Friday, May 16, 2008

Musings: Growing Farmers

The vog is still thick, but it couldn’t blot out the moon last night or the mountains this morning, though the haze and high clouds have cast the sky in a gray pallor. Still, for a brief period when the sun rose as Koko and I were out walking, the world took on that golden-pink shimmer of ethereal beauty that reminded me the magic is always present, even when it's hidden.

Ran into my neighbor Andy, whom I hadn’t seen in a while, and to answer yet another inquiry, no, it’s not rabid reporter Andy Parx, but Andy Bushnell, the retired KCC history professor.

Anyway, Andy mentioned he’d read the piece I wrote on Jerry Ornellas — aka farmer Jerry (might as well out everybody this morning) — in this week’s Kauai People, and noted: “See, he agrees me with me that there aren’t guys lining up to do farming.”

It’s true, and it’s something I’ve talked to Jerry about more than once, as well as other people involved in agriculture. The question is why? Is it because they’re not interested, or they’ve given up the dream because it’s so darn hard to get land?

Let me correct myself. It’s easy to get land if you’ve got money. There’s stuff for sale right now — at $300,000 to $500,000 an acre. Problem is, paying down a nut like that requires way more revenue than you can generate from any legal crop. And then you’ve got to deal with anti-farming neighbors in your so-called “agricultural subdivision.”

As for leasing, the agreements tend to be a little too short to make the investment required for farming feasible. A couple of guys I know who were looking for taro land could only get one-year leases, which doesn’t quite wash with a 14-month crop. Several other people told me of getting squeezed off Grove Farm land because the terms were short and the rent kept increasing.

Who else is leasing any sizable acreage? Of course, there’s the state, but Kalepa Ridge, which is supposed to be for the general public, needs to be transferred from DLNR to the Agribusiness Development Corp. before it can be turned over to farmers — a process that’s moving along at a snail’s pace. In the meantime, it’s being mostly used for grazing.

Interesting, though, how the state lands at Kekaha, which are leased primarily to the seed companies, got transferred over to the ADC toot sweet. Guess it shows who has influence.

Maybe what’s needed is for those who are interested in farming, especially at Kalepa, to begin applying pressure to DLNR to make the transfer. Much of the land there has water, and its central location just outside Lihue adds to its desirability. It might be good for folks to start moving on that, before the seed companies expand over there, too.

In the meantime, to ensure that farmer wannabees know what they’re doing when land becomes available, Malama Kauai has been running a farmer incubator program, and Kauai Economic Opportunity has been teaching people how to grow papaya so they can supply the new fruit fly disinfestation facility that’s coming on line on Kauai.

I recently talked to Terry Sekioka, a farmer and former CTAHR administrator who is doing some of that KEO training, and he seemed to think that people do want to farm. But when the topic turns to marketing and business, “they close their books. They’re not interested in that part of it. But you have to understand all of it to succeed in farming. It really helps if you have a spouse or partner who can handle that part of it, because most farmers are busy farming, and they let the business and marketing end slide.”

And as Andy mentioned this morning, when KCC was talking years ago about developing farming curriculum, it was recognized that small engine repair is yet another skill that most farmers find useful.

Then there’s an understanding of irrigation, soil health, pest control and the varieties and cultivation techniques that work well in the tropics. It’s not quite as simple as dropping seeds in the ground and letting nature work its magic.

Farmers also need to write up a plan, Jerry said, if they expect to lease land. But most of all, he said, they need that commitment to stick with it — or even get started in the first place.

So where are we at when it comes to farming? We’ve got some land and water, some marketing assistance, some logistical support, some training. And I believe we’ve got people who are serious about doing it.

What I’ve been pondering lately is how to bring it all together before we lose more prime ag lands, more irrigation systems, more people who abandon their dreams of growing food in frustratation and discouragement.

