From the top of the hill behind Kawai Loa Farm, Ted Nakamura often looks down to check the surf rolling into Chun’s and Lani’s. He is hesitant to remove his gaze from the farm and the ocean beneath because behind him spreads a sea of Monsanto seed corn. Ted smiles as he recounts the decade he has spent on this land supplying Oahu’s grocery stores with USDA organic certified asparagus, beans, eggplant, and okra. A walk down the local organic produce isle at the Kahala Whole Foods in Honolulu features Ted’s goods alongside plenty of other food grown locally on the Hawaiian Islands.
However, Ted explains there are not many organic farmers on the island of Oahu. While Whole Foods has an entire section of their store devoted to Hawaiian produce, the island of Oahu hardly
grows any of its own food. Honolulu’s one million inhabitants get more than 80% of their food from mainland imports. While Oahu has rich agricultural land, most of it is used for growing GMO seed corn (used to plant corn in other places not for food) and a quick stop at Whole Foods reveals that most of Oahu’s “local” produce comes from the outer islands. Besides the large percentage of Oahu’s agricultural land under seed corn cultivation, there is also the constant threat of new housing subdivisions like the proposed 1,300 acre Ho’opili development in Ewa Beach. There are another 30,000 homes included in the rest of the Ewa Beach Development Plan. Ted shakes his head and talks about the prices and rents of agricultural land rising for small farmers on the island.
Walking through rows of wing beans and asparagus on his 3.5 acre farm Ted relates that for many small farmers it is hard to find cheap land with long secure leases that allow tenants to make long term improvements to the land. Oahu’s three agricultural parks offer long leases at cheap prices, but most small farmers are left on the waiting list and forced to deal with large landowners and corporations. That has been the reality for Ted over the last decade. Due to a recent storm he is without electricity and hesitant to pay for repairs since his lease ends soon. Nonetheless, his eyes light up when talking about his plans for the future. Ted is negotiating to sign a 25 year lease this summer that will give him the security needed to start an established, permanent farming operation. Fresh produce from Oahu is rare, but Ted is committed to remaining one of the few organic farms left on the island. For many shoppers in Honolulu the difference between food grown on the mainland or outer islands is no different that food grown on Oahu, but Ted is adamant about the importance of Oahu grown produce. Hopefully with help his new lease, Ted will be growing food on Oahu for decades to come.
Ryan Silsbee Hawaii Food Warrior Spring 2012
Check out this article and learn more about the Food Warriors at Real Time Farms.