Hawai‘i currently imports the majority of its food, fertilizers, energy, and seeds, leaving the islands particularly vulnerable to economic disruptions, fuel price fluctuations, catastrophic natural disasters, water scarcity, and other climate- related events. Increasing Hawai‘i’s capacity to produce and sell local food will help reduce Hawai‘i’s vulnerability to these external pressures.
In order to meet Hawai‘i’s goal of doubling local food production by 2030, it is important to build on Hawai‘i’s long history of agricultural innovation and abundance. Prior to Western contact, Native Hawaiians supported a population of one million through systems-based land stewardship and food cultivation practices.
Hawai‘i’s ancestral knowledge can guide the future of the local food system and opportunities for reinvestment.
He aliʻi ka ʻāina; he kauā ke kanaka. The land is a chief; man is its servant.
I nā mālama 'oe i ka 'āina, na ka 'āina mālama iā 'oe. If you take care of the land, the land will take care of you.
In order to examine barriers and potential actions, the following were identified as key components to increasing local food: labor & land resources, production, processing, distribution and consumption. The barriers and current status of each of these components are briefly described below.
Labor & Land Resources
A healthy and viable local food system in contingent on a skilled labor force of farmers and ranchers, as well as available land and water resources.
The next generation of farmers, ranchers and agricultural entrepreneurs are critical to meeting Hawai‘i’s 2030 local production goal. Farmers in Hawai‘i face similar challenges as those in other regions, including business economic viability and the difficulty of acquiring a living wage. These challenges can reduce interest in pursuing a career in farming. Education, farming training programs and community outreach can play a prominent role in securing a skilled workforce and shifting the social paradigm of the local agriculture profession. The number of operators has grown since the 1980s as farms transitioned from a single operator of a larger land (as in sugarcane or pineapple) to many smaller farms run by families.
Land and water access are also key barriers for local food growth. Land leases are available, but are typically short term or month-to-month, which does not allow enough security to the lessee to invest in mid- to long-term cultivation. Water rates vary greatly within the state, with lands in higher elevation paying more for water due to pumping costs. Alternative energy could provide a sustainable solution to reducing pumping prices. Water access is also a limiting factor, as historic agricultural irrigation systems are degrading and in need of capital to restore them for future use. Dam safety requirements are making it challenging to build new storage reservoirs. With changing climate and rainfall patterns, it is increasingly pressing to plan and invest in water sources for food production.
Investing in agricultural parks and eco-villages (which help provide affordable housing for farmers) located in areas that could offer long-term land leases and reliable and affordable water supply could provide opportunities for more farms to develop, in addition to affordable housing for farmers. For example, the Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture and Agribusiness Development Corporation plan to have 600-900 additional acres of O‘ahu Galbraith Agricultural lands cultivated in the next two years. In addition, they are exploring an Agricultural Business Incubator in Kekaha, Kaua‘i for over 5,000 acres of agricultural lands to increase the States food production.
The production of locally grown and raised food in Hawai‘i faces multiple challenges due to Hawai‘i’s unique geographic location. Farms struggle to compete with national and international prices, since the cost of production is so much higher for an isolated island chain. Ranchers, for example, must either pay high land prices for livestock grazing or import animal feed. Because of these financial pressures on island, and due to better prices for livestock on the continental US, ranchers often export cattle to mainland for finishing. As seen with this example, the economic viability of farms in Hawai‘i is crucial for increasing local production.
New rules and regulations present additional barriers to local food production, including the newly assigned Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). More details on FSMA can be found below in the Processing section.
Additionally, farmers in Hawai‘i face similar challenges to farmers elsewhere, including not being valued by society and the challenge of acquiring a living wage from a farming occupation. These challenges lead to less interest in farming. Education and farming training programs could play a prominent role in shifting the social paradigm towards a genuine respect for those involved in local agriculture.
Although it cannot be quantified for this dashboard, consumers producing their own food in backyard gardens, community gardens, and by hunting, gathering, or fishing will also assist Hawai‘i in importing less food. Fresh fruits and vegetables have more nutritional value than those that have travelled long distances, which is an added benefit of growing your own produce.
Figure 1: *Statewide Agricultural Land Use Baseline, 2015; Department of Agriculture
Local Beef Production – Coming Soon; In 2015, 31,000 head of cattle were shipped off-island to be finished and 29,000 head of calves stayed locally to be finished. Hawai‘i Cattleman Council – waiting on historic data to make graph here).
Food processing in Hawai‘i includes slaughter houses, dairies, packaging facilities, and commercial kitchens. As of 2016, there are only eight slaughter houses in Hawai‘i and one processing facility for milk. The limited number of processing facilities is a barrier to increasing local production, particularly for local beef and milk, and needs to be increased within the State of Hawai‘i.
