In the Marshall Islands, climate change is already influencing decisions to move

Yale Climate Connections

The low-lying island country in the Pacific is vulnerable to sea-level rise, freshwater shortages, and extreme heat.

n the middle of the Pacific Ocean – between Hawaii and Australia – lies the Republic of the Marshall Islands. The low-lying country is vulnerable to sea-level rise, freshwater shortages, and extreme heat.

In recent decades, many citizens have moved from the outer atolls to cities within the country, or abroad to the United States. Yet surprisingly few say they are motivated by climate change.

“The perception is that people are moving because of education, healthcare, and jobs – the traditional drivers of migration,” says Maxine Burkett, a professor of law at the University of Hawaii and a global fellow at the Wilson Center.

Her team dug deeper into migrants’ decisions and found that climate change did in fact play a role. She says many health and job concerns were linked to climate.

“As heat affects the agriculture output, as we see freshwater decreasing and making it more difficult to grow food, these sorts of things can be in the background and impact the decision-making that one will have regarding jobs and employment and well-being, generally speaking,” Burkett says.

So her research suggests that climate change is already influencing migration.

Join forum with leaders in agriculture and food policy innovation, Jan. 7, 2021

Ka Puna O Kaloʻi
By Zenaida Serrano Arvman –

The University of Hawaiʻi–West Oʻahu Sustainable Community Food Systems program is among the organizers of the Food+ Policy Landscape Update 2021, an online forum the public is welcome to attend from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 7.

The objective of the event is to enhance community awareness of and participation in public policy decision-making in Hawaiʻi that impacts food, agriculture, and public health.

Leaders on agriculture and food policy innovation will provide an assessment of the Hawaiʻi public policy landscape and updated information about key policy initiatives active this legislative session.

“There is growing popular awareness of food systems as key determinants of environmental quality, human health, and resilience,” said Albie Miles, Assistant Professor of Sustainable Community Food Systems at UH West Oʻahu. “At the same time, there are increased calls from the public and private sector for transforming elements of the food system of Hawaiʻi to achieve a new set of economic recovery, food security, natural resource management, and public health outcomes.”

The Food+ Policy Landscape Update 2021 is a convening of community and state leaders working on agriculture and food policy innovation at the state and county level, Miles said.

Forum participants include:

  • Claire Sullivan and Michelle Galimba, AgHui (Agriculture Response and Recovery Working Group)
  • Dexter Kishida, City and County of Honolulu Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resilience
  • Miwa Tamanaha, Kuaʻāina Ulu ʻAuamo (KUA)
  • Daniela Spoto, Hawaiʻi Appleseed
  • Amy Perruso, Hawaiʻi State Representative
  • David Lopez, Hawaiʻi Emergency Management Agency
  • Micah Munetaka, Ulupono Initiative
  • Hunter Heaivilin (Moderator), Food System Planner, Supersistence
  • In addition to UH West Oʻahu, event organizers include Hawaiʻi Alliance for Progressive Action and Purple Maiʻa.

Those interested in attending the public forum may register at:

2020 Onion Variety Trial Webinar and Onion Distribution

Please join us to discuss the results of the 2020 onion variety trial. This year included 16 short-day varieties, both yellow and red.

When: Tuesday, January 5th at 4:30 PM –
Where: Online, via Zoom –
What: How to select onion varieties and the variety trial results –

There will also be a drive-thru distribution of the onion varieties to conduct at-home taste testing. This is open to Maui commercial growers only. The drive-thru will be held next week on December 21, 22, and 23. Times and location will be shared with interested growers upon registration.

Register for the webinar and onion distribution here:

Download the flyer for more information.

Thank you!
Kylie Tavares
Edible Crops, Sustainable Agriculture, and Farm Food Safety Extension
University of Hawaii at Manoa, Dept. of Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences
Maui Agricultural Research and Extension Center
424 Mauna Place
Kula, HI 96790

Time to eat local

The Cougar Connection
By Natalie Clay –

Hawaii, despite its reputation as paradise, has its fair share of problems, one of which is food security. Currently, Hawaii only produces roughly 10-15% of its necessary food supply, while the remaining 85-90% is imported from across the ocean. Relying on the importation of food usually means consuming foods with more pesticides and genetic modifications that lack the nutrients of fresh produce. But most importantly, imported food leaves the islands vulnerable to tragedies that can disrupt shipping. Eating local food is a much safer option, supports local workers, and promotes land sustainability in a time where development is ever increasing. Unfortunately, Hawaii’s government has not been taking the serious action needed to improve this situation—therefore, it is time for the community to step in.

