County Council Update

As Hawaii County looks toward more self-reliance, we have to consider our food self-reliance.

Sustainability is a buzzword that is often used, but is not encompassing enough of the concerns in my mind. Self-reliance implies sustainable but also gives a measure of being able to address a capacity need. For the County of Hawaii, what is that need? What is the measure of food consumed here thus giving us a measure of production we need to consider?

Looking to fairly recent national statistics, the average American consumes about one ton of food a year. Doing the math, this roughly translates to 5 pounds of food per day per person. For our Big Island population of approximately 200,000 people, that roughly translates to 1,000,000 pounds of food being used each day in our county. (Please understand this is a blended average of total pounds of food and not meant to specify any one food.) To put this in scale, in order to meet this demand it would take 1,000 farmers producing 1,000 pounds of food each per day.

We have set a goal of producing 50 percent of our food. That is still 1,000 farmers producing 500 pounds of food each per day. I do know a number of farmers that can approach this, but I do not know 1,000 of them. If we as a county and state embrace the need for self-reliance, we must have the public policy and public support for all agriculture: conventional, organic, large and small scale. There is room for all. More importantly, there is a need for all.

The requirement for the ability to produce food for any society is a given. To be more self-reliant we must be more self-sufficient. Currently the only two agricultural production units that approach meeting our county needs within the County of Hawaii are the beef and dairy industries. They are strong but fragile. I have worked as a rancher and/or a livestock veterinarian with the beef industry my entire life and with the dairy industry on and off for the last 30 plus years. I can say without hesitation that the vast majority of those producers are excellent animal and land stewards.

Recently one of our island dairies has come under scrutiny for potential wastewater management concerns. The investigation and review is currently underway. I did tour the facility and can say that the management of the dairy as well as the concern and effort put into the herd health and well-being of the cows is exemplary. We as a society and elected officials need to seek and demand excellence in and from our agricultural production units. When we find it, we must then embrace it and be supportive of the efforts.

The County of Hawaii has enviable tracks of land and water resources that given the right public policies and support, many forms of agriculture can grow into strong economic drivers while better feeding our county and stewarding those resources. The market demand is there. The challenge is to produce what we need at a price point our communities can afford. That price point will be set by efficiencies in production and economies of scale. Again, a healthy agricultural sector in all sectors is what is needed.

As chairman of the Council Committee on Agriculture, Water and Energy Sustainability, I recently convened a roundtable discussion on agriculture. This was an initial meeting to start the conversation to take us in a direction for growth. In the coming months, more stakeholders will be invited to the table to give insight and input as how we will plan for the success of Hawaii County agriculture.

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