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Celebrate ag week, eat well and support Hawaii farmers


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POSTED: Tuesday, March 17, 2009

This is National Agriculture Week, and it's a perfect time to support Hawaii agriculture and increase consumption of locally grown foods by at least 10 percent. That's just a little change in our buying habits that can make a big difference. Increasing our local supply and demand leads to increasing our food self-sufficiency in the long run.

A recent study, conducted jointly by the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources and the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, indicated that if Hawaii replaced just 10 percent of foods we import with locally grown and manufactured foods, it would generate approximately $94 million for farmers, an economywide impact of $188 million in sales, $47 million in earnings and $6 million in state taxes. It was also estimated that it would generate 2,300 jobs.

Taking a specific example, if twice as many Hawaii consumers bought local eggs instead of mainland eggs, it would generate more than $17 million in sales, $4.58 million in earnings and more than $500,000 in tax revenues, and 217 jobs.

It should concern everyone in Hawaii that more than 85 percent of our food is imported. If the goal is for our state to become more self-sufficient, growing more of our own food is certainly a priority. While there are many challenges in this quest, there is one key thing that consumers can do, and that is to request and purchase locally grown foods whenever possible.

One of the effects of these tight economic times is that more of us are cooking and entertaining at home. While watching our budgets, we can still make food-purchasing choices that can help to support our local farmers who also are feeling the economic squeeze. Choosing a locally grown tomato, cucumber, lettuce, eggplant, pineapple, papaya and other fresh produce is healthy, nutritious and helps our farmers.

We are glad to see that after years of not having local milk on store shelves, Oahu, Maui and Kauai now have “;Island Fresh”; milk available from Island Dairy on the Big Island. Ventures like this must continue to be supported by consumers if we want our state to become more self-reliant. HDOA's Commodities Branch will be helping to serve this fresh milk at the Ag Sustainability Day event from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. today on the fourth floor of the state Capitol.

The Ag Sustainability Day event is being coordinated by the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation and involves the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, HDOA, many island farmers and others in the agriculture industry. There will be a farmers' market with all proceeds going to the Hawaii Foodbank. It's a good opportunity for the public to see what's exciting in Hawaii agriculture.

Increasing our food self-sufficiency and supporting agriculture is important economically; however, there cannot be local foods without local farmlands.

Protecting important agricultural lands is key to sustaining agriculture now and preserving it for the future. The agricultural lands must be affordable with long-term leases so agribusinesses can invest in their businesses. Providing affordable water sources for irrigation of crops is just as crucial.

Agriculture keeps our islands lush and green, recharges our aquifers and preserves our open green space that residents, as well as visitors, appreciate. Increased interest in agricultural tourism has provided opportunities to supplement agricultural operations and helped to provide visitors with a new experience.

Environmentally, replacing imported produce with those locally grown will help to decrease the risk of the introduction of hitchhiking invasive pests and plant diseases that threaten our agriculture and environment. There is also another environmental benefit to buying local as it requires less energy to transport the food to the consumer. Carbon footprints measure the impact of our activities on the environment; the farther goods need to be transported, the more energy it takes and the greater the amount of emissions of greenhouse gases.

The benefits of buying local are significant to our state, not only for food, but for other forms of agriculture, such as horticultural plants. Sourcing local keeps our hard-earned money flowing through our communities and helps preserve and create jobs for Hawaii's residents.

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Sandra Lee Kunimoto is chairwoman of the Hawaii Board of Agriculture.