48 comments:

Anonymous said...

aloha joan, thanx for devoting so much time and space to this crucial issue. i really enjoy and appreciate your entries with 'neighbor andy' (mr parx too) and 'farmer jerry'. i'm sure there's great info and insight that doesn't make it in your blog.

the topic of farm and garden activity here on kauai is so broad it demands significant focus to move forward in directions that benefit our island. definintions are helpful and necessary to identifying the obstacles and opportunities for the garden isle.

we have seen the role and impacts of agriculture here in the islands. industrial agriculture is alive and kicking even with pineapple and sugar being close to nonexistant today. bio fuels, seed companies and the desire to 'diversify' the ag industry ensures that large scale commercial output will continue. the local government with assistance from the feds will continue to fund and subsidise this type of activity.

food security issues have recently received much attention here and has helped facilitate and legitimize the development of smaller scale and local flavored ag enterprizes. the creation of farmer's markets, community supported agriculture and local restuarants wanting local stuff have helped to support the growth of diversified ag output. consumer demand for organics has helped to stimulate growth in that area as well.
we're seeing the challenges of the future right before us. larger commercial interests often trump the little guys. the growth in collectives, coops and other community based ag activity will increase as fuel prices rise and land becomes more and more unavailable(due to price or pavement) and local demand increases.

we still have access to (not as it used to be) cheap produce from far away places. the time when most of our food is locally produced will be upon us but only if we envision it, plan for it and execute as obstacles and opportunities permit.
i think some folks here get that we should pursue these paths of maintaing ag infrastructure, developing programs to assist new commercial ventures(CTAHR-KCC, others), and incentives for production. local consumption of these products will increase as prices stabilize(still gonna rise before tapering off) and becomes more available.
now for the backyarders who for a variety of reasons have a plot or two of table vegetable or extra trees to share with friends , family and neighbors. this type of activity has been around for generations and will continue to growing as well. not every one loves to work the land but those who do will continue to reap what they sow and enjoy the benefits. i'm glad that there are others that share the passion of weeding and feeding the land and others. the seperation of large scale commercial ag and food production for domestic needs will continue to be discussed and examined at multiple levels of our community. i hope we can develop the types of ag activites that will help sustain our island and provide for our tables and the future generation's as well.
aloha aina,....jimmy t

Anonymous said...

Having grown up on a farm, I can tell you that it's a lot of hard work with no days off and no holidays. Farmers are also at the mercy of the weather, pests, disease, etc. None of the kids in my family continued farming and I can tell you why: there are easier ways to make a living.

Andy Parx said...

It isn’t the lack of people who want to farm as much as it’s that the activity can’t be profitable at the price and availability of the land. When only the rich can afford to farm, farming becomes a hobby, not a career and we have only Gentlemen’s farms. And even then we wind up with strange niche crops like tea or vanilla or cacao... or albezius forests for burning.

Anonymous said...

$300-500K/acre is a bit hyperbolic. The MLS is has 20-30+ listings of 5+ acre parcels at $80-150K/acre. Anyone assuming they can "farm" a one acre parcel to make a living is already being a bit of a dreamer. Perhaps in intensive veggies like Wooten on 5 acres and you've got a chance if you can market the crop effectively.

All of these lots also have house rights so you're cost of the "farm" acreage is much lower.

If someone wants to work 1-2 acres I'd guess they'd have no problem finding Ag subdivision types willing to lease out some of their land for a pretty small land lease. Aliomanu estates by Wooten is still virtually naked in spots. There's empty acreage all over that could be farmed.

How hard are these folks actually trying? Has a group approached a larger landowner like Grove Farm or Knudsen or A&B for a test site and been rejected? It's not just going to fall in their laps.

Anonymous said...

