Consumers should support local farmers
The survival of any species is completely dependent on access to adequate food. Obtaining foods in the amounts and varieties that meet our nutrient needs has been a challenge since before the days of two food groups: hunting and gathering.
Hunting and gathering required vast amounts of land to obtain adequate food for a family. The development of agriculture, however, provided reliable food sources within limited space. Farming is perhaps the oldest profession, and it remains the foundation of the civilized world.
Hawaii is one of the most isolated small landmasses in the world. Despite this, the first Hawaiians were able to support a large population mainly due to extensive plant and animal agriculture. Today, Hawaii residents live in a much more precarious situation due to great dependence on food shipped from elsewhere.
A natural disaster or even a shipping strike could bring us to our nutritional knees in a matter of several days. Consequently, increasing agricultural production in Hawaii is more important than ever.
Question: How have current events affected the need to increase local agriculture?
Answer: Over the last decade there are four key factors that have increased Hawaii's dependency on mainland food and, in turn, increased the importance of strengthening local agriculture.
1) With the loss of local dairy and egg production capabilities, protein resources have declined.
2) World issues have increased fuel costs and food costs.
3) Loss of local airlines and increased plane fares potentially decrease tourists and resulting tourist revenue.
4) Current farmland flooding on the mainland will decrease food supply and therefore have a trickle effect on increased food costs in the very near future.
Q: How will increased agricultural capacity benefit Hawaii?
A: Most obviously, locally grown and processed foods make us less vulnerable to off-island issues. Also, fresher produce is superior in both taste and nutritional value.
By decreasing the miles each food or food ingredient must travel, we increase the long-term sustainability of Hawaii's food-producing capacities.
Increased local agriculture and food production preserves more open space and agro-tourism opportunities. Banana, papaya and mango trees are often of great interest to those from colder climates. Overall, more local diversified agriculture helps to "sell" Hawaii.
Buying local isn't always the least expensive. But buying local invests in the preservation of productive agricultural land and helps to promote policies that make local farming profitable.
Alan Titchenal, Ph.D., C.N.S. and Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S. are nutritionists in the Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, University of Hawaii-Manoa. Dr. Dobbs also works with University Health Services.