The GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) controversy continues to dominate the news for our local agriculture's future. Hawai'i Island's farmers, both small and large, are actively engaged in this debate, as are our County Council, the University of Hawai'i, biotech companies, and some wholesalers and retailers of our entire local food system.
How well do you understand the issues? How much do you know, and how much is guesswork or knee-jerk reaction? Are you applying your critical thinking skills to the arguments from both sides, or are your feet more-or-less mindlessly planted in the concrete of your fellow-travelers?
Kunia Country Farms started operations in 2010, transforming former pineapple land in Kunia into a lettuce farm. The farm utilizes an aquaponics system, where crops are grown in containers that float on water. Fish (which are excluded from the crop area) provide a source of fertilizer. “Aquaponics is 6–8 times more productive than ground cropping,” estimates co-owner Jason Brand, “which can save costs on land, materials, and labor, allowing us to be competitive with mainland lettuce while delivering a product with a much longer shelf life.” The company’s growing, harvesting, and packaging operations are continually being refined. “Our number one cost is labor. Mainland producers achieve a cost-effective economy of scale due to large land areas and mechanization. With our relatively small-scale operation, we have to develop other efficiencies in our growing, harvesting, and packaging methods, which we have done.”
Homesteading is overwhelming, and all the more so if you have high ideals about living lightly and are trying to do things in new ways. Let's see, since coming to Hawai'i we have studied up on and/or are trying to: make fish fertilizer and vermicompost, raise soldier fly larvae, make biochar and Natural Farming amendments, start up aquaponics for fish and greens, install solar and hydropower, create forest gardens and permaculture, grow chicken forage, raise rabbits without purchased feed, and raise as much of our own fruits and vegetables as possible. Maybe we are doing too much at once? Two lessons I have recently learned from other small farmers have reinforced the importance of taking small steps.
Honopua Farm was started as a commercial flower farm more than 30 years ago by Bill and Marie McDonald. Marie, who has been recognized by the Smithsonian Institution as a living treasure, is an outstanding authority on Hawaiian flowers and lei making and has authored several books on the subject. The name of the farm, Honopua, means "a gathering of flowers."
Hubbell's Hog Heaven & Liz's Happy Hens: A Farm Tour by Elizabeth Cannon, self-published in July of this year, is a book about an innovative one-and-a-half acre Natural Farming project near Pāhoa, Puna on Hawai'i Island. Liz and her husband Mike Hubbell had farmed organically on the mainland for over 30 years. But when they retired to Puna six years ago they decided to farm their mostly lava-covered land using Dr. Cho's Korean Natural Farming Method. They attended several Natural Farming presentations and even took a trip to Korea to experience well-established Natural Farming methods first-hand. This gives an idea of how serious they have been about their project.
In addition, Liz and Mike were assisted and encouraged by UH CTAHR Hilo Ag Extension Agent and Hawai'i piggery expert, Mike Dupont. Mike wrote a grant for Liz and Mike's initial piggery and has been instrumental in promoting their pig and chicken projects.