The Hawaii House of Representatives Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness has announced that it has been holding briefings with business, government, nonprofit, and labor leaders for several weeks to plan for a post-coronavirus economy in Hawaii.

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Then, on April 8, Gov. David Ige introduced Resolution No. 54, which establishes the related Hawaii Economic and Community Recovery task force.

House Speaker Scott Saiki offered his full-throated support:

This pandemic has reaffirmed what we have known for awhile — that our economy must be diversified and cannot be over-reliant on one or two major industries. This task force must help modernize our economy. The future of our families and state relies upon a sound and resilient economy.

We, the undersigned (see below), are concerned that there are no farmers, or groups that represent Native Hawaiians and everyday working people on the task force that will determine our collective economic future.

It is critical to examine what Saiki means when he talks about a “sound and resilient economy” for Hawaii. We cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that unemployment claims nationally have ballooned to 26 million as of April 23 and are still growing.

Kahumana Organic Farm Cafe Farm2.
A worker at Kahumana Organic Farms and Cafe in Waianae, February 2019. The governor’s task force on rebuilding Hawaii’s economy after COVID-19 must start with how we grow food. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Wildcat strikes are flaring up across the U.S., and businesses are folding by the thousands. And the cascading effect is just beginning.

The world as we have always known it, is unraveling. We are heading toward no less than a second Great Depression, with no way of knowing how to predict what a post-pandemic world would even look like.

However, we know one thing for certain: that Hawaii’s first priority is to get to feeding itself, as quickly as possible. Right now, Hawaii imports 90% of its food, which is growing scanter by the week as supply chains fizzle out, under the pressure of a pandemic-crippled global economy.

Change Must Be Strategic

We also know that it is very much in the realm of possibility that we may be slammed by another freak event just as unforeseen as COVID-19. It may be a climate event. It may be a political event. It may be another pandemic, or perhaps a series of pandemics, as has been predicted.

Given the reality that it is unlikely that we can ever go back to “normal,” it is of utmost urgency that the first step in rebuilding a post-pandemic economy is to focus entirely on building a Hawaii-grown infrastructure focused on feeding Hawaii. That would ensure that, regardless of what disaster comes our way, at least we will have laid the groundwork for maximum resiliency, to avoid widespread starvation in Hawaii.

Such a food-security infrastructure would include massive education funding, capital improvement projects, and support for all aspects of regenerative farming, which if done correctly, diverts waste from the landfills and produces healthy soil that captures carbon from the atmosphere. It would also mean a living wage for all, and would help to strengthen the economic vitality and resiliency of rural communities.

Token actions will not suffice. Change must be strategic, systemic and wide-sweeping, and on an order of magnitude equal to the Great Mahele. We must mobilize immediately to create jobs and policy that will serve our people now, as well as over the next seven generations.

Now is the time to craft an economy that works for everyone.

The Green New Deal, with agriculture as Hawaii’s “jewel in the crown,” is the best approach to creating a thriving food-secure economy. It would support a livable planet by creating an inclusive, decentralized, equitable economy that considers environment, labor, education, disability rights, women’s rights, veterans’ rights, and others.

No one should be compelled to work at a job that harms either their health, the health of their family, or the health of the planet. Such an economy would embrace the wisdom of native peoples, and their rights, as clearly set forth in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

These multiple facets are often viewed as “pesky obstacles” from a corporate, profit-margin perspective, but that short-sighted paradigm has proven to be severely flawed. Now, we must think holistically and include the diverse needs of Hawaii’s own local communities first, rather than profits. This, by its very definition, is the fabric of resiliency.

Now is the time to craft an economy that works for everyone. Hawaii is already home to thousands of farmers; we must support them, instead of providing sweetheart deals to out-of-state corporations.

Our own farmers know, better than anyone, what they need to do to grow healthy local food. Yet farmers’ voices are rarely at the table in the halls of power. You will find many of those voices signed below.

Hawaii Can Feed Itself

Further, we must support an education infrastructure that supports young people to prosper by studying regenerative agriculture, such as offering tuition-plus-stipend for agriculture students. Hawaii can feed itself, if we want to do so.

