Monday, October 14, 2013

Musings: Dirt Cheap

As people fight about biotech vs organic, the real future of agriculture continues to unfold, with barely a murmur of dissent. I'm talking about the proliferation of gentleman's estates — euphemistically characterized as “ag subdivisions” — throughout windward Kauai.

They've consumed Kilauea, Waipake and Moloaa, crept through Aliomanu and Kealia, and now they're taking over Kapahi. Growing Greens Nursery, a true agricultural use, is getting squeezed out for “farm” lots that will start at $250,000 each.

First, though, all the big old camphor trees are being cut down and ground into mulch, their pungent scent mingling with the diesel smoke from heavy equipment. Who knows how many birds and wild bee hives were destroyed?

This particular travesty is the work of developer Chris Singleton, whose legacy includes disinterring Hawaiian burials for that garish Waipouli Beach Resort across from Safeway. But make no mistake — he's not the only one, and this farm lot scam goes down with the county's full knowledge and blessing.

Councilman Gary Hooser says the biotech companies aren't paying their share of property taxes. They should — and so should all the gentleman “farmers” with their fake “farm dwellings,” fruit trees, “yardens” and hobby horses. Why are we letting these wealthy landowners slide as they eat our precious ag land? 

When I see some of these gentrifiers — and the Realtors who cater to them, like Mimsy Bouret and Neal Norman — stand up in red shirts and say, "we must protect the aina," well, it's a little hard to stomach.

I've always been staunchly opposed to biotech, and I'd like to see the chemical companies move on. Still, at least those fields can be remediated and returned to meaningful production. Once the land is developed into gentleman's estates, it's gone forever. And please, don't give me the bullshit about how maybe they'll let some peasant come in and work it. Mow it, yeah. Farm it, no.

Our ag land is slipping through our fingers, and into the pockets of the developers, the realtors and the contractors who profit from them.

But apparently that core issue — the actual protection of the land itself — isn't sexy enough, or “important” enough to gain the attention of the Council and activists. So while they fight and posture and pander and call themselves heroes, our agricultural destiny is being defined by those who equate green with cash and farm land with hefty profits.

Wake up, folks. You may think the "enemy" is on the westside, but from where I sit on the eastside, it's right in my back yard.


Andrea Brower said...

Dear Joan,

A good critical mind like yours can deconstruct and tear apart anything. In any situation, there is always a lack, something that could be better, that we can focus on.

But a critical mind can also be applied to seeing possibility, and making it more material by helping to direct it in a constructive way. The “activists” you criticize (with quite a lot of venom!) include perhaps mostly young people, born and raised here, who are beginning to find their political voice and articulate a vision for an island where food and agricultural sustainability is a priority. They may not yet have a well-developed critique of land use policy: maybe you could contribute to that knowledge? Maybe you can help to engage people in thinking about the structural challenges we are facing, perhaps starting with the colonial legacy of concentrated land ownership, and what we might DO about them?

I would love to see your words and thoughts applied in such a skillful way. Sharp critique is important, but it can be done in a way that contributes to building the possibility of a better world, rather than simply beating-down the voices of people (mostly young) who are attempting to make sense of a world of injustice and imagine something better.

With respect,

Lyn said...

And many of these "farms" think nothing of diverting water into ponds and little waterways, thereby affecting everyone downstream.

Anonymous said...

You're absolutely right Joan! But what can we do?

Joan Conrow said...

Dear Andrea,
I find that people appreciate my critical voice until it is directed at them, and then they want it softened.

Please do not advise me on where I should be directing my efforts, or how I should be using my voice and words. I have spent decades educating people about land use policy, the political process, water and energy issues, the colonial legacy of land ownership, the reality of agriculture in Hawaii, etc., etc., etc. I've done more than my share to add to the solutions, the ideas, the body of knowledge.

But sometimes criticism — indeed, a sharp rebuke — is in order when people become so wrapped up in ideology, rhetoric and ego that they are failing to see the larger picture and subsequently sabotaging their cause and this island's agricultural future.

Anonymous said...

This herbicide/anti-GMO bill may force the big land owners to checkerboard their lands with Ag sub-ds and CPRs, similar to what Savio proposed for the Grove Farm land until Case bought it. Everything north of Wailua River is chopped up. Such is the future for the entire island. I respect Andrea's passion, but a silver spooned kid's comfortable perspective is a far cry from Kauai's reality. Most people just want a small house and be left alone. The anti-GMO people have created a sweet harmony, of the rich (uber-rich, realtors, former developers etc) and dirt poor young, hand to mouth locals. Fear and hysteria make strange bedfellows. Perhaps these conscientious, caring and evolved NS busybodies would allow some of the soon to be jobless westsiders room on their estates?

