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                   Email: nanette@freerangegourmet.com

Saturday, March 13, 2004

 

Local agriculture -- sowing the seeds of a successful Island economy


Climate and weather are vitally important in agriculture. If we do not have rain, then pastures and crops will not grow, but heavy rain such as we have had this winter can wipe out crops. You'd think this would be a concern, but no, rain-induced potholes got more attention in the papers than rain-destroyed crops.

I was noticing that technology has made it possible to receive daily email alerts from newspapers. It's not even necessary to buy the paper any more. One business journal offers, "Sign up to receive free daily business updates by email every weekday afternoon."

Sure. I can learn if Hawaiian Airlines holds new talks with Boeing, for example. Or if the stock market goes down .02%, I can learn that this is supposedly caused by "investor queasiness after a major network vendor cancels an IPO." One email says the "Hawaii hotel occupancy is now 78.4%".

As I read "Aloha Airlines to close 2 ticket counters" I heard thunder outside. It had been raining very heavily in Manoa for the past hour and a half or so and I was wondering about tomatoes, not ticket counters. More heavy rain, more crop damage. It's seldom news, though, and it should be.

Folks, we have let ourselves be brainwashed. Very little of this business stuff relates to the challenges we face as island dwellers who want to sustain and improve our economy. All that news, why, it relates to someone else's economy, not mine. Just as Washington claims the economy is booming while people remain out of work. It's clear that there is one economy that is in control and perhaps prospering, and quite possibly another that is stagnant or in trouble. We should be very concerned about this disconnect. And it relates to sustainable agriculture and the need for a sound economic model of an island economy.

Nanette told me after returning from the Saturday Market at KCC that Jeanne had posted a sign near the little tomatoes that we love, an apology that the rain ruined the crop and that these were salvaged, please wash them and dry with a towel. Of course, we don't mind doing that, I felt lucky that Jeanne brought them to the market so we could have them. Nanette said that Dean Okimoto was wiped out again. He brought in produce from other islands but still had some Okinawan Spinach.

Why, oh why, can I not receive email alerts about this? Why are farms and local agriculture off the radar screens? Why can't I learn about (say) tilapia futures, or what local fishermen are bringing in currently? Are squids plentiful or in short supply? What about the price of Hawaiian honey? Instead of occupancy rates of hotel rooms, why not print the number of acres of land under cultivation, and whether it is increasing or decreasing?

Nanette now invests most of our food dollar each week at the Saturday market. We buy very little at the supermarket. This started as a purely gastronomic decision but it has become also a social, political, ecological and economic statement.

Think of it -- when food is brought to Hawaii from a long distance away, petroleum is burned to bring it here. The money to buy the produce goes out of state. It can't be fresh. There's little variety. It can't be tasty, because it is generally picked to survive shipment as the first consideration, and to look good when put out for sale as the second. Local farmers do not benefit when I buy Mainland produce.

When we buy locally, the money circulates in Hawaii. We get fresher, more nutritious produce. We get a better variety. We can identify where it comes from and can question farmers on their practices. We can influence what is grown by how we purchase. I enjoy knowing the names of some farmers (know many people in Chiquita? Dole? Tysons?).

We keep important knowledge in the community as long as we support agriculture (did you know that the University of Hawaii at Manoa began in 1907 as a land-grant College? From their web pages: "Its first president was John Gilmore, an agronomist, who pointed out that although instruction was the primary purpose of the college, research was needed as the basis for applying knowledge to community needs. In 1911, the College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts was renamed the College of Hawaii. The following year it graduated its first class of four students, and three of the four earned degrees in general agriculture, agricultural engineering, and household economics.")

Local agriculture is healthy for us. I enjoy eating Blue Lotus eggs without worry -- they did not come from some contaminated poultry factory on the Mainland. To stave off the chill this evening, Nanette served hot kale soup with an egg broken on top. It really makes a difference, changes the soup completely. This is a real pleasure. (I also enjoy my omelets runny.)

I'm sure newspapers in farming towns on the Mainland have the kind of news I mentioned. I'm just amazed that we don't have any of it. Honolulu isn't Los Angeles (yet), and we should pay more attention to what we want this place to be, and what is important to us. I'm sure it isn't the number of airline ticket counters, and the hotel occupancy rate just tells me that even more money is going out-of-state to the owners and operators of those hotels. That actually hurts our economy. Ours, I mean, not theirs. The number of people hired for the restaurant and hospitality industry is not in proportion to the occupancy rate, it is relatively constant in the face of increased tourist load.

I wrote an article for the Advertiser that ran this past week: Isle tech plan is a failure. Basically, I was unhappy with the controversy around Act 221 (the tax giveaway intended to promote high-tech industry). Although regarded by many as a potential boon to the economy, I ask again, "to whose economy?" Not mine.

If we create an economic model for ourselves, I am sure it will include local agriculture, microinvestment, indigenous asset development, increased health and social services, and other aspects of a healthy, prosperous and sustainable economy. One that doesn't let the island be paved over (construction is not a sustainable way of growing an economy on an island, it is destructive) and which stops the exploitation of its citizens (the so-called "price of paradise" benefits that other economy, the one that pays low wages while charging us high prices).

Our farmers must play a central role in that better economy. So consider your trip to the Saturday Market as more than a shopping trip. It's a pilgrimage.



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