HILO >> Hawaii County lawmakers are considering a bill that would make it easier for small farmers to give tours to visitors, usually for a fee, and to sell related agricultural and nonagricultural products at a gift shop. Large agricultural operations already can do this.
The legislation, which the council is scheduled to hear Thursday, proposes separating agricultural activities into “major” and “minor” operations, West Hawaii Today reported.
Minor operations would be required to limit annual visitors to 5,000, with a maximum 100 visitors per week. Major operations would be allowed up to 30,000 visitors per year.
The Hawaii Agritourism Association and other supporters say the bill will help small farmers survive the vagaries of the economy and weather by providing a reliable supplemental income source.
Opponents worry the measure will distract farmers from their primary occupation of food production, while increasing the value of agricultural land and property taxes.
Freshman Puna Councilman Zendo Kern proposed the bill. He’s been trying to draft a measure balancing the needs of small farmers and would-be “agritourism” businesses with rural neighbors who worry about impacts like increased traffic and noise.
Major agritourism operations still would need to get their plans approved, while minor ones would not. Both types would be required to turn over financial records upon the request of the planning department to verify compliance.
North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff hopes the bill can be delayed a little longer to ensure it’s the best it can be before moving it on to its final hearing later this month.
HILO — The island’s two planning commissions are making it easier for farms to lure and accommodate tourists.
The Windward Planning Commission on Thursday unanimously endorsed a measure that creates a new category of “minor” agri-tourism business that can bypass many of the rules imposed on larger operations. The measure, which also must be approved by the Leeward Planning Commission before going to the County Council, also eliminates the need for a site inspection before agri-tourism businesses can receive plan approval.
“This is one step in the right direction,” said Comissioner Wallace Ishiboshi. “It’s going to help the farmers.”
Meanwhile, the Leeward Planning Commission on May 17 will tackle a related rule tightening requirements on bed and breakfasts by expanding requirements for use permits from the commission in certain zoning designations.
Minor agri-tourism operations are defined as operations that see 15,000 visitors or less a year, with a weekly maximum of 350 visitors. Operations in that size range will no longer need plan approval before commencing operations.
“This will allow farmers to help supplement their agricultural business, especially on a monthly basis so they don’t have to wait for the crop to come in,” said Planning Director Bobby Jean Leithead Todd.
ECONOMIC DIVERSITY IS KEY TO HC&S’ SURVIVAL
It’s the last one standing, clinging to an antiquated "plantation" era, which is long gone. Current news has focused on many issues, but the most important one may be the ability of this company and its workers to diversify.
Visionary co-partners could provide capital and technology, while HC&S provides land, leases and the work force. Ideas for diversity could be some of the following:
- Eliminate the middlemen and process locally the many varieties of confectionery and food sugars utilized throughout the world.
- Eco-agricultural tourism; this is a huge, virtually untapped market for Maui visitors. Co-develop a plantation-era camp with the new Hali’imaile Pineapple owners, complete with country stores, bakery and museum. An immersion package would spotlight sugar and pineapple history, production, fields, museum and products.
- Grow bamboo to manufacture construction products, high-end flooring, furniture and cabinetry, all produced in a local factory with Maui workers.
- Develop least-productive lands into revenue-producing energy farms. Solar, wind and solar thermal energy would be harvested and space for future algae biofuels secured. Additional lands could provide light industrial tracts for local businesses to lease.
- Become a Pacific region leader in agricultural food production. Vertical farming could be accomplished in glass, multistory hydroponic greenhouses with rotating produce beds. Units would be tied into the energy farms and water produced by atmospheric water generators.
HC&S is teetering on a fiscal precipice. The question is, are they willing and able to do something about it?