Joan Conrow said...

Dear 3:29 --

What we can do is ask the Council to stringently regulate agricultural subdivisions, such as ensuring they have a valid ag plan that is implemented; enforcing the farm dwelling agreement, starting with the most egregious offenders, and cracking down on the CPR process that makes these deals so profitable.

We also can ask the Council to review its subdivision process, perhaps making it simpler for landowners to make a real subdivision that will house working people, instead of an ag one that benefits only those in high income brackets.

And as individuals, we can choose to avoid purchasing in ag subdivisions when we know we have no intention of farming.

Andrea Brower said...

Hi Joan,

Yes, you are right, my comment came off as "advising," and I do apologize for that -- I have a lot of respect for your decades of critical journalism. I was too hasty in my comments (personal reaction, I admit), and at least should have began with thanking you for bringing up an aspect of the issue that is far too often left out of the conversation. So, belated mahalo.

What I have found unfair about your writing on the recent movement around the pesticide/GMO issue is what seems to me like very black and white interpretations. There are definitely "activists" involved in this issue who are very much concerned with land use policy, and have also focused our attention there. The movement is not homogenous, does not come from a single perspective, and the activists can't all go into a single box. There are definite flaws, blind spots, exaggerations, (ideological, egoic, etc) ... in any movement, and in any individual! And yes, we do need to call those out. What I was suggesting is that we can do so in a way that also builds on the potentials... To the fact that my generation is turning their focus (and values) to protecting land, the environment, and the possibility of local ag, for example. But you are correct, I am not one to advise you on these matters, and when you should and shouldn't use your most critical voice. :)

On your comment on my comment, are you suggesting that the movement is sabotaging the island's agricultural future? That is a logic I cannot understand.

Hope we can catch-up for a real chat at the beach sometime.

Chuck Lasker said...

I appreciate your viewpoint, even if served cold and even if I disagree. While I don't agree with you about biotech, I do agree on this issue.

With all the talk of "sustainability" and "farming for food we eat" on Kauai, what has been missing is people actually doing it. The seed companies only lease 20% of designated ag land on Kauai, so the land is available - for now. When someone steps up to farm for local food, we need to be sure there's land to do it.

Some day I would like to learn more about land use issues on Kauai. Maybe you would be willing to help.


Anonymous said...

Although I generally agree with the premise here, I must say that some of these "gentlemen farmers" on the North Shore are directly subsidizing many of the farms you buy from at the farmers market. I would rather not name names, but I am sure you know what I am talking about. While we all want some cracking down on the atrocities you speak of, what we don't want is the average Joe going to court because of a rice cooker in a spare bedroom. Lot's of normal non super rich folks would suffer if we went to far in the other direction. There are plenty of people who there entire life's savings are resting in a piece of Kauai real estate. I am not in the real estate business, but don't feel that it is fair to judge these people you do not know.

Anonymous said...

Did you just move to Kauai or are you off island?

Anonymous said...

You too... Did you just move to Kauai or are you off island?

Anonymous said...

Excellent job zeroing in on the root of the problem Joan.

I do not agree with Browerʻs little burst of petulance and as your wisdom is always apparent, the real problems are the land uses/abuses.

It is easy to get people riled for protests and activists certainly do their part in exposure of issues but being able to hit the heart of it is only for the seasoned critics with the deeper vision and not those just seeking creds. This is something that cannot be learned in classroom.

You got creds, Joan. No doubt about it. In fact so much so you have been willing to apply your journalistic talent to delving into something the weak of heart fear to tread on: sovereignty.

Yes, the big 5 are definitely still doing their damage here and any and all sincere/genuine investigative writers of truth need to start focusing their abilities on the quirks of this jurisdiction called the state of Hawaii.

Thank you for all you do, past -present - future.

Anonymous said...

Darryl Kaneshiro's trifling carcass was apart of the gentlemen farm estates when he was on council.

He did some dirt and did not recuse himself even though it was a clear case of conflict of interest for him to testify to also build multiple dwellings on AG land. Where my kids going live???

Anonymous said...

I wonder if this shutdown has more sinister sauce on it than weʻre being told. For instance, could it be because the gold at Fort Knox is counterfeit and China is really pissed? Or they are planning on an introduction of new currency> surprise surprise and anything under the mattress is well, monopoly money now?

