Buying local requires saving farmland


POSTED: Sunday, March 22, 2009

THE last few years have seen a deeper awareness of the economic, environmental and healthful advantages of buying foods grown and produced closer to the consumer's home.

What earlier was regarded as merely a lifestyle trend among the Birkenstock set has been adopted by restaurants, conventional grocery store chains, military exchanges, universities and school districts.

In Hawaii, farmers markets, where consumers can buy most fruits and vegetables directly from the people who grow them, have gained popularity and are even considered selling points for residential redevelopment projects and attractions at malls and shopping centers.

Buying local keeps dollars in the island economy, reduces energy consumption and greenhouse gases and provides fresher, more nutritious products. Regional agriculture can yield a larger measure of food security and encourage responsible land development.

Political leaders routinely proclaim support for agriculture. At the same time, however, they seem to be unable to create optimal conditions under which home-grown foods can thrive.

That's because growing foods requires land, and land owners, as is their prerogative, prefer housing or commercial development for maximum profit. Prime agriculture acreage in West Oahu, for example, could soon sprout nearly 12,000 housing units instead of potatoes, onions, melons, peppers and Asian greens if a state agency approves a land-use change.

While the agriculture officials champion the just-finished National Agriculture Week and Ag Sustainability Day, spotlight the importance of protecting agriculture lands and urge consumers to buy local for all the right reasons, fields of green dreams concurrently disappear.