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Support local down to the source

Buying local, Hawaiʻi farmers produce provides benefits for all

By Charissa Porter

Mar 25, 2021


Since the beginning of the pandemic, many local businesses were affected by the state’s regulations and decline in consumer support. The shutdown inevitably showed Hawai’i lawmakers just how vulnerable the economy was.

Data from the Hawai’i Tourism Industry revealed that tourism is the largest single source of private capital for the state’s economy. In 2019, Hawai‘i’s tourism economy recorded that visitor spending brought in $17.75 billion.

However, since the negative impact caused by the pandemic lawmakers faced many budget cuts. The budget deficiency prompted their attention on investing on other possible avenues of income.

“Hawai‘i state policymakers have identified agriculture as a sector capable of substantial expansion as part of the state’s efforts to diversify the economy,” according to the University of Hawai‘i Economic Research Organization. “Agriculture has, however, been in decline in Hawaii for the last 40 years despite the presence of two state programs designed to keep lands in agriculture.”

The Agribusiness Development Corporation (ADC), was created more than 25 years ago. The ADC was created to develop an “aggressive and dynamic” agribusiness development program to fill the economic void created by the closure of the sugar and pineapple plantations.

The state auditor reported that the corporation also struggled with inconsistent, incomplete and non-existent record-keeping. Records also indicated that there were prospective tenants occupying lands without signed written agreements and persistent criminal activity on its properties. The ADC Board of Directors provided minimal guidance and oversight to the corporation.

Despite this corporation receiving millions of dollars of funding the audit shows just how dysfunctional the program has been throughout the years.  A bill relating to the ADC would’ve transferred funds to the Department of Agriculture. They hope with this new transition the department will be able to support local farmers with their needs so that diverse agriculture can flourish.

“We should be encouraging our small farmers, not putting up roadblocks or refusing to provide transparency as has been the case with the ADC,” Rep. Amy Perruso said. “Importing 90% of our food puts us in a very precarious position. After more than two decades we are still without the plan that the ADC was supposed to develop to address food self-sufficiency. We cannot simply reproduce the status quo as if nothing is wrong with this attached agency.”

Rebuilding the economy from the ground up can’t be done overnight. One thing consumers should be aware of is that their consumer decisions have a huge impact on the local economy. It is important to put more emphasis on supporting local businesses and just as importantly, local farmers.

“Hawai‘i is very food insecure and that means that if anything is disrupted in shipping we can be without food very quickly,” said Bruce D. Campbell, a farmer at ‘Ma farms in Hawai’i Kai. “So we need a cultural capacity, but we want to build it up with sustainable organic farming.”

While it may be a more expensive route keeping the money in Hawai’i’s economy is a long term investment in the wealth and health of the islands and its people.

Whether that be by supporting local farmers or by supporting a local business that also buys its produce from local farmers or shopping at a farmers market instead of buying from a grocery store. Our purchases matter.

By investing in diversifying Hawai’i’s organic agriculture, it also leaves more options for local businesses to choose fresher locally grown produce.

“I get my food from local farms from the okra to the lettuce, you know potatoes, squash, different cilantro, and herbs,” said Ruth Evans, owner and chef of Mahalosoulchef and recently opened Vegan Eats. “Some things that are hard to find like collard greens or spinach, you know, the mass of things some people are not growing so you have to go to different places like Whole Foods or down-to-earth.”

Charissa Porter

Charissa Porter is a web editor for Hoʻā at UH Mānoa and former journalist...

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