In the 2016 International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress, Governor David Ige said, “I’m committed to doubling Hawaii’s food production by 2020,” endorsing many projects, startups, partnerships and funds to meet this goal. For Scott Enright, Chair of the Department of Agriculture, Ige had just sent the department into “hyper-drive”. However, Ige failed to meet this goal and has since extended the deadline to 2030. Even after the goal’s extension, Ige and the Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA) have not been able to determine the status and progression of the goal. The Department of Agriculture doesn’t even have baseline information as to how much local food the state was producing in the first place, nor do they know how many farmers are producing food for a living. Lawmakers such as Rep. Matt Lopresti had been questioning the Governor’s and the HDOA’s ability to achieve this goal since the beginning. “So we’re going to double I don’t know, which is I don’t know times two. What’s the metric we’re going to be using?,” Lopresti said. It is clear that we must hold our government officials accountable to fulfilling their promises, especially for such an essential need.

It is important as citizens of a democracy to use our voices to promote change. The traditional ways of using that voice are still valid, such as writing letters to legislators, signing petitions, and speaking up at neighborhood board meetings. It must be made clear that in future elections, a candidate’s dedication to improving food security is a determining factor. Oftentimes the government does not hear the voices of the few, but the voices of the many, so it is important to encourage others to become active in this issue as well. If officials see that this issue is of utmost importance to the people of Hawaii, they will work harder at achieving their goals.

There are also ways that we as individuals can support the farmers who provide local food, particularly direct purchase of their produce. For those in the Hawaii Kai area, there are five farms right behind the Kaiser High School campus, some of which feature stands where you can purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. And all over the state there are community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs where you can order bags full of local produce. Some of these programs, such as Oahu Fresh, even offer the convenience of subscription and delivery. Local farms also struggle with the cost of importing fertilizer and animal feed, so you can also donate your food waste to farms that accept it, such as Keiki and Plow, one of the farms behind Kaiser. Any way you can support local food, from attending Agriculture Awareness Day at the capital, to buying Paniolo Cattle Co. beef at Safeway, helps to improve food security in our island community.

Promoting local food production is the best way to fight Hawaii’s struggle with food security. Since our government is struggling to improve the situation, we must take action ourselves. We can stress that Hawaii’s agriculture is necessary, and that officials who do not strive to improve its circumstances will not be elected again. Hawaii will soon be islands that know nothing other than importation, but if we support our local farmers, we can lead Hawaii into a greener, more fertile future.

How To Redefine The Housing Crisis In Hawaii

By Jonathan Likeke Scheuer –

Myths, truths and steps that can take us forward.

I am now in my seventh year of serving as one of nine members of the state’s Land Use Commission. The LUC is responsible for moving land from Hawaii’s conservation and agricultural districts into the urban district — for housing and other purposes.

Over those seven years I have wised up to a pattern that is as reliable as the return of the kolea. Each fall, in the lead up to the opening of the next legislative session, developers and their lobbyists and allies start to squawk about our “housing crisis!”

They then, under the guise of creating affordable housing, propose projects that will fatten them. In January their legislative allies give opening day speeches and introduce housing bills. If any of those bills survive and pass, they may smooth the way for development but they are half-measures at best when it comes to affordable housing.

Right around the time the kolea fly north, the lobbyists disappear. The “housing crisis” persists, despite decades of promises. For developers, it is the gift that keeps on giving.

I am not blind to Hawaii’s widespread homelessness, overcrowding in small living spaces, absurd commutes, the disproportionate challenges faced by Native Hawaiians and the struggles of the middle class to pay astronomical prices for decades-old fixer-uppers. I consider myself very fortunate to fall into the fifth category.

But we cannot hope to solve our housing problem until we recognize the myths in most definitions of the housing crisis. Here are the three myths I hear most often at the LUC.

No Lack of Housing Stock
Myth: We don’t have enough, or build enough, housing.

Truth: As the pandemic took hold and tourism shut down, it became clear that the over 80,000 newly vacant visitor units in the state were far more than what was needed to house our homeless population, which was estimated to be around 6,500 statewide in 2020.