the thought of farming to make profit has many facets that need examining. the programs that KCC/KEO are geared for those who want to learn and hopefully earn from their endeavors. some folks don't give rip about profit, they just want grow food for consumption and not just for market. economics have forced some off the land or has made it more profitable to sell land and not produce. the government regs regarding land use and zoning haven't helped the situation. the business end of ag is a headache many don't want any part of. the traditional farmer is old school. on kauai you have some akamai old school guys( like farmer jerry) who know why diversified(and organic) ag is the future. lifestyle folks know the value of raising for personal consumption. there is a marriage of both as well. folks who have the capacity to grow for personal flavor and sell excess to local consumers. making extra cash is nice but not what pays the bills. even with the programs i have attended and the knowledge gained, i'm in no position to quit my day jobs. maybe down the road when the trees are mature and the chickens have multiplied and the beds are fully productive we can draw some income from produce sales but i'm not banking on it. i will enjoy fresh produce and the activity of staying connected the land that sustains us. on a half acre lot, i won't compete w/ the big boys but my family will benefit from our labor. and if we are one family that is less dependent on cost-u-more, pa-pirate health foods or any other big bux store because we can grow our own then we all move in the right direction. the wootens, permaculture advocates like jillian seals, malama kauai and others are leading the edge for food security, sustainable ag and a better kauai. mahalo for keeping it local.,....jt

Joan said...

Oh, excuse the hyperbole, Anonymous. You're right, $400,000 to $750,000 for your own farm is much more reasonable. Yeah, easy to make that mortgage growing lettuce. No problem.

Who said anything about someone wanting to farm one acre? I don't think anyone does want to work 1 or 2 acres -- unless it's their own backyard -- so that kind rules out being a sharecropper on some gentleman's estate in Aliomanu Estates.

Anonymous said...

It seems kinda funny to me that the good old capitalist free market is so good at supplying us with a surplus of cheap, gaudy trinkets and yet falls on its face when it comes to generating the most basic of life's necessities - like food.

-Katy

Anonymous said...

Did you run out of food?

Anonymous said...

The groceries look pretty freaking full up to me.

Anonymous said...

Yet the food on the shelves is produced using a bizarre matrix of subsidies and free-trade agreements which ultimately ensure that big agribusiness thrives and local efforts struggle - and not on their own merits. It's not a good example of the "free market" at work, in my opinion.

-Katy

Anonymous said...

You're mistaken to think that free trade agreements are somehow contrary to free market, but you're right about farm subsidies - although our abundance of food does not rely on them.

gadfly said...

It's an excellent example of the free market. There is a market for it's products, low unit cost, good quality, biz running in the black. T

Given the choice of equally-acceptable products, I will always go with the lower-priced one OR the more conveniently-accessed one ("total delivered cost" vs "lowest unit cost").

Local-grown must win the niche market with "fresher", "different variety", "locally grown" (a market ploy)...something to "justify" the increased unit cost.

The free market system is just that...free...no restrictions on trade that would somehow equalize the playing field between the big box stores and the local farms.

Best thing would be to be a successful small farm or other product-oriented biz and be a supplier to the big box stores.

And, if in your opinion, it's "not fair" that big biz has subsidies and trade agreements, etc not accessable to the small guy, that's just how it goes. The world in general, and the free market system, is not necessarily "free" or "even".

It's all a matter of getting the lowest priced acceptable quality product or service to the consumer.

Anonymous said...

we're still caught up in the 'old' system of market/economies. this system is on its way out. how long will the tranisition be? i won't venture there but will suggest that as fuel prices climb and the resulting increases in food prices make it to our tables(like last night for dinner) we'll look at the 'localvore' menu with a different set of lenses. there are alot of ways to deal with the situation at hand, throwing money at it won't work. government intervention will probably make things worse before it gets better. people will seek out value where ever they can find it. hopefully they find value in line with their values and shop accordingly. we often vote w/our pocket book and part of the 'buy local' concept is that it supports our community more than paying for the 'cheapest' goods brought in from elsewhere. this is value added shopping for the conscious consumer who looks downstream and upstream for the right product or service and supports them accordingly. often the mindset is such that 'cheap is good' but the saying that 'cheap is dear' falls right in line. we get more bang for our buck when we consciously support and purchase the product or service from vendors who will return that support to others stakeholders( employees, local communities, the environment, consumers, etc...) the practice of social responsible investing is built upon some these premises. conscientious consumers have great buying power and influence, hence the 'green' economic development we see everywhere. gladfy is operating in the old school and will continue to do so until the numbers add up and move him and others along the path of higher consciousness. when this happens is anyone's guess but hell or highwater seems to be looming on the horizon. a hui hou,......jt

Anonymous said...

