When you were a child, you may have dreamed of becoming a doctor, a lawyer or maybe even a teacher. But did you ever think about becoming a farmer?

Lawmakers hope that a proposed bill would encourage more of Hawaii’s youth to become farmers. House Bill 853 passed through the Senate Committees on Agriculture, Education and Judiciary and Labor during a hearing Friday, and would teach students and teachers how to produce some of their own food.

“We talk all the time about the importance of land,” said Brian Miyamoto, president of the Hawaii Farm Bureau. “Without farmers … we’re not going to be able to produce our food or other crops we need.”

HB 853 would establish the K-12 Agriculture Workforce Development Pipeline Initiative, which would train teachers and school administrators on all the islands to promote agricultural self-sufficiency.

Local produce for sale at the Pearlridge Farmer's Market held near Sears. Saturday.  13 feb 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Several bills introduced this session are aimed to give Hawaii public school students more access to fresh fruits and veggies. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Currently, Hawaii imports more than 80 percent of its food supply, according to a 2012 report by the Department of Business Economic Development and Tourism. And the average age for a farmer in Hawaii is about 63 years old, according to the 2012 U.S. Agricultural Census.

“Interest in agriculture is waning among Hawaii youth,” Elaine Young, Acting Director Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, said in support of HB 853. “They have an inaccurate perception of farming as a low-paying, low-skilled trade.”

If HB 853 passes through the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, the bill would establish courses to help students learn farming and other components of food production. The appropriations to establish the program were left blank, but the first draft of the bill asked for $500,000.

The K-12 Agriculture Workforce Development Pipeline Initiative would establish several full-time positions to help run the program, which would be overseen by a coordinator who would be appointed by the Director of Labor and Industrial relations.

HB 853 is one of several bills introduced this session that address agricultural education in Hawaii’s public schools.

Senate Bill 376 would establish a Farm to School program in public schools, giving students access to healthy local produce in school meals. The program would also start an agricultural education course, where students could learn to grow food in school gardens. The bill must pass through the House Committee on Finance to continue through the legislative process.

About half of U.S. states already have farm-to-school policies, according to the National Farm to School Network. Those programs help to boost local food economies, and have also been shown to help increase students’ physical activity, school meal participation and preference for fresh fruits and veggies.

House Concurrent Resolution 95, would designate October as “Farm to School Month.” The resolution passed through the House Committee on Agriculture during a hearing Thursday, but must be heard by the House Committee on Finance before it’s adopted.

“Agriculture education involves more than just learning the basics of food production,” stated the Hawaii Farm Bureau in support of HCR 95. “It provides the opportunity for our children to understand and appreciate the importance of agriculture.”


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