A few words to the wise readers of Civil Beat: Societies that are dependant upon others for their food and livelihood are called captive populations. While we may be loathe to admit it, if we look at the big picture, our society as a whole cannot take care of itself here.

If the boats and planes stopped coming tomorrow, what would we do? Could we survive, and if not, what would be an acceptable level of preparedness for that possible occurrence? How much local food production is enough to hedge against disaster? How much of our economy should be local? These are important questions that need answers and the sooner the better. We citizens need to be taking an active roll in electing people to office that will make these issues their number one priority, and giving the ones there that already do our enthusiastic support.

Hawaii’s agricultural statistics need our undivided attention, you can find them here: http://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/Hawaii/Publications/Annual_Statistical_Bulletin/stat10-11.pdf.

The point is, out of $597 million worth of agricultural crop value, $79 million of edible crops sold (which excludes subsistence crops not sold) or put another way; about 13 percent of Hawaii’s crop production was edible in 2010. This percentage also includes exported crops like Mac nuts (a value of $30 million) and other fruits like pineapple, guava and lilikoi grown for value added food exports. So lets be generous, and say that roughly about 8 percent of the crops grown in Hawaii were eaten here.

Please keep in mind that the crops grown here don’t include meat products or dairy. So what we need to think long and hard about is that 92 percent of the value of our agricultural production was exported, while at the same time our hungry population imported 92 percent of the food consumed. This is a telling equation, and begs for some investigation.

Why don’t our legislators take a look at these disparities, and use the power of the pen to ameliorate the situation? The answer is that some of them are. However, the status quo is hard to break out of. We should remember that subsidies and other forms of state assistance are widely available, but have not increased local food production, which has been falling for decades, and its usually the big agribusiness corporation that get’s the subsidy, as they have lawyers and office workers that can dance to the tune of the governmental bureaucracies handing out benefits and cash.

It seems to me that what we need to do to increase local food production is invest in education, and healthy soil. Large scale composting (minus bio-solids please) will be a good component to our domestic food production, as well as any other local sources of fertilizer and amendments. Whatever we don’t import is a net positive for our economy. With such a diverse growing climate, and so many health conscious people in Hawaii, there is a way forward towards food independence, we can grow our own food here. Not only do we have 11 of the 13 climate zones on Earth, and an all year growing season, we have the best soils on the planet known as Andisols. We need to stop the giveaways to big business, and stimulate small farming and actual food production. Seed corn exports are tax free, and are not food, yet they make up almost half of the state’s crop value.

What can we do? For me the answer is to educate, cooperate and legislate our way towards a future where we actually have one, because being totally dependant on outsiders for food and jobs is a dead end. Please go to http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/ and support these bills that are going to make local food production more abundant:

  • SB564 — Farm-to-School programs
  • SB937 — creates a food resiliency task force do decrease our dependency
  • SB1284 — establishes food sustainability goals
  • HB1421 — Affordable long term lease of lands for farmers to grow food on
  • SB592 & HB486 provide funding CTHAR and UH to implement 4-H and Future Farmers of America. A new generation of farmers in Hawaii is critical, the average age of our famers is 60.

One last interesting fact before this little story ends; between 1960 and 2005, farm land in Hawaii shrank from 2.6 to 1.3 million acres. This fact screams that we need to use it or we will lose it. Our job as educated and motivated citizens is to create a land use formula that does not involve selling for an outrageous profit, but instead incorporats Malama and Aloha ‘Aina into how we manage the limited land resource we have. That is the honorable and smart thing to do, as when we succeed, we are providing a beautiful future for the generations to come. So please participate in the process by advocating for sustainable and renewable agriculture to our legislature, because for now, it’s the most effective means for positive change we have.

About the author: Simon Russell is a father, farmer and concerned citizen from Maui.

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