Kaua‘i’s newest farmers union is nation’s oldest

LIHU‘E — The oldest agricultural organization in the United States has arrived on Kaua‘i.

The National Farmers Union was founded in 1902 to protect and enhance the economic interests and quality of life for family farmers and ranchers and rural communities, according to its mission statement.

In a state where most land is zoned agricultural or conservation, the Hawai‘i Farmers Union was not formed until June 2008. More than a year later, the organization reached Kaua‘i.

The Kauai‘i Farmers Union may be young, but is steadily growing on the island. HFU Treasurer Patti Valentine said the Kauai‘i chapter — for which she serves as liaison — already has 93 members. Half of them are farmers and the other half are friends of farmers.

“We encourage people who support farmers to join us too,” she said.

Valentine said HFU is a state organization which is mainly an advocate for small farmers, but large farmers can also join.

“We define members as a natural person,” said Valentine, adding that corporations can join at a higher fee but have no voting power.

HFU promotes prosperous agricultural communities through cooperation, legislation and education, the three basic frameworks of the NFU, Valentine said.

“That’s how they like to do everything, help set up cooperatives, help teach people how to do new and better farming methods, and show up in legislation,” said Valentine.

While HFU only has five board members at the moment, they are active in advocating for farmers, she added.

The Kaua‘i chapter has no board members yet because it’s still young. But Valentine has big plans for it.

The county board will have five to seven members, and there will be four committees: education, legislation, cooperation and membership. Each county will send one person to the state committee.

“That way we’ll have all four counties represented,” Valentine said.

The Kaua‘i chapter has already offered two educational programs, which happened last August.

“We were the first chapter statewide to have some programs,” she said.

An organic-poultry expert from Texas visited Kauai‘i farms. Many farmers say they raise their chickens organically, but if they’re feeding them GMO feed, they can’t call their birds organic, Valentine said.

“There’s organic feed available. You can feed them lots of vegetable scraps,” said Valentine.

The Texas expert, when asked how the chickens would get their protein intake, pointed to the wild chickens, saying that if they can do it, the farm-raised chickens also can.

The other workshop conducted was on bio-char, “a fabulous, naturally made soil amendment that’s made out of charcoal,” Valentine said. “You can make it in your own yard.”

Valentine said it adds “immense amounts” of charcoal to the ground, and also acts as a sponge, doubling as an extra reservoir for water and nutrients.

Roughly 30 people showed up for the bio-char workshop this summer in Hanalei, said Valentine, noting that the workshop was so successful that it may happen again soon.

The Hands on the Land program — which has yet to start — will include 10 or 15 people that will show up, “ready to get down and dirty,” work at a chosen farm, and then do a pot luck afterwards, Valentine said.

Even non-members can take part in the workshops, she said.

Visit wwwlhawaiifarmersunion.org for more information, or contact Valentine at hfukauai@gmail.com or 652-0433.

Kaua‘i’s newest farmers union is nation’s oldest

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