Friday, April 4, 2008

Musings: Building on Burials and Farm Lands

Can anything be more lovely than a rainsquall tinted pink?

That’s what I found myself wondering this morning as Koko and I stood beside the road and watched the rising sun fill the clouds raining on Waialeale with rich, rosy color that bled onto the mountains and up into the sky.

It was chilly — 61 degrees, according to my neighbor Andy, who then told me he didn’t like Wednesday’s post, where I wrote of picking veggies in John Wooten’s fields and complained that Hawaiians have no land to farm, while the big seed companies grow GMO crops on Westside “crown lands.”

Andy thought it painted too idyllic and simplistic a picture, when the reality is that most people really don’t want to farm. He said KCC had offered a farming class in the late 1970s or early ‘80s, and only a couple of people signed up.

It’s too difficult to make a living and people don’t actually want to do the hard work of farming, Andy said. They just like to talk about it.

It’s a view I’ve also heard from Farmer Jerry, who has expressed impatience at the notion of getting a lot of people “back on the land” and mentioned more than once during our roadside chats: “Where are all the farmers?”

Jerry also has pointed out that while I and others may not like the GMO crops, they’re providing Westsiders with good-paying ag jobs that they otherwise wouldn’t have.

It’s true that farming is harder work than most of us want to do. After just two hours of bending over to pick, I could feel it in my back, and as I worked I thought many times of how John and Nandie are out there day in and day out, tromping through the mud when it’s raining, worrying about their water bills when it’s not, dealing with the hectic crush of the farmer’s market, placating neighbors who want them to cut the trees that serve as vital wind blocks.

It’s definitely not an occupation for everyone. Still, there are some people who are good at it and want to do it, but don’t want to be tenant farmers and can’t afford land of their own.

And as Jerry has said many times, farming tends to works best when it’s a lifestyle, not just an occupation, so it’s important for people to live by their orchards and fields.

Which is happening, Andy facetiously pointed out, on some of the gentleman’s estates.

So how do we make that happen for those who don’t have half a million bucks to shell out just for land? I’ve always thought ag parks, which the state proposed in the late 1980s but never produced, are a good idea.

What I want to know, and I hope readers will share their views, is what do we, as a community, really want when it comes to agriculture? Large-scale monocrops like sugar and biofuels? Boutique farms? Backyard gardens and fruit trees to supply our own needs and share around, plantation camp style?

Do we want agriculture to be a viable industry, with exports and value-added products, or do we just want to do a better job of feeding ourselves?

Despite the many ag studies, forums and panel discussions — including one planned for next Friday’s conservation conference — these questions have not been adequately answered, and so policies to guide that vision have not been adopted.

Meanwhile, farmland keeps getting used for everything but that purpose. Is this what we want? To wake up one morning and find our ag lands are all built up, and our options are gone?

And on another, more troubling note, do we really want to see people building their homes on top of burials? A friend emailed me a report from yesterday morning’s Burial Council meeting, where the council ruled a man named Brescia, who wants to build a house at Ha`ena Point, must leave 31 iw kupuna (ancient burials) in place.

But since the planning department gave him the green light before the Burial Council ruled, Brescia can build his house over the iwi kupuna.

Here’s more from that email:

Most of the Iwi were women and children, with 8 Iwi dismembered as they dug with bulldozers and excavators and even after they kept finding Iwi, they continued with the machines until fully 1/3 were desecrated, broke up. What kind of society do we have here when we disrespect so? Cultural genocide. The meeting began with a Pule, and full Hawaiian Protocol, ending with all joining hands and singing. The room was overflowing, people were sobbing, chanting, impassioned and determined to protect the Iwi. Questioning the jurisdiction of the state and council, actually letting them know they had no rightful jurisdiction, or ownership for that matter, these are Crown Lands.

Coastal development, sick society, people get to build on a cemetery. What white cemetery would ever be disrespected so? Is there another place in the world where people deliberate on whether they should dig up the ancestors or whether people get to just build on top of them? So sorry.

No, I haven’t heard of any other place where people hold such deliberations, nor of a place where people are so insensitive to the culture and those who came before them that they’re willing to live on top of the bones of others just so they can have their fancy house with an ocean view.

Genocide is a word bandied about often these days, and I heard it used recently by the Dalai Lama, who said that allowing the Chinese to continue moving into Tibet is a form of cultural genocide. Is the situation really any different here, when you’ve got clueless, arrogant people like Brescia moving to Kauai?


Andy Parx said...

When I hear a big land-owning farmer complaining that “no one wants to farm” I don’t know that their vision of what farming is isn’t compromised.

What are we talking about?- that people don’t want to plant, weed and harvest someone else’s farm for low wages? Is a complaint that there is no cheap labor?

Then yes, no one wants to “farm” But that isn’t really what a future farmer wants any more than the luna would like it .

Where is the young person who wants to farm supposed to do it? Even if they had the will, the equipment and the know-how the price of the land is 100% prohibitive.

It’s not that no one really wants to farm it’s just they’re not stupid and readily can see the future if they have to pay-off the land from their farming activity at residential prices.

Many of the farmers who complain that no one wants to farm inherited their parcels and didn’t have to make the farm productive enough to afford the ridiculously inflated prices of this land we call “ag land” but don’t treat as such. If you couldn’t put houses on ag land and it was, by law, useless for anything else the value would plummet.

We have the tail wagging the dog. Yes it’s nice to live where you farm but we have the house on ag land without the farm so essentially there is no such thing as ag land.

Perhaps if we required five years of highly productive farming before allowing small a quarter-acre residential square of it to include a single family limited square footage house that ran with the farming activity- or any other similarly restrictive scheme- we would have cheap land where young people who want to have a career- or lifestyle- in farming would be encouraged to do it rather than looking at the bleak prospects of such a career because the farm would have to pay for the overpriced land.

If we didn’t allow the ag land to be used as residential for the rich, there would be plenty at low enough prices that the repayment of a huge nut wouldn’t have t be produced by the farming activity. Then there would be plenty of kids coming up who would choose the farming lifestyle.

Anonymous said...

Actually, if you google move cemetery you get tons of hits referring to relocating cemeteries to make room for development. It looks like they moved one in Chicago to make room for an expansion of O'hare airport. Not at all unheard of on the mainland.