Ha! The "old market system" will go out only if it is outlawed. And that ain't going to happen any time soon.

Joan said...

Mahalo, Jimmy T, for your thoughtful comments, and for reminding people that our decisions can be made either solely for economic reasons, or reasons of conscience. You're also right that many farmers won't be able to make a living solely at their craft, and that some folks just like to grow for themselves and friends, and not for sale. Regardless of who grows it, or why or how, if their labors help to decrease our reliance on imported food stuffs, we're moving in the right direction. Buy local. Eat local. Malama `aina.

gadfly said...

My "path of higher consciousness" is to live the mainland lifestyle I know and love here in Kona for the rest of my life...25 or so years more.

Fortunately, I have the resources to assure living the lifestyle I've come to know and love regardless of economic fluctuation.

Frankly, that's all I care about. I'm not out to participate in saving the world...just aligning myself to live the high-life in whatever world emerges in the next quarter century.

And make fun of everyone else, of course.

Anonymous said...

"And make fun of everyone else, of course."

Only lolos make lolo statements like this. He'll be gone way before his 25 years are up that's for sure.

Anonymous said...

Ah, now that's a goal: "to live the mainland lifestyle in Kona". Dogfly, if that's all that you aspire to do, you have a pitiable life. But, you're lucky in that you lack the higher consciousness to know it.

gadfly said...

The second largest shopping center in Hawaii is being build at a record pace in Kona!!!

An Olive Garden is going up!!!

Circuit City...Target...PetCo...etc!!

Life is getting better and better in this otherwise tropical wasteland. Great weather and diving though. Wouldn't want to live anywhere else.

Not everyone - dare I say the vast majority - who move here want to "go native". I pity the people who turn their backs on everything the world has to offer that can be brought to this outpost.

And I reject the notion of any impending energy crisis doom some radical return to 19th century ag civilization.

Anonymous said...

Circuit City? Target? Petco? Olive Garden? That's Horsefly's idea of the "high life"? He can start a new TV show called "Lifestyles of the Mundane Middle Class".

gadfly said...

Those stores, plus Costco, Home Depot, Lowes, Safeway and more "decent" chain restaurants coming here beats the hell out of plate lunch and loco moco and overpriced local stores.

Better pucker up...here comes the mainland, and there's not a damn thing you can do to stop it.

I love it!

Anonymous said...

Ah yes, the mainland! What's not to love? Poop flies by the thousands descending upon the Hawaiian Islands, some with the delusion that shopping at chain stores constitutes living the high life. I see all of the high rolling poop flies at Costco and Home Depot!

gadfly said...

Ah, then you must be there too, to see all that, fellow poop fly...along with the vast majority of "locals" who also partake of the bounty of the USA.

Anonymous said...

That's true. You see just as many Native Hawaiians at Home Depot and Costco as you do haoles or Asians.

Anonymous said...

Actually, most of the stuff that is sold at Costco comes from foreign manufacturers. Hardly the bounty of the good old USA.

Anonymous said...

support emerging economies. It's the right thing to do.

gadfly said...

OK...brought to you by the good ole' USA. Same as Wal-Mart, America's largest purvayer of Chinese goods. That works for me.

Supporting local economies is good to a point. Many people, myself included, do not want to "go native" in our eating/buying habits. We didn't come here to "get away from" anything other than maybe the weather and some urban congestion. I came here only to get away from the weather and to be in a place with fantastic shore scuba diving. Nothing else.

So, mainland-ize the place ASAP!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, mainlandize the place. Mainlanders know best. Especially poop flies who think the Olive Garden has haute cuisine or that Costco, Walmart and Home Depot are high end stores.

gadfly said...

I didn't say that about those store....just that I really love 'em.

There is nothing "high end" on this entire bloody island except for some outragiously overpriced crap in the resort district.

Anonymous said...

So you're not living the "high life" but some monotonous middle class mainland existence transplanted to Kona where the highlight is shopping at Costco and eating at Olive Garden. Wow.

gadfly said...

Retired at 50 eight years ago debt free and loving it. The mountain of money I'm sitting on will last a comfortable, worry-free 25-30 yrs more doing only what I please, or nothing, if I please.