How will the shutdown affect Monsanto since it is part of the federal government?

Anonymous said...

Agree on dat, 8:13 PM.

Anonymous said...

Gotta test the westside water now. What is in the ditches, streams and rivers now?

Anonymous said...

Here's another paradox: the biggest environmental problem facing the planet is global warming caused by trapped greenhouse gases. How many of us think nothing of hopping on a plane or driving a car or opening the fridge? Future generations will look upon us as environmental criminals on par with the pesticide companies.

Anonymous said...

No they wonʻt.

Do you look back on your parents as environmental criminals?

Pursuing their ʻamerican dreamʻ that was only for white people and not caring about anything else.

And believing that 3rd world countries donʻt care about their children as much as we care about ours. And dropping nuke bombs on humans?

And sucking the life out of their countries for american needs.

And just like the descendents of big 5 over here, they donʻt look back and never will.

It is all about self.

Anonymous said...

My parents didn't know about global warming. We, on the other hand, make conscious decisions regardless of the impact. What have you done to lesses your carbon footprint? I know I could do a lot more but I don't. You are right. It is about self.

Andrea Brower said...

So glad that somebody brought up climate change, definitely the elephant in the room when we talk about any kind of future on this planet at all! The way we grow, process and distribute food is a primary cause of climate change, and also must be a primary solution.

The "food movement" in the US should have climate change at the forefront of the agenda, as the food sovereignty movement led by growers in poorer countries does.

It would be great to use some of this public focus on "industrial agriculture" to do some educational events and debates on the relationship between our food system and CC. Whoever made that comment, I'd be excited to help organize!

Chuck Lasker said...

Ah yes, the newest "blame everything on GMOs" meme thrown out by the most honorable Dr. Mercola, that GMOs are causing global warming. Yes, genetic modification in crops is causing global warming, while using billions of tons of cow dung for fertilizer on organics is not.

Anonymous said...

Andrea, If that should be at the forefront why did you start with GMOs?

Anonymous said...

And what land zoning do you live on?

Anonymous said...

Welcome to our reality. Kanaka have been facing and dealing with multiple attacks on many fronts concerning our land and resources. Nothing new and it only gets worst with time. I support this movement against the biotech companies as I am against the TVR and Ag land abuses that are chronic here. Its a fight for survival of the endangered Kanaka Maoli and our ancestral lands. Frankly, the poisoning of our land and water and eventually us, is a more urgent fight and I'm glad to see the activism surrounding this issue. What I despise is the labeling taking place. Personal attacks are a distraction from the important issues at hand. Let's face it, the state is incompetent in regulating the biotech industry which suits the companies just fine. Not sure why we can't have some focus on this while at the same time feel just as passionate about other pressing matters. If I remember correctly, Gary supported an investigation into the tvr abuses, who stonewalled that? Same ones who are trying to stonewall bill 2491 (Mayor and chronies).

Anonymous said...

Global warming is a hoax. In a way.
It is happening but is man-made.
Ever heard of HAARP? Iʻm sure you all have. Itʻs also in Kauaiʻs backyard.
You notice I donʻt say "our" backyard; Iʻm not kanaka nor am I a Hawaiian National yet.

Yes, the man-made weather modifications and traumatic tampering with the atmosphere (you know, poking a hole here and there in the ionosphere) is THE CAUSE so spare the GW rhetoric. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Joan for your years of service as a journalist, I sincerely like the idea you shared:
What we can do is ask the Council to stringently regulate agricultural subdivisions, such as ensuring they have a valid ag plan that is implemented; enforcing the farm dwelling agreement, starting with the most egregious offenders, and cracking down on the CPR process that makes these deals so profitable.

We also can ask the Council to review its subdivision process, perhaps making it simpler for landowners to make a real subdivision that will house working people, instead of an ag one that benefits only those in high income brackets.

And as individuals, we can choose to avoid purchasing in ag subdivisions when we know we have no intention of farming.

** I think it only fair that one could be allowed to live on ag land if they were farming it. I would like to see a program such as that open up to Kauai's people who are serious about farming but are in a bracket that have no means to lease or purchase land to do so (as there are many of us).