Even in non-COVID times, the vacancy rate at the high end of the residential market is significant. Think of all the dark windows in luxury buildings across Hawaii. A 2019 survey of Hawaii property owners with out-of-state addresses indicated that 52% of them left their units vacant or loaned them to family or friends.

I am not suggesting we commandeer those units, but they disprove the claim we don’t have or build enough homes. We actually do OK at building housing – take a look at the Kakaako skyline – just not housing that most residents can afford.

Local Families Are Being Outbid
Myth: We need to build 10,000 (or 25,000, or 50,000) new housing units so we can house our local families.

Truth: Because there is no shortage of people who want to move to Hawaii, we cannot build our way out of this situation.

From 2006 through 2018, an average of just over 55,000 people moved into the islands every year. In years when in-migration exceeds outmigration, this of course directly increases demand.

But even in more recent years, when the number of people moving out of Hawaii has exceeded the number of people moving here, the influx has exacerbated the problem of affordability. So many people who want to live here come from areas with better wages and lower housing costs, and thus they are able to outbid current residents in nearly all housing categories.

This holds true for short-term rentals, long-term rentals and for-sale units. We see it in single family units and condos and in prices ranging from affordable to ultra-luxury. We see it during periods of economic expansion as well as recession.

This is not a new observation. The 2019 State Housing Planning Study cited 2018 data when noting that “15% of Honolulu sales were made to non-residents and 37.5% of Maui County’s housing unit sales were made to persons living outside the State. Hawaii and Kauai Counties also saw approximately 40% of their home sales go to outside buyers.”

The study noted a large “price differential” in the average prices paid by local versus out-of-state buyers – the latter paid nearly 50% more.

Globally, Hawaii is perceived as one of the best places on the planet to live. Unless we significantly restrict flows of people and capital to the islands — which, as a U.S. state, we cannot do — our housing will always be affected by outside pressures.

Mass building will transform our islands and communities. But without significant regulation of who can live in it and how it is priced, creating housing feels like tossing candy off a Christmas float and hoping the kids who are hungry will catch it.

Regulation Is Not The Culprit
Myth: We need to reduce or eliminate zoning, cultural protection and environmental laws.

Truth: The recent Grassroot Institute missive “Reform the LUC to encourage more housing” is the latest in the steady calls for deregulation. These calls seek to reduce or eliminate the LUC and affordable housing quotas and to “streamline” reviews that protect cultural practices and natural resources.

The report looks at legal challenges that have succeeded against developments. But rather than acknowledge the bad business choices of corporations, it blames those who held developers accountable.

In fact, in recognition of the need, regulation around housing has been eased. In 2006 the state instituted an expansive “201H process” to accelerate the creation of actual affordable housing.

The measure allows for housing projects that are exempt from certain statutes, ordinances, charter provisions and rules of any governmental agency relating to planning, zoning, construction standards for subdivisions, development and improvement.

When those projects need LUC approval, the LUC is required to act within 45 days of the filing of a petition. (Our standard timeline allows for 365 days.)

Despite that dramatically accelerated schedule, the LUC has approved every affordable housing project brought to it under the accelerated 201H affordable housing timelines.

There is ample evidence that the LUC is not the barrier to creating affordable housing. One key fact: The LUC has already moved hundreds of acres of land — which were supposed to provide space for many thousands of homes — into the urban district on Oahu. Most recently, landowners of significant urban acreages at Waiawa and Kunia have instead asked permission from the LUC to delay deadlines to build homes by decades to allow them to install solar farms instead.

So what’s a better definition of the problem?

Hawaii has a large shortage of safe, quality housing that is 1) affordable given current wages in the state; 2) restricted to those who already call Hawaii home, especially Native Hawaiians; and 3) in locations near job centers. We lack the political will to either regulate and manage the market to provide this housing or to sufficiently subsidize occupants to enable them to afford housing.

With that definition, here are some policies that could address the problem.

Solutions To Consider
1. Hold developers to promises they’ve already made. Too often, promised housing isn’t built for decades or isn’t built at all. For example, Oahu’s Makaiwa Hills project on former Campbell Estate lands, which first won LUC approval in 1993, has no announced plans to break ground.

Some projects will never be built, like the failed Hale Mua project near Wailuku, Maui, where the developer was foreclosed on and no credible proposal was put forward as an alternative.

Yet attempts to give the LUC enforcement power – to hold developers to the promises they have made on affordable housing – are not given a hearing at the Legislature.

