Manini Farms for a Sustainable Hawaii?
Just before contact with the rest of the world, Hawaii had a successful self-sustaining agriculture with no food being imported. By 1960, 50% of food was being imported and it was then that people realized we needed to get back to being self-sufficient for many reasons.
Fast forward more than 50 years and now, Hawaii imports 85-90% of our food. Despite the efforts of many organizations to reverse that number, Hawaii struggles mightily with returning to its agriculture roots.
On the face of it, it wouldn't seem that difficult since we have a year-round growing season and good rainfall; particularly on the Hamakua Coast on the northeast side of the Big Island of Hawaii.
The Hamakua is one of the most picturesque areas of the Big Island. Once home to mostly sugar cane fields, it still maintains its rural charm with large plots of land that blanket slopes kept green by rainfall. And all of it overlooks the vast blue of the Pacific Ocean.
But, according to Bruce Matthews of UH Hilo's College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Natural Resource Management, the Hamakua faces challenges that make farming difficult or unprofitable. Land division has turned fertile upslope areas into grasslands for grazing cattle. Past sugar cane farming has depleted soil of nutrients forcing farmers to use costly fertilizers.
Despite the challenges of being a farmer, or maybe in response to it, many people are finding ways to make it work. The Hamakua has crops that you would expect here such as taro, banana, lychee still hanging in there. But lately there have come more innovative growers of cacao, coffee, mushrooms (that we talked about in an earlier blog) and even vanilla. These farmers tend to operate on more of a boutique scale, branding themselves and even supplementing with tours or gift shops.
The Hawaiian Vanilla Company in Pa'auilo (about 35 miles north of Hilo) was started in 1998 as the first commercial vanilla farm in the United States. They offer tours, presentations and meals and have a gift shop full of vanilla products. Their luncheon tour gets excellent reviews on Yelp and Tripadvisor.
The USDA along with other organizations like the University of Hawaii and Aloha Grown, are working hard to encourage any increase in food crops grown in the state. According to Hawaii's Office of Planning, if we decreased our dependence on imported food by just 10%, it would equal $313M that would remain in the state.
And the Hamakua is ripe for the picking for those who want to be the wave of the future in sustainable Hawaii farming. All it takes is a little imagination. The 'aina provides the rest.
Cover photo: View of the green slopes down to the ocean on the Hamakua as seen from MLS#612113