Papayas Instead of Pop-Tarts: The Case for Foods Grown in Maui | News, Sports, Jobs
Prior to European contact, the Hawaiian Islands produced enough food to feed one million people without external inputs. According to Natalie Kurashima, a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, Native Hawaiians did this by farming just 6% of the land using traditional techniques. Kurashima isn’t advocating a wholesale return to native farming practices, but she does emphasize the true potential for increasing Hawaii’s food security through self-sufficiency.
Nearly 85% of Maui County’s food comes from overseas. This makes us particularly vulnerable to disasters that disrupt land and sea transportation systems. That’s why the Maui Emergency Management Agency recommends that households maintain an adequate supply of food and water for at least 14 days. FEMA advises only three days supply for mainland households. Our isolation in the middle of the Pacific means that we cannot rely on other states to come to our aid immediately.
Hawaii uses a “hub and spokes” system in which all supplies enter the port of Honolulu to be transported to neighboring islands. This system is liable to be suddenly interrupted in the event of a disaster. During this post-pandemic period, global supply chain issues, international conflicts and disruptive climate change are daily reminders of our risky reliance on other places for our calories.
Large-scale, long-distance food transportation systems in the United States consume huge amounts of fossil fuels, adding to the greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change. It’s estimated that most meals in the United States travel about 1,500 miles from farm to home kitchen. Since the closest landmass to Hawaii is about 2,400 miles away, our food miles (distance from where food is grown to where it’s eaten) are much, much higher. That Strawberry Pop-Tart you ate for breakfast traveled over 4,500 miles here from Cleveland, Ohio.
In November 2020, Maui County voters agreed to create a Department of Agriculture. I was initially opposed to the idea, anticipating another redundant regulatory department with the Hawaii State Department of Agriculture. However, in 2021, I formed a volunteer agriculture task force of farmers and ranchers to provide recommendations and advice to the new department. I was thrilled with their mission to support the development of a regional agricultural system that is in balance with environmental and community needs. We can all support such a mission.
Funding for our new Department of Agriculture will begin on July 1, just three days before American Independence Day. I am optimistic that this department will help Maui County achieve a new kind of independence by reducing our overreliance on imported foods by growing more locally.
In March 2020, when the pandemic hit Hawaii, one of the first things I did was reach out to our local farmers. When tourism came to an abrupt halt, their sales to the hospitality industry also stopped. To save them from having to plow their fields, I quickly committed $30,000 a week to buy locally grown food to distribute throughout the county. Farmers and ranchers have made our food distribution program a huge success and local families have enjoyed healthy, fresh food during times of anxiety.
With climate change intensifying drought conditions, I want to thank our farmers for using water more efficiently. Mahi Pono, Hawaii Taro Farm, Kumu Farms and other established farmers are using modern technology to improve their irrigation systems to significantly reduce water consumption. They also retain soil moisture and decrease the need for chemical herbicides by installing weed mats around their crops. In the future, Maui County’s planned Central Maui Wastewater Reclamation Plant will make millions of gallons of treated R-1 water available to irrigate farmland, conserving even more water. gentle.
The personal benefits of eating locally grown foods include fresher, better-tasting produce; more culturally relevant foods; and provide income to local farmers and ranchers – some of our hardest working small business owners. Environmental benefits include shorter distribution chain, minimal packaging and much less waste. It’s good for people and good for the planet.
Next month, our new Department of Agriculture will usher in a new era in the history of feeding its Maui County residents. Please join us by becoming “locavore”.
* “Our County” a column by Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino discusses county issues and county government activities. The column alternates with “3 Minutes of the Council” One week-end out of two.