The state and counties should consistently require affordable units from for-profit actors and fearlessly and consistently enforce and hold developers to their promises.

2. Funding for the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands should always be the first part of any push for housing by the Legislature; the fulfillment of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act was a condition of statehood.

DHHL is also the one program that has strong and enforceable requirements about who can own the housing built. Yet DHHL is chronically underfunded and then blamed for its failure to fulfill its mandate. DHHL can do better, of course, but to pretend funding is not an issue is disingenuous.

3. We need to revise our rules about buying or renting in affordable projects. As it stands, the only requirement to qualify for newly developed affordable housing is “residency” – which requires only the payment of Hawaii taxes and establishment of domicile, not any length of time living in Hawaii. Because of this lack, there is no guarantee even the small amount of affordable stock will go to the folks who already live here.

We need multiple requirements — that do not violate equal protection or fair housing laws and principles — to allow people access to affordable housing in Hawaii. These can, for example, include requirements that tie housing to employment in public education, police or fire departments and other critical trades, as is already done in a limited way by the University of Hawaii.

4. The nonprofit affordable housing sector — which is required by law to work for a mission rather than money — should be our partner of choice when it comes to creating affordable housing. But rather than call on and cultivate relationships with these organizations (such as the Mutual Housing Association of Hawaii or the Hawaiian Community Development Board), our leaders more reliably turn to the for-profit private sector.

Other jurisdictions focus their efforts on fostering housing land trusts, land banking and providing incentives for nonprofit private housing developers.

5. State- and county-owned housing should be well designed and adequately funded. It needs to be protected from the short-term political whims of elected officials who think on two- and four-year cycles and secured for the long term needs of local families.

Government housing can be one of the best guarantors of long-term affordability, but it is subject to design problems (concentration of poverty), management problems (poor or poorly funded) as well as continual pressure to sell it off.

We should not forget the successful examples of government-backed projects on Oahu, like Queen Emma Gardens. As it stands now, the scale of our efforts here is minuscule compared to the need.

6. We should be increasing density in existing communities, not building farther and farther away from them. This will require the revision of existing laws and codes to prevent neighborhoods from being able to block development.

The way we define a problem determines the way we define its solution. The self-serving cries about an ill-defined “housing crisis” have led us largely to “solutions” that only exacerbate our problems.

Hawaii’s Next Wave of Natural Skin-Care Brands

New York Times Style Magazine
By Jess Cole –

A new generation of beauty companies is rediscovering the islands’ powerful native ingredients, from taro to ferns.

It is not altogether surprising that Hawaii is at the forefront of our current golden age of natural skin care, in which botanical face oils and mushroom-infused elixirs abound. Few places on Earth contain such a diversity of plant species, and Hawaiians have been using this bounty — including nutrient-rich varieties such as hibiscus, coconut, ferns and kukui nuts — as a source of nourishment and healing for generations. Indeed, plants have been prized on the islands since the first millennium A.D., when the ancient Polynesians arrived by canoe, bringing with them life-sustaining crops such as taro, breadfruit and sweet potato. And though centuries of colonization have done their best to erode this deep-rooted connection to the natural world, it has endured. In fact, for many of the founders of the latest wave of Hawaii-based skin-care lines, using locally sourced botanical ingredients is simply common sense, part of a reciprocal, age-old relationship between the islands and their inhabitants.

Ke’oni Hanalei, a native Hawaiian, spent much of his early childhood in the garden of his grandmother, a medicine woman, on Maui’s southwestern coast. As he watched her tend her plants, she would teach him about their therapeutic properties (hibiscus for purifying the blood, kalamoho fern for sparking creativity) and how to, as she would say, “Ka nani pulama,” or “cherish their beauty.” Today, these lessons inform Pohala, Hanalei’s Maui- and Kauai-based range of oils and tinctures made with indigenous Hawaiian ingredients including both hibiscus and ferns. The brand’s Lakana Medicinal Body Spray ($17), for example, is infused with handpicked la’au kalakala, a thorny shrub with small yellow flowers that has long been believed to support the nervous system. “We have this code of conduct in our culture, huna, which means ‘secrecy,’” says Hanalei, referring to the safeguarding of ancient Hawaiian traditions. “Our families lived by this through the Western influence, and it is why a lot of our records are well preserved.”

