Small Farmers Deserve Better Support Than The ADC Has Provided - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

T.J. Cuaresma

T.J. Cuaresma co-founded The Radical Hale, which focuses on assisting homeless guests on the streets of Wahiawa and the immediate surrounding community. She grew up in Whitmore Village.

I wonder how many people visit the website of the Agribusiness Development Corp. as often as I do?

I suspect I belong to a very small community of nerds who scour it in hopes of finding pathways to success for local farmers who are interested in growing food to feed the people of Hawaii. The need is urgent.

But if we are looking to the ADC to show the way, my frequent visits to its website and my reading of the minutes of its meetings tell me that we need to do a much better job of providing signposts for those often obscured and difficult-to-navigate pathways to regenerative farming.

Farmers dreaming of leasing a small plot of land from the ADC have their work cut out for them if they even try to penetrate the corporation’s website as I did. It was an exercise in frustration.

The ADC website recently carried a sign on its homepage announcing that the deadline for applications for available land had been extended to April 27. It sounded promising at first glance, though the extension itself tells us that the ADC likely hadn’t received a large enough pool of applications.

If true, this fact is not surprising. The ordinary farmer cannot — and will not — expend the kind of time and effort I have invested in trying to make sense of the ADC’s inventory of available lands.

For example, while several plots are listed on the ADC website as “available,” there is little to no guidance on the condition of the land and how much of it is actually usable and can be farmed.

How can a small farmer afford to put in an application under those circumstances? Even assuming some farmers are dogged enough to try, they will quickly discover hurdles like tax map key numbers not corresponding to City and County records! If only 392 acres in a 580-acre plot listed as available can be farmed, how does a farmer who is not doing the thorough research that I did know this and reflect that knowledge in his application?

The homepage of the Agribusiness Development Corporation. “Farmers dreaming of leasing a small plot of land from the ADC have their work cut out for them if they even try to penetrate the corporation’s website,” writes the author. Screenshot

More importantly we should be asking: Why does the ADC not make this information visible up front in the interest of transparency and fairness to our small farmers?

After monitoring the ADC website regularly for weeks now, I noticed the minutes of a Feb. 24 board meeting were posted in early April. The delay in posting is concerning but even more concerning is the fact that the submittals, which are supposed to reflect what transpired at the meeting, do not match up with what was actually on the agenda.

While there is nothing on the agenda about more lands available for lease, the submittals for the meeting actually refer to such lands, with none of the clarity a farmer looking for suitable land would need. Also, the minutes reflect a 45-minute discussion of the recent audit that described the corporation as failing to fulfill its mission despite the special powers and significant resources allocated to it.

Those same minutes reference a motion to have a separate meeting devoted just to addressing the concerns raised in the audit. So far, there is no indication if such a meeting has taken place or when it might take place.

At a time when the ADC is facing serious questions about its failure to live up to its mission of diversifying our agriculture to ensure food self-sufficiency, it is deeply disappointing to note that another member has been added to the ADC board — Glenn Hong, former president of Young Brothers — who brings no experience in agriculture that can be applied to right this ship. Testimony submitted in support of his nomination to the board cited his “decades of experience in the maritime and transportation industry (that) give him unique insight into agricultural issues.”

I don’t question Mr. Hong’s finance and accounting background, but how does this improve how our small farmers are served?

The Hawaii Department of Agriculture states quite clearly: “Agribusiness Development Corporation was formed in 1994 to facilitate and provide direction for the transition of Hawaii’s agriculture industry from a dominance of sugar and pineapple to one composed of a diversity of different crops.”

The farmers of Hawaii, many of whom are still waiting for access to the lands that will allow for this transition have yet to see evidence of real meaningful steps in this direction. They have seen neglect leading to the sprouting of criminal enterprises that have led to loss of life that could have been prevented with better security and management of ADC-controlled lands.

Twenty-five years is a long time to wait. It’s past time for change.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

Read this next:

Neal Milner: Our Moral Compass Is Lost In The Political Wilderness

Not a subscription

Civil Beat is a small nonprofit newsroom, and we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content because we believe in journalism as a public service. That’s why donations from readers like you are essential to our continued existence.

Help keep our journalism free for all readers by becoming a monthly member of Civil Beat today.


About the Author

T.J. Cuaresma

T.J. Cuaresma co-founded The Radical Hale, which focuses on assisting homeless guests on the streets of Wahiawa and the immediate surrounding community. She grew up in Whitmore Village.

Latest Comments (0)

A lack of transparency, know-how, and willingness to change is a thread that runs through a vast majority of Hawaii departments.

Scotty_Poppins · 1 year ago

Offering parcels of 100 acres and up is not appropriate for Hawaii's small farmers.  Offering parcels with no water infrastructure doesn't really work either.  

nredfeather · 1 year ago

And still waiting.Great personal article on a glaring problem of a bureaucracy that keeps stalling and seems more fixated on public relations to obscure what's really going on.

Joseppi · 1 year ago

Join the conversation


IDEAS is the place you'll find essays, analysis and opinion on every aspect of life and public affairs in Hawaii. We want to showcase smart ideas about the future of Hawaii, from the state's sharpest thinkers, to stretch our collective thinking about a problem or an issue. Email to submit an idea.


You're officially signed up for our daily newsletter, the Morning Beat. A confirmation email will arrive shortly.

In the meantime, we have other newsletters that you might enjoy. Check the boxes for emails you'd like to receive.

  • What's this? Be the first to hear about important news stories with these occasional emails.
  • What's this? You'll hear from us whenever Civil Beat publishes a major project or investigation.
  • What's this? Get our latest environmental news on a monthly basis, including updates on Nathan Eagle's 'Hawaii 2040' series.
  • What's this? Get occasional emails highlighting essays, analysis and opinion from IDEAS, Civil Beat's commentary section.

Inbox overcrowded? Don't worry, you can unsubscribe
or update your preferences at any time.