The owners of Hawaii’s second-largest farm are looking to get back $192,000 from the federal court clerk in Honolulu.
The money was to have been divided among 24 Thai farm workers under a plea agreement initially accepted by Alec Sou and his brother Mike Sou of Aloun Farms.
But a federal judge rejected the deal because the Sous disputed some of the facts they had previously acknowledged in the plea agreement. They then changed their pleas to not guilty.
The human trafficking trial of the owners of Aloun Farms in Kapolei is set to begin Nov. 9. In all, they are accused of exploiting 44 imported laborers from Thailand.
In 2008, a report from the University of Hawaii-Manoa and the state Department of Agriculture estimated that between 85 percent and 90 percent of the state’s food was imported every year and concluded that there wasn’t much anyone could do to change the situation.
” … Even though Hawaii can conceivably grow anything that we consume, the quest to achieve 100% food self-sufficiency is impractical, unattainable and perhaps impossible, as it imposes too high a cost for society,” the researchers said.
Hawaii’s relatively small farms could never match the output or efficiency of the vast mechanized farms on the mainland, the report said. Island products would always be more expensive to grow and buy.
Still, the report was more a call to arms than a dark prophecy.
Pointing out that Hawaii’s geographic isolation left its food supply vulnerable to disruptions caused by forces and events beyond control, such as fuel costs, shipping strikes and farm production fluctuations, the report said it was of vital importance that the state not overlook the value of a small but thriving home-grown market.
A healthy agricultural base not only serves as a buffer against outside forces, it provides residents with fresher, tastier, healthier food and could put millions of dollars back into the island economy, the report said.
“I think we are at the crossroads,” says Dr. Matthew Loke, administrator of the state’s Agricultural Development Division and a co-author of the 2008 report with Dr. PingSun Leung of UH-Manoa’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. “Whether we can seize those opportunities or not, that’s our challenge.”
Proposed ‘Ewa development defies snap judgments
Sep 2, 2009
Last Friday’s daylong meeting of the State Land Use Commission, to rule on a petition by mega-developer D.R. Horton-Schuler to change the current zoning on 1,500 acres of prime ‘Ewa farmland from agriculture to mixed-use residential and commercial, was anything but boring.
Here’s Kioni Dudley, intervenor in the case, whom some have called the leader of the opposition: “In the beginning, over two years ago, this was just a gut feeling I had.” Now, it is more than a feeling, as Mr. Dudley–and everyone else with a sore gut over the proposed zone change–has picked up some unexpected allies, in the form of at least three State agencies and several local politicians.
Listen to Bryan Yee of the Attorney General’s office, speaking for the State Office of Planning: “We now know that if the petition [for the zoning change] goes through, H-I will be a parking lot from Waiawa to Makakilo. And the petitioner (Schuler) isn’t proposing any solutions.”
State land use panel rejects plan for 12,000 homes on Ewa farms
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Aug 29, 2009
In a rare move, the state Land Use Commission rejected yesterday a developer’s push to urbanize 1,500 acres of prime agricultural land in Ewa to create a new community of nearly 12,000 homes.
The commission voted 5-3 to declare the petition by D.R. Horton-Schuler Division "deficient," saying the developer had not followed the rules by spelling out an incremental development plan for its Ho’opili project. But it said Horton could fix its petition and try again.
"Hallelujah!" Kioni Dudley, president of Friends of Makakilo and leader of the opposition, declared after the vote. "It’s a great victory. It’s a victory for the aina. I hope the setback to the developer is permanent."
Dudley had some powerful support at yesterday’s hearing, including the state Office of Planning, which argued forcefully against the project, and the heads of the state Transportation and Agriculture departments. The commissioners also heard hours of testimony from members of the public, most of them pleading to keep the land growing fruits and vegetables for local consumption.
All eyes Ewa
Ho’opili’s developer extols the master-planned project’s virtues
By Mike Jones
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Aug 16, 2009
There’s unfortunately been some misinformation about Ho’opili — O’ahu’s first fully-integrated, transit-oriented, job-generating, "traditional" community that puts homes near jobs, schools, shopping and parks. Let me take this opportunity to set the record straight and to share some information I believe Oahu’s residents will be happy to hear.
It’s about more than just homes.
Ho’opili — which means "coming together" in Hawaiian — does propose building 11,750 new homes (which is a lower density than called for in the Ewa Development Plan) to be built over the next 20 to 25 years. While other Oahu developments are planned, Ho’opili will be the only community that will provide a significant number of affordable and competitively-priced homes in the area.
But Ho’opili is more than a bedroom community.