While the goal of doubling local food is focused on “fresh local” food such as fruits, vegetables, diary, and proteins, value added products can provide much needed additional income for food entrepreneurs. Access to commercial kitchens and processing facilities for smaller farms in a shared cooperative atmosphere could spur growth, whether it’s through restaurants with down time leasing to other parties or commercial kitchens built specifically to use on a part time basis. The numbers of commercial kitchens and packaging facilities is not known, however the Hawai‘i Food Manufacturing Association lists its registered members, and there are 85 food manufacturing companies as of 2016. These companies make “Made in Hawai‘i” products that may not be made of 100% local products, but are part of the economic engine to drive growth in the local food market.
Food Safety Modernization Act
Barriers to food production include changes in regulations and policies. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is one example, which was introduced in 2014 with the aim of shifting the focus from responding to food contamination to preventing contamination. The agricultural water requirements will affect local farmers because the new rules require frequent water testing throughout the year. Other aspects include biological soil amendments, rules to prevent the contamination of sprouts, contamination from domestic and wild animals, new requirements for worker hygiene and health, and new standards on equipment, tools, and buildings. Small farms in Hawai‘i are likely to struggle with these new regulations, while larger farms will likely be able to absorb the new costs. For more details, visit the FDA FSMA Information Page.
Local food is distributed through a variety of markets, including farmers markets, direct sales to restaurants, wholesale distribution to supermarkets, co-ops and institutional purchasing such as through schools. Actions to improve distribution channels of local food in Hawai‘i include increased marketing to visitors and building further networking and learning opportunities between local chefs, businesses, food entrepreneurs and farms in order to smooth inconsistencies in supply and demand. In addition, increased availability of locally produced food and groceries in supermarkets is important for consumers.
Farm to School Hawai‘i
In 2015, Hawai‘i established a Statewide Farm to School Program (F2S) in the Department of Agriculture to positively influence keiki’s relationship with their food and the `āina (that which feeds us) and improve the health of children through the support of school gardens, health and nutrition education, agriculture, and the State’s procurement of locally grown foods. (Act 218 (SLH 2015). Farm to School Program activities include: growing school gardens, purchasing & serving locally grown food, cooking and taste-testing of locally grown food, conduction student filed trips to farms/orchards/ranches, engaging in agricultural production & marketing and exploring agricultural career options. Metrics related to F2S are available through the USDA 2015 F2S Census for Hawai‘i i, but are being refined to more accurately represent progress in F2S. According to the survey, in 2015, 47% of Hawai‘i School Districts reported participating in farm to school activities.
Based on a new USDA/ NASS survey, this indicator shows how many farms sell to roadside stands. This metric will be updated every five years through the Local Food Marketing Practices Survey of NASS.
Based on a new USDA/ NASS survey, this indicator shows how many farms sell to CSA’s. This metric will be updated every five years through the Local Food Marketing Practices Survey of NASS.
Based on a new USDA/ NASS survey, this indicator will show how many farms are selling through farmers markets in Hawai‘i. This metric will be updated every five years through the Local Food Marketing Practices Survey of NASS.
Consumption plays a key role in increasing local food production in Hawai‘i since demand for local food drives increased production. The greatest barriers to increasing local food consumption in Hawai‘i include the often higher price for local food, consistent availability in desired quantities, and lack of trust that food marketed is genuinely locally produced. According to a study conducted by Ulupono Initiative surveying nearly 1,200 shoppers, Hawai‘i residents want more locally grown products and are willing to pay more for it.
There are many benefits of consuming local food, including fewer carbon emissions released from transportation, higher nutritional value, and increased sense of community through supporting local food. Buying local also shows appreciation and respect for the hard work of local farmers. Health data indicates that a diet filled with fresh, local food is also much healthier than7consuming processed, convenience foods. Through buying more local food, Hawai‘i residents will not only benefit their diets, but will also support local farmers and the economy.
Despite the high price of food, Hawai‘i wastes a lot of food. According to a study by Matthew Loke and PingSun Leung of University of Hawai'i, Hawai‘i wasted an estimated 261,382 tons of food in 2010, which is about 26% of the available food supply. Per person this equates to approximately 360 pounds of food waste per person per year. The largest portion of Hawai‘i’s food waste comes from consumers, with approximately 16% of all edible food in Hawai‘i being wasted at the consumption level. Reducing food waste has the potential to reduce Hawai‘I’s dependence on imported food.
Learn More and Make a Difference
- Take gardening classes to produce your own food, right in your backyard: http://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/ougc/master.asp
- Explore Go Farm Hawaii: http://www.gofarmhawaii.org/
- Learn about grants, loans, and resources to help local farmers: http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/knowyourfarmer?navid=kyf-kyf
- Find USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service data specifically for Hawaii: https://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/Hawaii/
- 25 Reasons to Buy and Eat Locally Grown Food: http://www.conserve-energy-future.com/terrific-reasons-to-buy-eat-locally-grown-food.php
- EPA tips for reducing food waste: https://www.epa.gov/recycle/reducing-wasted-food-home
- CTAHR Farm Food Safety: http://manoa.hawaii.edu/ctahr/farmfoodsafety/