I am but a simple local who was born and raised here, one of the "younger" generations who has woken up to many things happening in our islands. I have had an interest in farming on ag lands for many years but never could afford or really knew how to get a piece of it. Over the years it has appeared to me that the wealthy continue to come in & purchase many properties and land meant for farmers. I believe Kauai could grow food to sustain the island(s) if we stopped bringing in fruit & vegetable that could be grown locally, we could be growing an abundance of mango, lychee and other fruit (that grow well here) that WE could IMPORT to bring in revenue to the islands instead of having some of these imported to us.

If I am young & clueless and there is a program already available & providing applications to farm on ag land for a low income brackets, I would like to sign up NOW!! Please direct me, Mahalo! Any reply or comment to this would be appreciated.

Joan Conrow said...

Thanks for your kind words, and I hope you are able to find land.

I'm aware that Kauai Farm Bureau is currently accepting applications of interest for state ag land in Kalepa. You can contact them at 337-9944.

Andy Parx said...

This may get hidden here- I've been playing catch-up today.

I have been in the middle of all the Pass the Bill mania posting stuff on Facebook and occasionally on my blog for months now- to the exclusion of other issues unfortunately. And although I often spurred dozens of responses on the subject of pesticides and GMOs, the dozen plus times I tried to bring up gentleman farmers, TVRs, the water history of ag, the ADC and things along those lines you know what I got- the on-line equivalent of blank states.

I think that's what Joan is saying Andrea. I know YOU get what she ( and I, I guess) are saying saying abut land use and, more importantly, understand these issues, but it's like pulling teeth to get many of those in the "anti-chemical/biotech companies on Kauai" movement to sit up and take notice much less take action.

Joan Conrow said...

Yes, Andy, that is what I'm saying. Or more bluntly, they are missing the forest for the trees.

However, I no not share your certainty that Andrea understands these broader issues. She seems to think that her generation is novel in "turning their focus (and values) to protecting land, the environment, and the possibility of local ag," when that effort has been under way for well over 50 years on this island, and land protection long before that.

Andy Parx said...

You may be right- I'm going by some of her statements and communications and probably projecting about growing up in an activist family so she must be aware of that. I'm reminded of the Cat Stevens song "I know that it's hard to be calm, when you find something's much going on. But take you time, think a lot, think of everything you've got. Because you'll still be here tomorrow but your dreams may not" - or something like that.
I've been trying- as always- to try to get just 5% of the newbies to get permanently involved in the next issue and the one after that- and even 5% is an often impossible goal, although it's easier with a perceived "win"... same as it ever was, same as it ever was...

Anonymous said...

Her dad is a contractor that builds mcmansions on ag land. That's what Andy calls activism?

Anonymous said...

I find this entire "green" movement a load of codswallop. Hawaii is nothing like it was 200-500 years ago - most of the fauna is non-native. The people are interlopers (even the so-called "Hawaiians"). We can still see how the land was terraformed from centuries ago. It's little different today other than there is more of us and we have better technology.

So let's cut the crud and the kumbaya nonsense that is so thick on these issues.

GMO is everywhere - and has been around since Man started domesticating wheat millennia ago. That we use advanced technology today is irrelevant to the argument.

Anonymous said...

Seriously? Your plan to prevent the eradication of agriculture and open space on Kauai is that " individuals, we can choose to avoid purchasing in ag subdivisions when we know we have no intention of farming."?
I would expect better from you. This is Hawaii! If ag is no longer viable or politically favored, gentlemen farms it will be! We are like an oil sheikdom but instead of oil, we have land. It makes us lazy and conditions us to think it is totally normal for money to come our way without having to work at it. This leads us to indulge our fantasies and handicap - consciously or not - attempts to build a real economy, like bill 2491.
You say that you have "always been staunchly opposed to biotech" and would "like to see the chemical companies (i assume the seed companies) move on". But why? What is so nefarious about plant breeding? This is a high-value-added activity for which Hawaii is perfectly suited. We will never be a place for commodity production.
And why do you think that these seed companies, whose crops have to grow in the soil, have made the soil any less fertile than say sugar, pineapple, banana or papaya farming (i.e. meaningful production)? Are you aware that pesticide use on Kauai (and the toxicity of those pesticides) has fallen dramatically over the last 30 years?
I'm not saying you have to love Monsanto, but that does not mean you have to throw the baby out with the bath water. Given how well you connect the dots on issues, I am surprised you let your emotions lead you to an irresponsible policy choice. I was also disappointed because I thought this article was quite strong and on point but the ending left me feeling like there is no hope since even people who see the problem in our land use policies and can articulate them well, undermine realistic ways of combating it.