Simply put, COVID-19 and other potential pandemics are sending us into uncharted waters. If we care about Hawaii’s future for all her people, we must build an infrastructure of regenerative agriculture right now that provides a livable wage to island families.

This would be the required foundation for a modernized economy. This would be how to truly support local farmers and all the associated peripheral businesses – suppliers, value-added cottage industry products, cafes, restaurants, etc.

Last year, members of the caucuses for the environment, labor and education of the Democratic Party of Hawaii came together to form the Green New Deal working group. We drafted 27 bills distributed among eight sectors. In addition to agriculture, sectors included ecosystem restoration, education, energy, waste management, health and human services, housing, and transportation.

Each Green New Deal bill was prefaced with the following preamble (adjusted to include “pandemic” as one of the climate-induced global crises):

The Legislature finds that the human-induced global climate crisis requires thoughtful but bold response on many fronts to make Hawaii communities resilient to the impacts of pandemics, storms, floods, fire, and sea-level rise that threaten the very survivability of these fragile islands.

Lest Hawaii lose its leadership position in meeting the future, and in the arenas of labor, justice and equity, the Legislature embraces Aloha Aina to decarbonize Hawaii’s systems of food, energy, and transportation, and to sequester carbon through systems of agriculture, waste management and ecosystem restoration.

The good jobs created thereby also expand access to health, housing and education, ensuring justice and equity for Hawaii’s citizens. The following measure represents a forward step in mitigating and adapting Hawaii to inevitable change.

We, the undersigned, request that Resolution 54’s economic task force make the Green New Deal central to its strategic plan. We also request that the task force and its Special Committee include regenerative farmers, indigenous groups, zero-waste experts, and members of the Democratic Party of Hawaii Green New Deal Working Group.

For more information about the Just Transition Hawaii Coalition, please send an email to