Chelsa Davis, who is also of Hawaiian heritage and grew up by the ocean in Kailua, on the Big Island, feels a similar responsibility for preservation. She founded her skin-care line AO Organics Hawaii in Honokaa in 2017 in part to educate her community about the impact of oxybenzone, a typical ingredient in chemical sunscreens, on the archipelago’s marine life. (A 2015 study revealed that up to 14,000 tons of sunscreen end up in reefs each year, and that the reef located in Hawaii’s popular Hanauma Bay is one of the most at risk in the world.) Accordingly, the line’s first product was the mineral-based Liquid Reef-Safe Sunscreen ($28), which uses zinc oxide, rather than harmful chemicals, to block the sun’s rays. It is infused, too, with organic beeswax, which Davis sources from the local producers Wai Meli and 808 Honey, to boost hydration. “Honey produces a natural form of glycerin, which attracts water to your skin,” says Davis, who also uses the ingredient in her anti-inflammatory, turmeric-rich Olena + Honey Foaming Cleanser ($30) and her lightweight papaya seed and babassu oil-based ?Ili Hydration Moisturizer ($32). “It is a gift from the creatures that give life to the island.”

“Sustainability is already a part of the tradition here,” says Leala Humbert, who has run the natural beauty line Ua Body with her husband, Blaine Kusler, on the Big Island’s Kohala Coast since taking the 30-year-old company over from her mother in 2019. In an effort to support the island’s ecosystem, the couple collaborates closely with the Hawaii Sandalwood company, a family-owned reforestation business working to replenish the Big Island’s sandalwood forests — which have been depleted by invasive species and overharvesting — in part by extracting oil from dying trees, a process that naturally prompts the growth of new ones. The liquid, which is believed to aid relaxation, is a key ingredient in Ua Body’s Iliahi Dry Oil ($48), a nourishing body moisturizer with a subtle, earthy aroma.

Similarly, the inclusion of macadamia oil in the antioxidant-rich ‘Opio Anti Aging Mano’i elixir (from $16) and intensely moisturizing Moha Beautifying Concrete Gelèe (from $14) from Oshan Essentials arose from founder Shelley Leemor’s desire to work sustainably, repurposing the imperfect nuts discarded by a local processing factory. “Macadamia oil is a nourishing, essential fatty acid that isn’t comedogenic,” says Leemor, who moved to Hawaii from the mainland 10 years ago, and launched her company in 2017 on a seven-acre farm on Maui’s North Shore. Powered solely by the sun and using water collected from rainfall, her entire manufacturing process is carbon neutral, and she grows many of the company’s botanicals, such as turmeric, papayas and guavas, on site.

Like macadamia trees, which were introduced to the islands in the late 19th century, the moringa tree is an originally nonnative species that has thrived in Hawaii. Brought over in the early 1900s by Filipino immigrants who came to work on the islands’ sugar cane fields, it is a nutritional powerhouse whose delicate green leaves are widely used in Hawaiian cooking and restorative teas. But it’s the cold-pressed oil made from the husks of the moringa seeds that features most prominently in the skin-care products from Maruyama Jones Farm in Kailua, on the Big Island. Co-founded by husband and wife Geoff and Misa Maruyama Jones in 2016, the company is based on a five-acre farm run by Misa’s family. “We do not own the land, we are in a relationship with the land,” says Misa, who is of Filipino heritage. “We are all akin to the plants, the animals, the soil and even the microorganisms in the soil.” Accordingly, the farm works on a regenerative model of sustainability, whereby organic compost made from local green waste and spirulina generates the nutrients for the moringa trees. Each bottle of the couple’s Moringa Seed Oil ($50), a hydrating all-in-one product for both the skin and the hair, is derived from nearly 400 hand-selected seeds grown on site and husked by Geoff himself.

The Oahu-based apothecary Indigo Elixirs, founded by the Armenian-American herbalist Deanna Rose Ahigian, also makes use of Hawaii’s potent native plants — in this case, those of the Manoa Valley, where Ahigian lives — but it strives to reflect, too, the diversity of Hawaii’s residents. The brand caters to a range of skin tones and hair types — its pikake-infused Moon All Over Oil ($27) is a silky serum designed to rehydrate thicker and Afro-textured hair — and many of its ingredients are inspired by “the strong Asian influences here,” says Ahigian. The line’s detoxifying Matcha Kalo Mask ($22), for example, contains rice flour, which is commonly found in South Korean skin-care products, as well as antioxidant-rich Japanese green tea powder. But another key ingredient is taro. Not only has this starchy root vegetable long been a form of sustenance in Hawaii but it also has anti-inflammatory properties. “And I wanted to use it,” Ahigian says, “because it’s the most sacred plant in Hawaiian mythology.” Indeed, like so many of the islands’ plants, it has been revered for millennia precisely because of its usefulness.

