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Windward // Windward Oahu News
MidWeek Staff

Bills Will Protect Our Agricultural Lands, Jobs

Rep. Jessica Wooley

With imminent threats to island farming, a top priority for the 2013 legislative session was to keep existing local jobs in agriculture. In the coffee industry, for example, HB353 appropriates resources to fight the coffee berry borer infestations. For the honey industry, SB482 provides local honeybee farmers more flexibility to sell honey. Funds in the budget to mitigate the devastation to our bees from invasive species will continue as we battle to keep them healthy. Goat, sheep, fish and other farms currently on the edge of making ends meet will get some relief with SB593, which will help farmers pay for feed.

An effort I began in 2009 also came to fruition with SB586, allowing farms and ranches to build structures, such as greenhouses, for agricultural purposes. This bill was inspired by Hui Ku Maoli Ola Nursery in upper Haiku.

Efforts to keep farming jobs dovetail with efforts to lay a foundation for future farmers. I’m thrilled we were able to get the Future Farmers of America program funded. SB757 fills a gap in our educational system to help students interested in agriculture. We also created an innovation farm loan so more new farmers can get the funds they need to get started (SB993). To better train our labor force, HB749 creates the Hawaii Agriculture Workforce Advisory Board to promote self-sufficiency.

While accomplishments have been made, so much more remains to be done to realize the potential in agriculture – a potential our Windward side once had.

Many residents still recall when Hawaii produced all of the milk consumed locally, and nearly all of its food – especially carbohydrates like taro, sweet potato and bread-fruit – and nearly all of its fresh fish. Not too long ago, agriculture was the Windward side’s dominant activity. There was a dairy where Pohai Nani now stands in Pikoiloa in Kaneohe; Campos Dairy was in Kailua’s Coconut Grove, and Teixeira Dairy was just across Kamehameha Highway where Hawaiian Memorial Park is today. Hygienic Dairy, near Hygienic Store, was just mauka in Kahaluu. Today Hawaii only produces 1/10 of its milk.

Kahaluu still cultivates taro, but Kaneohe also had a poi factory and rice mill where William Henry Road is today. Taro and then rice dominated the landscape because of abundant fresh water. Higa Poi Factory operated on Waihee Road, and a rice mill was just makai of the old Matson taro fields.

Taro fields were turned into cow pastures where Windward Mall now stands. Working fishponds were filled in along much of Kaneohe’s shoreline in order to build oceanfront homes. At one time, sugar cane and pineapple fields could be seen for miles on every island. The only pineapple cultivated today on Oahu is at Kunia, and all the sugar cane has given way to urban sprawl.

On Oahu, 50 percent of agricultural land has been lost in the last 50 years. More change is planned as the Ho’opili development will displace productive vegetable farms to build 11, 750 homes; nearby Koa Ridge will replace productive farms with 5,000 homes. Counting other previously approved developments, a total of 40,000 new West Oahu homes are planned, displacing much of the existing productive agriculture land and adding more traffic. So often, we have become idle witnesses as productive farmlands turn into single-family houses.

Building houses is not the only challenge to agriculture. Numbers show that despite the demand for fresh local produce, businesses are suffering as alien species, unfair trade practices and skyrocketing input costs take their toll on Hawaii farmers.

These rapid changes have grave implications for our future. Our food security is extremely vulnerable because of shipping and air travel disruptions and from price spikes for products such as oil. About 90 percent of Hawaii’s food is imported, placing us at the mercy of shipping and oil companies. Untold economic activity and opportunity is lost annually by not producing more local food. It’s estimated that Hawaii loses more than $3 billion by importing food every year.

State Rep. Jessica Wooley, D-48 (Kahaluu, Ahuimanu, Kaneohe), is chairwoman of the House Committee on Agriculture. Call her at 586-8540 or email repwooley@capitol.hawaii.gov.

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