Categorized | Agriculture, Featured

Governor praises Veteran to Farmer/Farming for the Working Class program

Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Wow Farm operator Mike Hodson talk about agricultural innovation Friday, Nov. 2 in Waimea. (Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7)

Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Editor

Gov. Neil Abercrombie said he sees a Big Island farming pilot project as a step toward keeping Hawaii dollars in Hawaii and bolstering the agriculture industry.

“The Big Island is going to be the generator of prosperity for this part of the 21st century,” he said. “There is not a doubt in my mind. This is a move toward self-sufficiency. It’s keeping our dollars in Hawaii.”

Abercrombie joined more than two dozen stakeholders and Veteran to Farmer/Farming for the Working Class program leaders for a tour of a Big Island farm and to learn about the Waimea Nui Regional Community Development Initiative.

Wow Farm operator Mike Hodson, a retired police officer, said he started farming as a stress-relieving hobby and now grows 10 varieties of tomato in 45 2,000-square-foot greenhouses in Waimea.

The governor also viewed the 161-acre plot of land in Waimea that DHHL will develop into several dozen agricultural lots. Currently, the pilot program has 14 Department of Hawaiian Home Lands lessees in Waimea signed on to become working farmers.

The program aims to teach the lessees how to build a greenhouse that they can care for while still working another full-time job and how to grow produce ready for market, Hodson said.

“We need to farm farmers,” Hodson said. “Waimea used to lead the state in agriculture. It’s about time Waimea led the state again. And this is a model that can be replicated across the state.”

Wow Farm tomatoes. (Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7)

The Veteran to Farmer/Farming for the Working Class program, developed jointly by the Waimea Hawaiian Homesteaders Association, Rivertop Solutions, University of Hawaii-Hilo and state and county agencies, will combine classroom and on-farm education to create operating farms.

The first class began in June and UH-Hilo has begun certification of the curriculum, which will allow military veterans to use their GI Bill benefits in future classes.

The farmers will be supported by modern, renewable energy powered agriculture facilities that allow them to market their produce locally and to larger buyers.

“Farmers have the opportunity to export via the Internet,” Abercrombie said, noting that he also wants to bolster local business avenues.

He said he supports amending state procurement laws to allow local food to be served in hospitals, jails, schools and other public facilities.

“What’s the major export for Hawaii?” Abercrombie mulled at the close of the tour. “Dollars. Dollars for oil, dollars for food, dollars for prisoners. That money should stay in Hawaii.”

Kanu o ka Aina New Century Public Charter School students show off the vegetables growing in their campus garden. (Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7)

Abercrombie noted that while imported food may cost less at the store, it has hidden costs. He pointed to agricultural workers in other countries who are paid “slave wages” and lower quality produce.

“This is an investment in ourselves because the money stays here,” he said. “Why should we help people in other countries exploit their own people when we can help ourselves?”

People will pay for quality and if they know they are supporting local farmers, Abercrombie said.

Abercrombie said, ‘This is part of what I envisioned. This is the long game we are playing, a long-term commitment. We’re partners. It’s not a top-down thing. Our job is to be a bridge, a catalyst.”

He added that while he sees his role is “to cheerlead, to articulate it to the greater public,” he still needs to lead the conversation.

“I’m up to here with having to listen to people talk when they don’t have anything to say when it comes to agriculture. I don’t want to hear one more person … tell me how they want to preserve ag land. I don’t want to preserve ag land. I want to use ag land to grow things and to see to it that we have a thriving agricultural industry,” he said. “So, if you got a plan to actually make agriculture work in Hawaii, I’m all ears. But if you want to sit there and talk about making ag land into a museum piece, go see Bishop Museum and maybe they got a project for you.”

The governor also said now is the right time to explore innovative agricultural projects that also integrate economic, health, cultural and education aspects.

“The state is in good fiscal shape,” he said. “You either go or you don’t. You either have legislators that are bold or you don’t.”

Following the farm tour, Abercrombie was treated to lunch at Kanu o ka Aina New Century Public Charter School, where students also showed off their garden plot.

Support and funding for this initiative has come from a range of sponsors that include the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, County of Hawaii, Department of Hawaiian Homelands, and First Nations Development Institute.

Wow Farm greenhouse. (Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7)

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