Maui Association of Landscape Professionals Talk on Composting December 17, 2020

Maui Association of Landscape Professionals (MALP) –

We are excited to present our last event for 2020! This talk will be on Benefits of Composting with Gerry Ross. Gerry is most assuredly Maui’s compost expert, as well as an organic farmer in Kula. Please join us for this virtual event on Thursday December 17 at 5 pm to learn about how you can start your own compost at home or at work.

CLICK to download the Flyer for completer infornmation on the event..

ISA & LICT CEU’s are also available!

We’re excited to see you there!

If you have any questions, please contact Allison at 808-268-6927 or email at

Allison Wright
MALP – President

Editorial: Signs of hope for isle agriculture

Star Advertiser

The economic shock waves set in motion by COVID-19 have rocked Hawaii’s agriculture industry, with local farmers and ranchers suffering enormous declines in sales due to months of stalled tourism, restaurant closures and other pandemic-related factors. Even so, there’s reason for optimism that the industry can reset with a stronger foundation on which to grow food security in the islands.

One bright spot amid ongoing struggles: MA‘O Organic Farms’ plan for a new post-harvest processing facility along with expanded field operations and educational support, which will make the 20-year-old pioneering social enterprise in Waianae larger and more financially self-sustaining.

The nonprofit recently secured a total of $11.5 million for the effort from more than two dozen organizations, agencies and individuals. The infusion of funds is projected to yield a vast increase in food production, which includes more than 40 varieties of fruits and vegetables, including salad greens, root crops, cooking greens, herbs and seasonal tropical fruits. Also, there will be scores of new jobs. Both are welcome rebuilding blocks that can help stabilize the industry’s wobbly condition.

Further — and most heartening as Hawaii glimpses its ag future — is an initiative that will significantly expand youth training programs through which MA‘O pays the college tuition for young adults who work part-time on the farm as part of its Leeward community-based economic development model.

Given that Hawaii now imports more than 85% of its food — leaving us vulnerable to running out of groceries within a week or so should ports close due to natural disaster — we must strengthen our food security profile. However, despite widespread enthusiasm for a more sustainable supply of fresh produce and proteins, a dramatic ramping up of local ag production is rightly viewed as a tall order.

Farming in Hawaii has a longstanding reputation as a tough business. In addition to unpredictable weather, year-round pests and expensive land costs, there has been a shortage of people who want to work on farms. It’s a small wonder that Hawaii’s commercial farmers’ average age is roughly 60 years old, according to the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation.

Even so, given that the nearest landmass is some 2,500 miles away, these challenges and others must be tackled. To that end, it’s encouraging that since 2001 MA‘O has helped its student interns earn 120 associate’s degrees, dozens of bachelor’s degrees and three master’s degrees.

Through their higher-education degrees and farm work, in which interns get a hands-on education that connects them with Native Hawaiian culture, these young adults hold potential to help boost the count of local farms and food businesses. Moreover, while ag still involves plenty of field labor, it’s also evolving to include promising tech advances — monitoring drones and vertical farming techniques, for instance — and plant research to develop increasingly hardy and more nutritious crops.

From this vantage point, there’s a glimmer of hope for coming years — even as Hawaii continues to grapple with the economic setbacks tied to COVID-19. On a statewide scale, success will hinge, in part, on securing ample financial assistance and in-kind donations.

A recently formed group of ag stakeholders, dubbed the AgHui, is pitching a sensible plan that starts with stabilizing still-hemorrhaging parts of the industry with emergency loans and grants, loan and rent deferrals, direct payments to farmers, and assistance for community feeding programs.

The plan’s follow-up recovery includes updating aging infrastructure and supporting regional food hubs and producers contributing to food security. Successes such as MA‘O’s bolster confidence that a thriving, resilient food and agriculture economy is within Hawaii’s reach. It is attainable with deeply rooted, sustained support.

