Important Strides To Boost Our Food Security

Rep. Thielen shows off the American-grown andand -raised hemp flag, which was flown at the U.S. Capitol and four other states. Photo from Rep. Thielen.

Rep. Thielen shows off the American-grown andand -raised hemp flag, which was flown at the U.S. Capitol and four other states. Photo from Rep. Thielen.

Thielen’s Turf…Cynthia Thielen

Hawaii agriculture is ripe for change. The large majority of our farmers are well into their 60s, and since the 1980s we have reduced our number of farmers by two-thirds. We currently import nearly 90 percent of our food, which compromises our food security and degrades the nutritional integrity of what we eat.

It’s time to show our youths that farming can be a viable option and build demand for locally grown products. Both Hawaii Farmers Union United (HFUU) and Hawaii Farm to School Garden Hui are leading the way.

HFUU recently briefed the Legislature, covering a number of bills to increase food security. Included were recommendations to create a low-cost Good Agriculture Practices (GAP) Certification Program in the state Department of Agriculture (DAG) by July 2016. This certification program would keep products safe for us, help to make farming affordable and reduce the regulatory burden in food production industries.

Another bill would create a new class designation for taro lands in the state Department of Land and Natural Resources to protect existing and historic wetland taro lands and structure public conservation districts for future food security and well-being. Although we produce less than 70 percent of the taro we eat, we continue to import 6 million pounds of it each year. Historic, long-fallowed lo‘i kalo lands can be found on public conservation lands on each island, which points to an opportunity for young farmers to access affordable taro lands and address the looming issue of food security in the face of sea-level rise.

Additional measures would create an industrial hemp permitting and monitoring program in DAG. Prospects for Hawaiian hemp are promising. Apart from use as food, fiber and fuel, it can be made into sustainable building materials, such as hempcrete. This program would allow for more hemp field trials on different islands and speed up the development of local hemp varieties.

The garden hui is working on both increasing the demand of locally grown foods in school cafeterias and educating students on growing, preparing and eating food, with the aim to connect students to where food comes from and inspire future farmers. National Farm to School network has found that such programs boost fruit and vegetable consumption, physical activity and academic achievement, and improve student behavior. The network strengthens the local economy, food systems and food security. The top priority is establishing a state-level Farm to School Program and coordinator positions in the state departments of agriculture and education.

If we replaced just 10 percent of the food we currently import, it would generate more than $313 million, which breaks down to $6 million in state tax revenues and an increase of more than 2,300 jobs.

It’s inspiring to see all of the hard work our farmers, community members, educators, federal and local governmental employees and legislators have done on these issues. Watch for these and other farming initiatives to move and pass this legislative session.

Call state Rep. Cynthia Thielen, R-District 50 (Kailua, Kaneohe Bay) at 586-6480 or email