The real innovation of Ho’opili is that it will create thousands of new jobs in the area, which allows people to live where they work, thus helping to keep cars off the road.
Visionary, long-term planning pays off.
Back in the 1970s, Campbell Estate and the city created a vision for a second urban core on O’ahu — the new "Second City" — to help ease the pressure on growth in Honolulu. This was one of the most visionary land-use decisions in Hawaii’s history.
Other major efforts now underway to complete the Second City include the build-out of downtown Kapolei, the UH-West Oahu campus, the Salvation Army’s Kroc Center and Department of Hawaiian Home Lands’ retail center and residential development. Ho’opili helps complete that vision, providing homes and jobs to make the dream of a Second City a reality.
Perhaps the most critical part of the Ewa Development Plan is not only did the city indicate where growth should occur, it wisely planned for where growth should not happen. The Ewa Development Plan, and Ho’opili’s fit within it, is an open space "protection plan," limiting growth to certain areas.
Farming will continue at Ho’opili for years.
Currently, the site is being used on an interim basis for diversified agriculture. Accordingly, tenants were provided meaningful and substantial concessions at the outset given the temporary nature of their use.
The tenants’ transition from the Ho’opili lands does not need to occur overnight, but should be ratable to accommodate the 20-year-plus build-out. When the time does come many years from now, we will work closely with the farmers in their relocation efforts to provide a smooth transition.
Specter of development looms over farm land
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Aug 16, 2009
The Aloun Farms stall is the second shoppers encounter upon arriving at the farmers market at Kapiolani Community College.
The first spot is reserved for the coffee kiosk, the market operator’s nod to caffeine fixes people might need before plunging into a swarm of food gatherers literally bumping elbows with tour-bused visitors so early in the day.
Aloun’s is one of about a dozen stands that sells an assortment of fruits and vegetables that vary with the season.
Summer delivers an abundance of melons, most of them common, but from time to time, an exotic yield from a test crop will appear, samples set out for keen market watchers to taste.
In winter, purple, red, yellow and orange potatoes arrive, some of them also pilot runs to determine what types will grow best in the rich soil of the Ewa Plain.
Judging from the wealth of foods at that small booth — cabbages, bananas, beans, green and sweet round onions, broccoli, corn, pumpkins and squash — just about anything will flourish there.
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
A proposal for building 12,000 homes on what is described as the best agricultural land on Oahu goes back before the state Land Use Commission tomorrow.
D.R. Horton-Schuler Division is planning a development known as Ho’opili on 1,500 acres makai of the H-1 freeway, between Waipahu and Kapolei, and is petitioning the state to change the land’s designation from agricultural to urban use. The developer, which has been presenting its case over several months, expects to wrap up its arguments tomorrow, and the opposition will soon get its turn at bat.
"This is the highest-producing agricultural land in the state, which we’re going to need for our future survival," said Kioni Dudley, president of the Friends of Makakilo, who heads the opposition as an intervener in the Land Use Commission case. "Even without Ho’opili, 33,000 homes have already been zoned and are ready to be built in the Leeward area. The traffic that Ho’opili is going to cause is going to be like a parking lot. There’s no way to solve that problem even with rail."
The Ho’opili project calls for creating a community the size of Hawaii Kai or Mililani to complete the build-out of the Kapolei-Ewa area as the "Second City." Although the land is designated agricultural by the state, it falls within the urban growth boundary of the city’s Ewa Development Plan, and the city rail transit project is slated to run through the community.
The land is now used for farming by three tenants, including Aloun Farms, which provides a substantial amount of the local supply of crops, including sweet corn, beans, melons, pumpkin and lettuce. Bob Bruhl, vice president of development for Horton-Schuler, said the project will be built over 20 years and that "farming can continue during the incremental build-out of Ho’opili."
Something rotten is happening in pumpkin patches across the country, but that shouldn’t affect the supply of the orange orbs here this Halloween season.
Bad weather and a fungus on the Mainland have devastated pumpkin crops in the East and much of the Midwest. Pumpkin production is expected to be down between 65 percent and 75 percent, while prices are projected to be high.
But in Hawai’i, where about 70 percent of the pumpkins sold are grown at Aloun Farms in Kapolei, there should be enough to go around, and prices will be about the same as last year.
As recently as four years ago, 100 percent of the pumpkins sold in the Islands were brought in from the Mainland. Thanks to Aloun Farms, that’s down to 30 percent.
Aloun Farms anticipated a greater demand for pumpkins this year and planted 110 acres, compared with 90 acres last year.
Aloun Farms’ Alec Sou said his crop was planted after the March and April storms that damaged many crops; still, crop yield per acre is down this year.