Regeneration Is What We All Need Now

Civil Beat
By Vincent Mina

This is a story about the power of regeneration, and it starts where most everything starts when you’re a farmer: in the soil. If we want vitality in our bodies, we need it in our food. And if we want it in our food, we need it in our soil.

Healthy soil has an architecture, a web of microbial life. When that web is vital and intact, plants flourish and express themselves as complete proteins. Healthy plants are resilient and strong and able to fend off pests and diseases.

Our agricultural system is no different. I have been farming on Maui for 27 years. It has been a blessing and a challenge. As the saying goes, “If you want to make a million farming, start with two million.” We mahiai — farmers — are not ones to look for a free lunch. We produce that lunch.

According to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, for every dollar American consumers spend on food, U.S. farmers and ranchers earn just 14.6 cents. This value marks a 17% decline since 2011, and the smallest portion of the American food dollar that farmers have received since the USDA began reporting these stats in 1993. The remaining 85.4 cents cover off-farm costs, including processing, wholesaling, distribution, marketing and retailing.

Most of us in Hawaii are very aware of the issues with farming in our islands today: Land costs that are too expensive. Land ownership that is too concentrated. Soil that has been exhausted and depleted by industrial sugarcane and pineapple farming. Prime agricultural land laying fallow until it’s plowed under for housing developments.

People looking to get by on the cheapest food they can find for themselves and their families. Billions of tons of food coming from elsewhere on cargo ships. People with a passion for farming who don’t get support. Extreme weather that is growing more extreme every year.

Heat. Wind. Floods. Drought. Invasive species. Now, a pandemic.

But this is a story about the power of regeneration. In Hawaii our climate allows us to grow an amazing variety of crops, and we can produce three harvests of seed a year.

Hawaii is a brilliant impresario, producing a vast web of biomass in which plants grow and grow and grow and stretch their roots deep into the earth. When that biomass is allowed to return to the soil in the form of organic matter, it feeds our soil’s microbial life.

The world is waking up to the need to protect our agricultural soils from erosion, but the story goes much deeper than that. We need to nourish our soil. When we feed its microbes, they proliferate. They break down organic biomass and turn it into humus, rich soil that nourishes life and produces truly healthy food.

Humus holds moisture and creates pathways for water to filter down into our precious aquifers. It sequesters carbon and moves the planet away from climate change. Today, we can all use more of a sense of humus.

The Hawaii Farmers Union United

As farmers, we also need to be nourished. We need the metaphorical organic biomass that will cause us to proliferate and thrive.

My grandparents left Sicily for Philadelphia when they were young. I left Philadelphia for Maui when I was 24 years old. I worked as a decorative painter and met an extraordinary Hawaiian woman, Irene, whose son Kekai was just 10 months old. Irene and I married and I adopted Kekai.

When Irene was pregnant with our daughter, Kahanulani, she started craving sunflower greens and coming home with bags and bags of them. So I started growing them and that was the launch of our farm, Kahanu Aina Greens. Irene and I worked side by side. Kekai, the hardest and most disciplined worker you could hope for and a boy full of passion for farming, joined in as soon as the farm began, when he was 10 years old.

As we farmed, I learned more about soil and the relationship between its health and the health of our bodies. I began attending conferences and met remarkable experts in the field of regeneration. I befriended those experts and from 1998 to 2014, Irene and I invited many of them to Maui for “Body and Soil” conferences that we produced under our nonprofit Maui Aloha Aina Association.

A decade ago, I was a founding member of the Hawaii chapter of the national Farmers Union, which was birthed out of our efforts with Maui Aloha Aina. Today the Hawaii Farmers Union United has a thousand members. We have 13 chapters across the islands. We are made up of Hawaii farmers, gardeners and food lovers on all islands who value local agricultural systems.

As a collective, we have a voice at the table. The growth in our clout and credibility has enabled us to work as a group with our county officials, our Legislature and the Department of Agriculture. At the national level, I worked with the Farmers Union to create the Regenerative Agriculture Local Food Committee, which I currently chair.

In the week ahead, we will celebrate 10 years of the HFUU with a major conference. And because COVID-19 has moved everything online, it has never been easier to attend. All are welcome.

There will be virtual farm tours. Virtual chefs’ demos. We will have over fifty presentations, workshops from global authorities as far away as Australia and Austria. We will cover many topics, including composting, earthworms, trellising, Korean natural farming, bees, hemp, mushrooms and much more.

