It seems the new political buzzword these days is shovel ready, although it’s generally used to mean development projects that are ready to go, as opposed to the tool to have on hand to clean up the rhetorical kukae.
The phrase has been uttered a few times by Gov. Lingle in promoting her $1.86 billion economic stimulus package, aimed at fast-tracking some 1,521 projects, ostensibly to put some wind into Hawaii’s sails and create jobs.
But more than one person has asked me lately: Jobs for whom? Are local companies really going to get all this work? Or will the pace of construction — as seems to be the case in every Hawaii building boom — be so brisk as to overwhelm local firms, thus opening the door to mainland companies, which bring their own workers with them, adding to the competition for affordable housing and other services?
It’s a good question, sort of like just how does the guv plan to achieve the goal, stated yesterday in her State of the State address,of improving food self-sufficiency in the Islands?
Like the rest of her speech, it was pretty skimpy on specifics, aside from saying she wants to direct state agencies to buy local food, and will give them a 15 percent price preference in the bidding process. It’s great to see Lingle jump on an idea that was originally floated by our own Sen. Hooser.
But as farmer Jerry observed, it’s going to take a lot more than that to save agriculture. In an interview with The Advertiser, Dean Okimoto, president of the Hawaii Farm Bureau, concurred, echoing a comment that Jerry has made many times:
"It's like we're creating demand for something we cannot fulfill," said Okimoto. "The problem is we need to get more farmers out there. It's a production problem. Getting labor, land and water is making it hard. It's tough to do with no money. Not being able to afford the land, the water and the labor, that's holding back expansion."
Jerry, who is often called upon to advise the politicos, says that Lingle understands the inherent conflict between preserving agriculture and promoting development; most likely, other lawmakers do, too. But at some point, recognition of the problem needs to merge with political will to finally address the issue while we still have some land and options and time.
So perhaps what we need even more than new bridges and wider roads are some shovel-ready farming projects, some ag parks on state land with water and infrastructure and the right to build a little house so you can actually live where you farm.
And perhaps some of these ag projects could be tied into another goal: energy self-sufficiency. Jerry said he got discouraged listening to a radio discussion with Apollo Kauai’s Ben Sullivan on KKCR yesterday because it lacked historical perspective.
“Kauai was 60 percent energy independent in 1980, mostly because of the [sugar] mills,” he said. “The Lihue mill alone provided 30 percent of Kauai’s power. They could be growing guinea grass on Grove Farm land right now and burning it like bagasse. It can be mechanically harvested, and it doesn’t even need to be cultivated. But they sold all the guts to that mill. It all went to the Philippines. Their gain was our loss. So maybe we should think twice about letting Gay and Robinson disappear, about closing that mill. The energy contribution of agriculture in the past was tremendous. Sometimes you need to drive with a rear-view mirror.”
Of course, 1980 wasn’t that long ago. But in shows how in just three decades, we’ve gotten so used to the notion of shoveling in the dough by building luxury homes and resorts and shopping malls, so dazed by the lure of shoveling in easy money through the stock market and real estate speculation, that we’ve forgotten that shovels can also be used for something truly useful, like growing our own food.