Maui company evicts
about 24 farmers
Mayor Alan Arakawa works with
farmers to find an alternative site
WAILUKU » Approximately two dozen farmers in Maalaea have been given eviction notices by Wailuku Agribusiness Co. effective Aug. 31.
The evictions will affect the supply of vegetables -- including tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and string beans -- on the Valley Isle, especially at the Ohana Farmers and Crafters Market on Wednesdays at the Kahului Shopping Center, said Ohana President Pepito Valdez.
Valdez, also a farmer in Maalaea, said the eviction will cut his income in half, and he knows of three other full-time farmers who face a substantial loss of income.
The farmers met with Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa on Thursday to discuss problems in finding an alternative site and to explore whether there was a possibility of delaying the eviction.
"They're not going to have a place to do their farming anymore unless the mayor of Maui can relocate us," Valdez said.
Dennis Rieta Sr., a part-time farmer, said he had just moved to Maalaea three months ago, after being evicted by Wailuku Agribusiness from a farm site in Waikapu.
Rieta, who also works as a self-employed mechanic, said he started farming about five years ago and enjoys the family lifestyle that involves his children and relatives.
"It keeps us together as a whole, tightly knit," he said.
Wailuku Agribusiness President Avery Chumbley said there was no chance of delaying the eviction and that the farmers had known about the Aug. 31 deadline since January.
Chumbley said the buyer of the 260 acres was scheduled to close the sale on Aug. 12 and wanted all the tenants off the property. The land is classified as agricultural by the state but is designated for single-family residential use in a county community plan, he said.
Chumbley said the tenants, who were not allowed to live or build structures on the property, were well aware that the land could be sold at any time and were on month-to-month leases. The leases were about $360 an acre a year, according to one farmer.
Chumbley said Wailuku Agribusiness has no place to put the tenants but has talked with Mayor Arakawa about a 621-acre parcel that could be turned into an agricultural park.
The parcel is located makai of Honoapiilani Highway and between Waikapu and Maalaea.
"If that administration wants to support agriculture as it claims, that would be a good location for an ag park," Chumbley said.
Arakawa said yesterday he is trying as much as possible to find an alternative site for the farmers.
He said he did propose setting aside $14 million in his 2003-04 budget to look at buying land from Wailuku Agribusiness for various uses, including an agricultural park, but the County Council took the request out of the budget.
Arakawa said he does feel there is a need for a new agricultural park and has asked Alexander & Baldwin Inc. to see if it has any parcels that might be appropriate.