Path to Sustainability

SUBHEAD: Food self-sufficiency is an important step toward achieving genuine sustainability. By Glenn Hontz on 09 August 2009 in The Garden Island In times of plenty, there is not much concern about where our next meal is coming from. When the economy is thriving and employment is abundant, optimism fills the air. However, as an island and even as a nation, we are looking back at plentiful times and looking forward with less certainty. Worry and perhaps even fear have eroded the prior sense of optimism.
image above: A classic image of a cornucopia (horn of plenty).
From And yet from history we learn that in every crisis there is great opportunity. Perhaps our current crisis provides our island with the opportunity to look seriously at the need for self-sufficiency as a doorway to sustainability. Indeed, many of our island residents have already adopted this view and many more will follow. The idea that Kaua‘i might achieve self-sufficiency in even one sector of the economy, that of food production, has been declared “an impossible dream” by many people in the past. Today, that belief is being challenged by many more people who recognize that the impossible dream must somehow become a reality. However, achieving genuine food self-sufficiency calls forth a list for changes that will be needed in our current social and economic structure. And developing a sustainable system of local food production is high on that list. Kaua‘i now imports approximately 90% of its daily food. This situation renders us vulnerable to interruptions in shipping, rising fuel costs and an increasing scarcity of certain foods in the face of rising world population. Some experts claim that the demand for food has already exceeded the supply. These conditions invite predictions of serious food shortages for our island at the same time that profits from our food expenditures are going to off-island suppliers rather than strengthening our local economy. On the average the entire State only produces somewhere between 4.4 to 5.8 percent of our food supply. Specialists at the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agricultural have pointed out that if we doubled our production of local food we would be avoiding $120 million in imports and creating more than 3,000 jobs. Farm related business income would increase, they predict, by about $64 million, and of course, other economic benefits would occur. Similar estimates regarding the benefits of increasing local food production have been suggested by Governor Lingle and also by the Hawaii Department of Agriculture. What would it take for Kaua‘i to achieve genuine progress in the production of locally grown food? A good question! The elements that comprise the answer are being explored by our County government and several other organizations including Malama Kaua‘i , the Kaua‘i Economic Development Board, Kaua‘i Community College’s Food Industry Forum, and the Kaua‘i County Farm Bureau along with many others in our agricultural community. A clear answer is not easy to find because of the complexity of related elements. These include availability of suitable farmland and a sufficient water supply. Training of an adequate labor force, provisions for on-going technical support, and research on pest and disease control are also essential. Additionally, we will need to insure the availability of needed soil amendments and fertilizers. Comprehensive planning and coordination will be required to provide for the planting, harvesting and distribution of locally appropriate crops to provide a healthy and balanced diet. And finally, there is the need for entrepreneurship and, of course, creative leadership. This is a challenging list but it must be accomplished if genuine progress is to be achieved. It is also obvious that serious planning and cooperation from a broad spectrum of organizations and agencies will be needed. However, progress now is being made, and one of the leading institutions engaged in the effort is Kaua‘i Community College. Programs at KCC are providing the key element of training to home gardeners, community garden teams and to entrepreneurs preparing to enter small commercial farming. This is important because our island’s current inventory of farms and farmers is far below the level needed to achieve significant gains in local food production. As has been observed, “No Farms = No Food,” and it may be added that “No Training = No Farmers.” Clearly training is essential to achieve success in dealing with the challenges of growing food in our semi-tropical environment. The College in cooperation with some of Hawaii’s leaders in agriculture and in consultation with some of the island’s most successful farmers has been developing the methods and materials needed, along with the training programs required. A career pathway is being created at KCC by the training and experience provided for home gardeners and community gardeners who are then prepared to advance independently and successfully into small commercial farming. It is a promising pathway that serves not only those seeking to lower their food bill along with the option of a new part-time or full-time career but also serves our island’s critical need for local food production. Although the pathway is open and appealing to many, the three most pressing needs to facilitate this training effort and achieve the “impossible” dream are these: 1) increased funding for training costs, 2) engaging more qualified instructors and 3) recruiting more candidates to participate in the training. Public support is being earnestly requested and interested persons are being invited to step forward. A few hours a week from enough people is all it will take to significantly increase our production of local food. Home gardens serve the family, community gardens serve the neighborhood and collectively they provide the experiential pathway to building a network of small commercial farms that can serve the entire island. It is clear that food self-sufficiency is an important step toward achieving genuine sustainability of the cherished rural lifestyle for our island. It is also clear that it will never be achieved without a significant increase of public support and participation. Those who love Kaua‘i are stepping forward. The island is for all of us and all of us must now be for the island. • Glenn Hontz is the Director for the KCC’s Food Industry Career Program and can be reached at or 246-4859.

1 comment : said...

To my favorite person of substance in the Class of 63.

Wonderful photo essay and beautifully written article. Truer words were never spoken. The red barn was the center of your universe. Wish it had been mine.

Dee Wilson Senft

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