Time to lock arms on Kauai

SUBHEAD: New Agricultural Strategic Plan begins to take shape.
By Coco Zickos on 06 April 2009 in The Garden Island News
Image above: Backyard banana tree contributes to our independence. Photo by Juan Wilson.
A sense of urgency is setting in and action is clearly on the rise as community members and representatives from organizations such as Natural Resources Conservation Services, the county Planning Department and Malama Kaua‘i gathered this weekend to formulate a revised Agricultural Strategic Plan for the island.
Public officials and residents are concerned about the future of Kaua‘i’s agricultural industry and are gearing up for the inevitable change that must occur due to the current lack of self-sufficiency.
Due to the organizational efforts of Ray Maki, a permaculture course instructor for Activate Kaua‘i and an experienced farmer, the weekend’s two-day event was deemed a success by many participants, with more than 250 people stopping by to listen or share their thoughts on Saturday alone.
Andrea Brower, of Malama Kaua‘i, said expanding the island’s agricultural industry will not only boost the local economy by creating more jobs and allowing money to flow through the community, it will also give individuals a chance to provide for themselves without relying on outside resources, especially when it comes to food.
“The main point of the event was to bring the agricultural community together and provide a networking opportunity, document priorities and goals, and put together a strategic plan to paint a picture of agriculture in the community,” Brower said Sunday.
Despite differing opinions, Brower was thankful there were no serious disputes at Saturday’s meeting.
“The main success was that there was such an energy and excitement and an air of collaboration,” she said.
Matt Field, an experienced gardener, said Saturday brought all the “heavy-hitters” together in one room where the buds of ideas began to grow.
“It was wonderful to see so many people coming together over this very important issue,” said former Councilwoman and Mayor JoAnn Yukimura in a phone interview Sunday.
“I was concerned, however, as to whether there was enough data and understanding of the history of agriculture on Hawai‘i and Kaua‘i because those are important things to know, but I’m hopeful and looking forward to seeing the results,” she said.
Bill 2293, which Yukimura helped draft before she left the council in December, proposes that housing for farmers and their workers be allowed over and above the density that zoning currently permits.
This was just one of the discussions re-visited Sunday morning at the Lihu‘e Neighborhood Center, along with other topics ranging from carrying capacities for local water supply to land use and regulations.
The day also provided an opportunity for smaller groups to form, where individuals could commit to working with one another on topics of their particular interest, such as water, food, marketing or labor.
Key “drivers” of the committees offered their leadership including Lex Riggle of Natural Resources Conservation Services, who volunteered to assist with bridging information together regarding sustainable land use on the island.
Riggle said the “burning issue” is land access and hopes an ad-hoc committee of interested people, including farmers and landowners, will form.
“There’s so much land out there, but it’s all tied up,” said Arius Hopman, a solar energy and sustainability advocate, adding his thoughts to the conversation. “We’re dealing with a tremendous amount of stuff ... a paradigm shift ... there is a collapsing empire and a rising force replacing it. It’s happening and it’s going to take a lot more work to ground this.
”Keone Kealoha, of Malama Kaua‘i, reminded everyone about the necessity of working together and moving forward with a direct plan of action and goals.
“How can we support each other’s passions and work together?” he said Sunday. “I’m interested in making this process grow and not just fall away like dust on the shelf.”
Michael Pilarski of Activate Kaua‘i agreed.
“I know we can do this and take initiative,” he said. “This is what the people want and we’re demanding it; the time is right and the need is there.”
Glenn Hontz, coordinator and director of the Food Industry Program at Kaua‘i Community College, who is a proponent of home and community gardens, had a similar notion in mind.
“The new era is dawning upon us ... the more we can stay together as a group ... the better off we’ll be.”
Hontz will be spearheading the capital and financing sector, as well as the research and education areas of the new agricultural plan and will bring with him his knowledge and experience in teaching and grant writing.
“The economy is spitting a lot of people out of their jobs right now,” he said, emphasizing the need for trained farmers, as well as community members who know how to grow their own food.
While there was clearly not enough time to cover every issue at hand, Sunday’s meeting drew the weekend to a close and gave a more hopeful forecast for Kaua‘i’s agricultural future.
Groups will now focus on their areas of interest, such as promoting a strategic food supply and identifying water sources on the island.
“We don’t lock our doors, we lock our arms on Kaua‘i,” Kealoha said.
For more information and to weigh in on the discussion, visit kauaiagriculturalforum.org

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