The Just Transition Hawaii Coalition: Kawika Pegram, executive director, Hawaii Youth Climate Coalition; Lanakila Mangauil, executive director, Hawaiian Cultural Center of Hamakua; Hector Valenzuela, Vegetable Crops Extension Specialist, UH Manoa; Ku Kahakalau, indigenous educator, Waipio Valley; Nalei Kahakalau, traditional kalo planter, Waipio Valley; Jason Bradshaw, Hawaii Democratic Party Labor Caucus, Chair; George Kahumoku, Native Hawaiian planter of over 300 varieties of fruits, veggies, laau lapaau herbs and teas, rancher of cattle, sheep, goats chickens and ducks, cultural practitioner, five-time Grammy winner; Kealia Farms dba Kahumoku Farms, Lahaina, Maui; Samuel and Tyrell Kapoi, SK Global Inc. – Kalo Bombs, ‘Ohana O Hāloa, Puea, Waianae; Nalani Kaneakua, Limu Farmer/Koʻolau Limu Restoration Project, Anahola, Kauai; Kapena and Ku‘ulei Worden, Worden ‘Aina Farm, Waianae; Lana Olson, Hawaii Democratic Party Environment Caucus Chair; Jeff McKnight, Hawaii Democratic Party Environment Caucus Secretary; Yoshito L’Hote, executive director, ‘Aina Hookupu o Kilauea, Kauai; Meleana Judd-Cox, farm manager, Waihuena Farm, Oahu; Koohan Paik-Mander, Pacific Earth Institute, Hamakua, Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, kumu and community leader, Oahu; Hawaii Ulu Producers Cooperative (over 90 farms), Hawaii Island; Jenny Pell, Board member of Food Security Hawaii, and Project manager of ‘Ohana Gardens, Maui; Bryan and Natalie Mesa, De La Mesa Farms, Waimanalo, Kristine Kubat, president, Recycle Hawaii, Hilo; Ikuko Kay Kurata, farmer and beekeeper, Hawaii Makoa, LLC, Hamakua; Steve Dias, farmer/rancher, Dias Farm and Ranch, Hamakua; Anna Maria Kapua, farmer/rancher, Dias Farm and Ranch, Hamakua; Robert Kapua, farmer/rancher, Dias Farm and Ranch, Hamakua; Colehour Bondera, farmer of Kanalani Ohana Farm certified organic, Board of Directors of Kona Coffee Farmers Association President, Board of Directors of American Origin Products Association Board Member of Kona County Farm Bureau; Bruce Corker, farmer of Rancho Aloha organic coffee farm; Chet Gardiner, Cassandra Farms, Honomalino, vice president of Kona Coffee Farmers Association and member of Farmers and Ranchers for a Green New Deal; Ikaika Hussey, UNITE HERE Local 5 organizer, founder of ‘Iliʻili, a multi-stakeholder cooperative working on strengthening Hawaii’s economy through investments in decarbonization, food security and smarter urbanism, Kalihi, Oahu; Leilani Lindsey-Kaapuni, president of Hui Aloha ʻĀina; Lisa Hinano Rey, Agroforestry Farmer, Policy Entrepreneur, STEM Educator, Windward Community College, Oahu; Janine Holstein, farmer/owner, Maui Majesty, Kula, Maui; Dash Kuhr, Starseed Ranch, Kohala, Hawaii Island, Becky Gardner, candidate for House District 20, St. Louis Heights, Palolo, Maunalani Heights, Wilhelmina Rise, Kaimuki; Jeremy Hillstrom, True Leaf Farms Inc., Moloaa, Kauai; Bradford Ikemanu Tin Cheong Lum, Kumu Hula and Kahu, Halau Hula O Ikemanu, Honolulu; Bart Dame, Democratic National Committeeman for Hawaii; Fern Anuenue Holland, Kauai; Shannon Schultz, BEEing Aloha Honey Co., Hawaii Island; Carl McKinney, Farmer, Hawaii Island Goat Dairy, Honokaa; Kim Coco Iwamoto, Enlightened Energy, LLC; Rev. M. Kalani Souza, cultural practitioner, Paauilo; Raymond Catania, labor advocate, Kauai; Ana Nawahine-Kahoʻopiʻi, Kumu hula, DHHL beneficiary, backyard farming design, Kupuna Council of Aloha Aina Party; Blake Watson, Regenerative farmer and organic land manager, Glenwood, Hawaii Island; Maritez Libed, farmer, Tess Garden, Paauilo, Hawaii Island; Lori Beach, Executive Manager, Hamakua Agricultural Cooperative; Yuri Zhuraw, Farmer, Food Forest Farm, Honokaa; Nancy Redfeather, farmer, Kawanui Farm, Honalo, Hawaii Island; Aunty Maxine Kahaʻulelio, Pastoral leaseholder, rancher, DHHL beneficiary, Kupuna Council of Aloha Aina Party; Albert Kahoʻopiʻi Jr., pastoral rancher, farmer, vertical growing designs, DHHL beneficiary; Ponoʻi Kahoʻopiʻi, farmer, vertical growing designs, DHHL beneficiary; Katy Benjamin, Barenaba Farm, Hiio; Daniela Spoto Kittinger, director of Anti-Hunger Initiatives, Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice; Fiona Fong Weingartner, School Garden Educator, Honokaa; Tanya Yamanaka Aynessazian, Backyard farmer, Keaau, Hawaii Island; Jess Sobocinski, FoodCorps Hawaii Program Manager, Michael Manor, farmer, Mother Nature’s Miracle, Hamakua; Laura Markham, Big Island Creamery, Waimea, Hawaii Island; Kaitlyn Jacobs, Legislative Coordinator, Surfrider Foundation, Oahu chapter; Young Progressives Demanding Action, Honolulu; Henry Curtis, Life of the Land, Oahu; Axel Kratel, Carbon-capture regenerative farmer, Hilo; Tina Grandinetti, Hawaii Peace and Justice, UH Manoa; Joshua Cooper, Hawaii Institute for Human Rights, Kapahulu, Oahu, Noel Kent, Department of Ethnic Studies, UH Manoa; Thayne Taylor, Kauai Sea Farm, Kalaheo; Gerald Klappert, Farmer, Wailuku, Maui; Jack Lockwood, Puhau St. Farmers League, Hilo; Mille Kohl, Haiku, Maui; Michael deYcaza, Honolulu; Luella Nohea Crutcher, Waawaa, Oahu; Mark Chavez, climate justice advocate, Oahu; Lori Adolewski, Kaneohe, Oahu; Eric Bowman, Hamakua; Tina Wildberger, House District 11 Representative, South Maui.

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