. We believe the benchmarks in HB 817 and HB 767 are complementary, with the goals outlined in each measure calling for a minimum percentage to be met by certain dates. The goals do not conflict because they establish a minimum floor, and not a ceiling.
Furthermore, the incremental nature of the overall goal — nearly three decades to reach 50% locally sourced — allows sufficient time for departments to plan and gradually ramp up to meet these goals. Through annual reporting, they will have the opportunity to showcase successes and call out challenges, too. It may even require future requests for additional support in pursuit of these worthy goals.
Departments may also find there are cost savings, as was the case in pilot projects at schools and hospitals on Kauai, Oahu and the Big Island where they successfully demonstrated expansion of local food procurement while yielding savings.
If Hawaii is to truly address food insecurity and resilience in tangible ways, the time has come for the administration to fully embrace its own 7-year-old goal of doubling local food production. In 2019, the Legislature passed (and the governor signed into law) a budget that includes Farm-to-State positions within the state Department of Agriculture. This administration has made bold local food production commitments, established direct resources to support state institutional local food purchasing, and actively participated in successful pilot projects to increase local food procurement in multiple state agencies.
At a time when our over- dependency on food imports has been exposed, Ulupono Initiative urges the governor to stand by his statements and actions and allow HB 817 to become law.
Amy Hennessey is a senior vice president of communications and external affairs at Ulupono Initiative.