A quote in today's newspaper perfectly expresses the bizarre, fantastical mindset that seems to have developed around agriculture on Kauai. It was uttered by Poipu resident Kathy Sheffield, who “questioned the motives” behind the proposed new dairy in Mahaulepu Valley:
“This is a commercial agricultural project, and so, therefore, are they doing it for the money or really because they care about the kids on Kauai getting fresh milk,” Sheffield said.
A commercial agricultural project. Like that's something inherently bad. Like it's not OK for the people who raise our food to even cover their expenses — land, water, fertilizer, taxes, equipment, maintenance, veterinary care, feed, seed, supplies, etc. — much less make a (gasp) profit from their labors.
Most us pay for our housing, electricity, water, health care, transportation, clothing and other basic needs, and we happily buy countless other non-essentials. So why in the world would anyone expect farmers to produce our food with no economic return?
Perhaps it's the notion of a larger agricultural operation that she finds offensive — as if the small vendors at the farmers markets aren't there for the express purpose of selling their produce, goat cheese, honey, fruit or what have you to make money, even though they may love what they do.
And why must only the agricultural ventures demonstrate “pure” motives untainted by thoughts of money? If they are making money and making milk, isn't that OK? Or must they banish all thoughts of profit from their minds because it somehow tarnishes the higher good of producing food?
Or in the case of the dairy, possibly not even make a profit, because billionaire Pierre Omidyar is willing to bankroll it to see if it's a viable model that can be implemented elsewhere in Hawaii.
Though people on this island love to dreamily rhapsodize about “sustainable agriculture" and fantasize about hundreds of organic farms popping up spontaneously and feeding all of us, and the tourists, too — and from the sheer goodness of their hearts, no less — it's time to wake up and smell the paraquat-sprayed Kauai Coffee.
Agriculture is an expensive, labor-intensive endeavor, whether it's a dairy in Mahaulepu or an “organic” farm on the toxic pineapple fields of Moloaa. Farmers today, regardless of the size of their operation, must be concerned about costs and whether their enterprise makes sense as a business. Agriculture has failed repeatedly on this island, both large and small scale, because it didn't pencil out economically.
And if the daydreamers and farming wannabees fail to face this fact, their dreams and farms will meet a similar fate.
I understand that some residents of this island want to have a say in everything that goes down, especially if it's in their backyard, and most recently, and particularly, about agriculture. Which is fine. But if you're going to participate, please — come down to earth first and educate yourself about the subject at hand.