We will have five keynote presentations from leaders including one of Hawaii’s most esteemed elders, Maui kupuna Sam Kaai; mycologist Paul Stamets; and regenerative farming expert Joel Salatin. Keynote discussions will focus on nature’s soil rebuilding process and on the relationship between the soil’s mycelium network, our gut biomes and COVID-19.

At the end of the conference, we will have a free three-hour benefit concert curated by Micah Nelson, son of Willie Nelson. Many great musicians have volunteered to perform in support of Hawaii farming: the Nelson ohana, Jack Johnson, Flea, George Kahumoku Jr., Makana, Michael McDonald, Pat Simmons Sr. and Jr., Mike Love, Paul Izak and others.

If you want to learn more about food and farming in Hawaii, right now there could be no better place to start. Everyone who registers will have access to all presentations for a year and all of the costs of registering for the conference go to support the HFUU and educational outreach.

Cover Crops

When I think about agriculture in our islands, I picture a Tesla that’s just sitting in the driveway. We are playing a very small game if we continue to rely on outside food supply to feed our local population.

And since this is the IDEAS section, I would like to share an idea of my own. It is an understanding and inspiration that has come from my own growth and experience as a farmer in Hawaii.

Our islands are perfectly situated to become a global leader in cover crop seed. Cover crops are crops that are grown in between production crops. They allow the soil to rest and nourish and feed its microbial life. They are the very essence of aloha aina.

Cover crop seed holds tremendous potential for Hawaii’s agricultural future. In our islands, we can grow three crops of cover crop seeds a year — seeds our farmers can use to build their own soils and seeds that we can sell around the world.

Across the globe and here in the islands, decades of industrial agriculture have withdrawn life from the soil. Big Ag has produced food cheaply by using chemicals that bypass and destroy the life in the soil instead of feeding it. The thinking has been short-term, not long-term. We can change that. The earth will collaborate and cooperate with us as long as we respect its natural laws and architecture.

As the understanding of the power of regeneration becomes more widespread, the demand for cover crop seed will only grow. And the demand is already huge.

I envision a cover crop seed industry that could be created on state agricultural lands in collaboration with the State of Hawaii, the University of Hawaii’s College of Tropical Agriculture Human Resources, the National Resource Conservation Service and the Hawaii Department of Agriculture.

I sit on the Board of Agriculture and I have been working to help bring this idea to fruition. It needs the support of government and the private sector. Farmers cultivate relationships with the earth and advocates cultivate relationships with people. I am committed to advocating and doing all I can in support of building a cover crop seed industry that honors Hawaii’s soil, that is founded on the principle of malama aina. I have not seen any better plan that protects our existing agricultural lands while utilizing the resources they represent.


As a regenerative farmer, I have a personal and ever–deepening relationship with the soil. It grows the food that nourishes my body and my body then works in service of the soil. Ultimately, one day I am going back to the soil. This relationship moves my spirit.

As a farmer, I let the soil decide what is going to happen. If I’m open and respectful, it teaches me. I act, I see the results. There are constant lessons. As a farmer, I haven’t arrived anywhere. I’m still learning. Nature continually forgives me and all of us.

This relationship is a primal relationship. For me, it is the only thing that gives reason to living and dying.

As humans we make plans and try to figure it all out. We focus on having, then doing, then being, rather than on being, then doing, then having. But we cannot control life.

Last year our family experienced a tragedy when Kekai passed away at 35. He was as healthy as a person can be and fell to his death in a hiking accident. Kekai, a Native mahiai who had farmed alongside us for 25 years, who sang songs in Hawaiian to the plants as he worked, who loved the family farm, who had planned to take over and continue it.

When he died, we shut down the farm for four months for the first time in its 26 years of operation. Burying one’s child is something a parent never gets over, and beyond what Kekai meant to the farm, we just miss him so very much.

After he passed, Kekai came to Irene in a dream and asked her to create a community cart. Irene described it to a neighbor, who built it. Now in honor of Kekai, we put the cart out in front of the farm every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

We fill it with produce from the farm. Others in the community take as they need and give as they can. The cart operates from and with the energy of regeneration.

We feel Kekai is with us. Life never ends, it just changes form. This is the great lesson of regeneration. When you farm, that truth is no longer a philosophical abstraction. It is the energy of your daily life.

We invite you to join us this week at the conference and gather with us in the spirit of regeneration. Me ke aloha pumehana, with the warmest aloha.