That hackneyed buzzword "sustainability" reared its ugly head today in a letter to the editor from the Hawaii Farmers Union (HFU) opposing the Mahaulepu dairy.
Aside from the very relevant question of whether the HFU, which produces just a tiny fraction of Hawaii's agricultural product, should dictate policies and practices, there is that niggling issue of WTH actually constitutes sustainability on a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific.
In her letter, Kapaa resident Eden Marie Peart writes:
[I]t is important for the public to understand the difference between HDF’s industrial dairy, with a large herd on limited acreage, and a sustainable dairy with sufficient acreage.
However, Peart doesn't put forth an image or definition of what a "sustainable dairy with sufficient acreage" would look like on Kauai. Nor does she tell us about HFU's own efforts to create the ideal it imagines. Instead — and this is what really bothers me about HFU and the antis they so often align with — she merely criticizes what is being proposed as not good enough.
Peart tells us that the National Farmers Union policy states a dairy program should "encourage and enable producers to use sustainable environmental practices” and “assist new farmers entering into farming,” before dismissing Hawaii Dairy Farms (HDF) as failing on both counts.
But HDF believes its rotational pasture model — based on New Zealand practices — is sustainable because it reduces the amount of imported fodder required to feed livestock. It also makes use of the manure to fertilize the grazing paddocks so they can produce fresh grass.
What's more, HDF will be contracting with local cattlemen to take the male calves, which enhances the sustainability of their ranching operations, and it provides a market for farmers — onstensibly some of whom may be "new" — who want to grow livestock fodder. If that production is able to reduce the importation of feed, it would boost the sustainability not only of the dairy, but others raising livestock on-island.
I was recently in New Zealand (where these pictures were taken) and while that country has had environmental problems associated with its dairy industry, largely because it is has expanded so widely and rapidly, its pasture-based model is nothing like the confined field lots of the US mainland, or the operation previously at Moloaa.
Peart also errs in stating the dairy would "imperil Kauai’s drinking water and wreak ecological havoc." Neither scenario is likely, according to the EIS, and Peart offers no documentation to support her assertions. We're just supposed to take her word for it, and join her in rejecting the project because it is "clearly contrary to the policy of the National Farmers Union."
Again, who cares what NFU thinks? They're a new organization in Hawaii, and their members have done precious little to actually advance productive agriculture in the Islands.
Peart then sniffs that the dairy "would regressively take us in a diametrically opposite direction from the food sovereignty that Hawaii and the world require for a livable future."
If she and others kill the Hawaii Dairy Farms project, there is no alternative dairy — sustainable or otherwise — waiting in the wings to take its place. Instead, it just means a perpetuation of the status quo: importing milk from the mainland. Or alternatively, more resort/tourism development. How can either of those scenarios be considered any more sustainable than the Mahaulepu dairy?
But HFU and other groups like it don't look at things in their real world context. Instead, they seek only their vision of perfection — even if failing to realize that goal means a perpetuation of practices that are clearly not sustainable.
Robert Zelkovsky, the Surfrider PR person who posts under the name "Dr Surf," has also criticized the dairy for failing to meet his definition of sustainability:
So what part of this operation IS sustainable? In ecology, sustainability (from sustain and ability) is the property of biological systems to remain diverse and productive indefinitely. Is it petroleum based fertilizer they say they will use? Nope. Is it the fuel used transporting milk to O`ahu for processing? Nope. Is it the gmo chem fed based feed they say they will need more and more of as time goes on? Nope. Is it the fuel used in transporting the calves continually born to the pregnant lactating cows? Nope.
To which I would respond, so tell us, Dr Surf, what part of your own life on Kauai is sustainable? Do you drive a car? Use electricity? Consume any food or other products imported from anywhere? Drink water? Buy any disposable products? Use any shipping services? Travel by airplane? Live in a house made from imported, termite-treated materials?
Like so many of the antis — and I'm willing to bet Peart is the same — he himself is living unsustainably even as he demands sustainability from a Kauai-based agricultural enterprise.
This double-standard continues to hinder agriculture in Hawaii, even as its proponents remain blind to both their hypocrisies and their own unsustainable existences in their adopted "paradise."
We all know it's virtually impossible to achieve true sustainability, especially on a remote island, and much less while turning a profit. If a dairy bankrolled by one of the world's richest men can't make it, what hope is there for the sustainable small farmer of Peart's bucolic dreams?
Before Peart and Dr Surf pass judgment on the dairy, they should examine their own lives and move forward with a viable alternative to HDF. Otherwise, it's just so much hot air, and with global temperatures rising, that's not sustainable, either.