It's common practice, when public officials are deliberating a complex or contentious issue, to make a site visit to the affected property.
While still a state Senator, Gary Hooser took one such trip to Niihau, as well as a three-day site visit to Maui County. He also made site visits to the proposed Kauai bike path route, the disputed county road at Papaa and the Waipake beach access offered by Larry Bowman. He even asked the state DLNR to make one prior to taking any action on a cattle fence at Lepeuli beach.
But though Hooser has been talking stink about the seed companies for years, and pushing comprehensive bills to regulate their actions, he has never, ever, been to one of the farms. (Aside from sneaking into the fields with a French reporter.)
So is he embarrassed to actually face the people he's demonized as craven compromisers of children's health, money-mad monsters, pitiless poisoners of people and the aina?
Or is he afraid he might actually see something that would force him to open his eyes, and yes, his teeny-tiny mind?
Shoots, even red shirt cheerleader Felicia Cowden, who has devoted countless hours on her “community radio” show to trashing the seed companies, went out to take a look, bringing the keiki she's inexplicably charged with “educating” along, too. As she wrote to Sarah Thompson on Facebook (emphasis added):
That field trip with my students at Dow was a very quality sharing of the fields by high-level participants. Thank you for being a part of it. We were all honored at the sincere effort to share what is the procedures on the farms. I had earlier had a tour in Waimea with Peter and Kirby. Again, the procedures and precautions exceeded my expectations as well as the frame of heart of these site managers.
Of course, Felicia still believes she knows more than people who have devoted their education and careers to ag, and that “yardening” will cheaply and effectively feed the billions. In other words, she remains inherently deluded. Nonetheless, even she acknowledges that “a tour is worthwhile for reducing a conversation to what is real.”
Ah. Perhaps Hooser fears seeing his conversation reduced to “what is real.” Because once you remove all the innuendo, speculation, hyperbole, hype, fear-mongering and flat out fibbing, what is left of his conversation, save for bubbles and hot air?
What I found in touring all the Kauai seed fields, which I wrote about here, here and here, convinced me that claims against the companies were untrue. What I found in meeting seed company employees, from top management to field crew, was a high degree of pride in their work. They were invariably hurt, bewildered and indignant that they had been so horribly mischaracterized.
I also learned that each farm, like each company, has its own personality and style. That point was reinforced when I recently toured the DuPont-Pioneer seed farm at Wailaua, Oahu. My guides were plant manager Richard McCormack and farm manager Alika Napier, whose family has lived in the area for generations.
|DuPont-Pioneer farm at Waialua.|
For one thing, it's neat and tidy, complementing its beautiful setting. “I look at the farm and it's a palette of crops and textures, and Alika is the painter,” McCormack says.
|Alika Napier, Pioneer farm manager|
For another, they actively employ “natural” practices that many seem to believe is incompatible with “industrial ag.” For example, they grow cover crops, including sunn hemp, which is a host for a parasitic wasp that helps control the corn earworm. In fact, it's proven so effective they've been able to stop spraying for that pest.
|Sunn hemp at Pioneer.|
They grew, harvested and cleaned 10 acres of sunn hemp seeds, which they donated to the Oahu RC&D — primarily for sale to organic farmers. They also plant hedges of vetiver, which trap and filter sediment and slow the velocity of water flowing through gullies, thus protecting water quality and preventing erosion. They rotate both their seed and cover crops.
They have never used atrazine, and have nearly completely migrated away from Chlorpyrifos. And they voluntarily post all their restricted use pesticide applications on the Good Neighbor website.
The Waialua facility is also a satellite campus for the statewide Go Farm program, which trains and supports new farmers.
One of the graduates of that program now runs chicken tractors on Pioneer land where oats have been grown as a cover crop — an enterprise that has proven so successful he can't meet demand for his pricey birds.
They provide supplemental growing acreage for Twin Bridge Farms, one of the nation's largest producers of virus-free seed potatoes, and let a nearby rancher harvests the oat cover crops as supplemental feed for his cattle.
By the end of this year, they will have subleased over 700 acres to local farmers for food production, in lieu of planting cover crops.
They host some 2,800 school kids, as well as parents and teachers, on field trips that emphasize science and math and fund STEM programs in local schools. They allow youth groups to raise money through food and parking concessions when droves of folks come to see the sunflower fields in bloom.
Their employees donate money and time, volunteering for science fairs, Project Graduation, beach clean-ups, food and diaper drives, maintaining sports fields and beach parks. The employees helped make a cultural garden at Waialua High School, and created a hula garden for a local halau. They also purchase produce from local farms to supplement their Meals on Wheels deliveries.
Tell me — have Hooser and his red-shirted followers come even close to supporting the community in that way?
I'm not saying that Pioneer, or any of the seed companies are perfect, or that their parent companies have flawless records. I'm just saying that nearly all the claims made about their Hawaii operations are false.
But don't take my word for it — or Hooser's. Seeing is believing. These companies frequently host open houses. Next time they do, go see for yourself.