Loving it. And looking forward to the HSF on the BI.

Anonymous said...

Yes, we all aspire to shop at Costco daily or eat at Olive Garden nightly. It's every poop fly's dream.
You live in, as you put it, a "tropical wasteland", a "bloody island" where the only advantages are the weather and the diving. The highlight of your life is shopping at chain stores and eating at chain restaurants. Fortunately, you live an unexamined life. Otherwise, you'd probably hug a coral head until you ran out of air.

gadfly said...

I've examined it more closely than you think. I just don't give a damn about it. It's my basic sociopathic nature.

Anonymous said...

You don't give a damn about your trips to Home Depot or your feasts at the Olive Garden or your mountain of money? I thought you loved your life. Well, there's always therapy or heroin.

Anonymous said...

Costco isn't the high life. It just makes things more affordable. We get it, your aesthetic is offended. Get over it.

Anonymous said...

YOu have to personally approve of every business in your community? Who made you the uber-nazi? Get a life.

Anonymous said...

Costco's not the high life? Says who?

gadfly said...

I'm perfectly content with my life. What I don't give a damn about is the supposedly "higher concerns" of you bleeding heart liberals.

Finally...research indicates why most bloggers are unhappy liberials.

Meritocracy...I love it!

Quoting a recent news article:

"Individuals with conservative ideologies are happier than liberal-leaners, and new research pinpoints the reason: Conservatives rationalize social and economic inequalities.

Regardless of marital status, income or church attendance, right-wing individuals reported greater life satisfaction and well-being than left-wingers, the new study found. Conservatives also scored highest on measures of rationalization, which gauge a person's tendency to justify, or explain away, inequalities.

The rationalization measure included statements such as: "It is not really that big a problem if some people have more of a chance in life than others," and "This country would be better off if we worried less about how equal people are."

To justify economic inequalities, a person could support the idea of meritocracy, in which people supposedly move up their economic status in society based on hard work and good performance. In that way, one's social class attainment, whether upper, middle or lower, would be perceived as totally fair and justified.

If your beliefs don't justify gaps in status, you could be left frustrated and disheartened, according to the researchers, Jaime Napier and John Jost of New York University. They conducted a U.S.-centric survey and a more internationally focused one to arrive at the findings.

"Our research suggests that inequality takes a greater psychological toll on liberals than on conservatives," the researchers write in the June issue of the journal Psychological Science, "apparently because liberals lack ideological rationalizations that would help them frame inequality in a positive (or at least neutral) light."

The results support and further explain a Pew Research Center survey from 2006, in which 47 percent of conservative Republicans in the U.S. described themselves as "very happy," while only 28 percent of liberal Democrats indicated such cheer."

gadfly said...

Actually, my living the good life does have a passionate cause beyond scuba diving and underwater photography.

Since we have a home brewery specializing in authentic British "real ales", served with a bank of 5 imported "beer engines" (pumps) just like a Brit pub, my newest watchword is:

"SAVE THE ALES!"

Andy Parx said...

Glad to hear conservatives are shown to be "Happy Idiots". I guess ignorance IS bliss- who needs a heart?

gadfly said...

Ignorance has nothing to do with it. It's not that we don't know. It's that we don't care.

There has been, and always will be, "downtrodden masses". They are just not us, and their problems are not our problems.

Take it easy, but take it.

Anonymous said...

Let's see:
A self proclaimed sociopath with no regard for his fellow man who worships money, material goods and alcohol. I get it, you're Lucifer.

gadfly said...

The devil you say....

(pssst....we're winning)

Anonymous said...

I kinda like him. He's sarcastically funny and does mirror what might be the majority of Americans, in part anyway.

I also believe Hawaii is America and should conduct itself accordingy.

Keep buzzin' around the collective heads of your "bleeding heart" libs, Gad!

Anonymous said...

Behave accordingly? Hawaii should invade Fiji?

gadfly said...

Do you think we could win?

Anonymous said...

do you care?

Anonymous said...

The question is not whether we can win but whether we can drain our tax coffers and line the pockets of Lingle cronies in the process.