Farmers Markets And Ag Lands

Crowds at the KCC farmers market. Bob Jones photo

I do love our farmers markets. I’m just not sure where the love fest will lead. Or how we’ll eventually reconcile urban development and urban agriculture – most ag on Oahu has to be sandwiched in between residential sprawl.

Nobody seems to have a broad governmental vision of our ag of the future. Gov. Neil Abercrombie referred to self-feeding at his inauguration. But then his ag director says he had no input from Neil when the decision was made to support housing at Ho’opili on leased Ewa farm land.

I suspect I know part of what’s going on. Every supermarket person I’ve queried says local farmers cannot reliably supply them with the produce they must have on their racks every day. Too much rain or too little and there are no tomatoes or lettuce or oranges or melons. So the markets contract with more reliable Mainland providers.

We cannot feed ourselves. We can have partial-feeding and farmers markets at population centers. The Kapiolani Community College market on Saturdays is one, but …

It’s become as much a touristic commercial venture as a produce market. It’s inundated by Japanese tourists who’ve just done the breakfast-time Diamond Head crater trail hike and now want some pizza, grilled corn, fried green tomatoes and abalone. We simple shoppers have to muscle our way through them. The Japanese stand mid-fairway chatting in large groups, munching on their corn sticks.

Shoppers start arriving at 6:30 a.m., an hour before official opening, to “reserve” things that can only be paid for when the opening horn sounds. So early parking is futile because those people are never leaving much before 8:30 a.m.

Traffic backs up on Diamond Head Road. It’s out of control.

I like our Ag Department’s plan to lease land at the old Galbraith Estate in Wahiawa and old sugar lands in Kunia for farmers and to encourage farmers markets in those areas. It’s not reasonable to expect continued farming on the Ewa Plain where we’re doing a second city and running a mass-transit train. And tiny-parcel producers such as 12-acre ‘Nalo Farms in Waimanalo are meaningless and it puzzles me why owner Dean Okimoto heads the Hawaii Farm Bureau despite his deep-rooted political affinities and small-farmness.

I’d like to see a governor-candidate arise with a grand vision for agriculture – something more than Neil’s words-without-policy. Something reasonable for this urban island which keeps the country country and spreads local produce around farmers markets and discourages the kind of crass cooked-food selling that’s developed at KCC. Pretty soon, I expect to see colored beads, yoga and crystals!

I think Russell Kokubun, state ag director, is an OK guy – but remember who he was. Hawaii County Council member. Ran for mayor but lost. Senator. Senate vice president. In other words, a lifelong political animal. Farming’s far, far back in his resume.

He’s unlikely to be Mr. Vision or Mr. Bold Idea. He’s played the political game too long.