Idea Bank

A 21st Century Ahupua'a, Regional Food Security for Hawaii Nei


Aloha Kākou,

As the a junior member of this group, please let me introduce myself.

I am Simon Russell, Farmer, Father, Husband, aspiring public policy wonk, VP of the Hawaii Farmers Union United (HFUU) 501(c)5 ( and President of the Hawaii Farmers Union Foundation (HFUF) 501(c)3, chair of the Legislative Committee of HFUU, member of several other  local, state and national committees, and Governor David Y. Ige’s 2015 appointee to Represent Maui County on the Hawaii Board of Agriculture.

The fact that water and land are probably the most fought over commodities in human history has put the farm owner/operator at a disadvantage, as they have very little if any political power.  Farmers are usually on the short end of the policy stick, as they are in the fields toiling, and don’t normally have time for politics.  This was my family upbringing, and is in large part responsible for my high level of motivation to change the State of Hawaii’s agricultural support framework from one that is supportive of plantation style agriculture to one in support of family farms that operate using sustainable practices.  Maybe it will have to be both, but as we know the plantations are breaking up, and huge swaths of the agriculture district are fallow, and being bought up by foreign interests.

Sustainable agriculture systems depend on water and land being freely available to have systems of food production that are robust and long lasting. Hawaii needs systems of sustainable agriculture in place for long term regional food security.  Once upon a time, Hawaii had a land management system called ahupua‘a that managed the resources sustainably.  That system ended in 1848 with the passing of a new land use régime called the “Great Mahele”.

Fast forward to today, and there is a legal definition of sustainable agriculture, for those who are wondering what I mean by sustainable agriculture.  Congress defined it in the 1990 Farm Bill:

Under that law, “the term sustainable agriculture means an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will, over the long term:

  • satisfy human food and fiber needs;
  • enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends;
  • make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls;
  • sustain the economic viability of farm operations; and
  • enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.”


I see CLN as part of the solution to the contentious issues that are preventing lasting and really sustainable food security.  It is an honor to be a part of this forum, and I look forward to learning from you all.

If the reader will indulge me for a few more minutes of their time, please let me provide a brief glimpse of the Hawaii Farmers Union’s vision to achieve regional and sustainable food security , across our diverse island state.

Over the course of the last 5 years, HFUU has identified the availability and cost of land, labor and inputs as the major obstacle to scaled agricultural production that is competitive in price with imported goods.Our solution based ideas are listed in order, but not necessarily in order of priority, as they need to be done in tandem, requiring a race to the moon type mentality that lets nothing stop us from reaching our goal:

1) Workforce development: HFUU is in process of creating a system of career paths in agriculture for young people.  We are collaborating with Go Farm and CTAHR as well as the HDOA to build a matrix of possibility for aspiring agriculturalists.  We have a demonstration program on Maui named the Farm Apprentice Program. We are promoting the teaching of whole systems of agriculture that primarily use on island inputs (to the extent that they are available).  We have HFUU seasoned farmer members committed to sharing their knowledge and who are actively mentoring groups of young farmers.  HFUU (and friends) wrote SB 380 to support the farmer mentors across the state, it will be re-introduced next session.  Link:

2) Nutrient cycling centers: We have plans to demonstrate a nutrient cycling center that produces fertilizers made from on island inputs and manufacture them by the ton.  This will debut on Maui in 2016.   Nutrient cycling is an ancient practice largely unused in modern times with the availability of cheap petrochemical inputs.  However, the price of those cheap inputs rarely if ever factors in the cost of externalities associated with the large scale use of them in the prevailing practices now termed “Conventional”.  These modern practices use mechanized monoculture to achieve economies of scale to drive down the price of food,and in effect drive the small holder family farmer out of business and aggregate resources.

Aside from creating a scarcity of potable fresh water, and arable land, there are some other frightening problems humans have created with unsustainable agricultural practices.  There is no sign of change for the better.  Instead,  dominant and unsustainable practices demand more and more resources and create ever larger plumes of environmental pollution.

Now, we see the chickens coming home to roost in the form of climate change due in large part to huge amounts of carbon and methane emissions from mechanized agriculture and large scale animal production, AKA CAFO’s.  It is a fact that the CAFOs are feeding a minority of the human population of the planet (the industrialized nations), while producing a vast amount of CO2 and Methane emissions, while simultaneously creating financial incentives for unsustainable farming practices to destroy huge swaths of topsoil and raze forests (accelerating climate change some more) to make way for animal feed and biofuel crops.

One form of nutrient cycling neutralizes CAFO methane emissions by eliminating the lagoon method of manure handling.  Korean Natural Farming practices use microbes to break down the urine and feces in the CAFO using a deep litter mulching pen for the animals.  The litter which sequester the pollutants long enough for the microbes to break them down allow almost no emissions.  Animal producers in Korea have been doing this for centuries, they are now called no-smell piggeries, and CTAHR is a national leader in this industry, spreading the technology to 13 states, the Philippines and Micronesia now.  HFUU (and friends) wrote SCR 80 to support this concept, it will be re-introduced in the next legislative session.  Link:

This method of production is properly called biological farming, or by it’s trade marked name (Cho Global) Korean Natural Farming (KNF).  KNF is also excellent at providing fertility for vegetable crop production, and HFUU is actively promoting this method among it’s members and their communities.

3) Affordable Farm Land Trusts:  This idea comes from HFUU member Dale Bonar, former ED for the Hawaii Islands Land Trust.  It allows agriculturalists to build equity in a land lease and pass it on to their heirs, or sell their equity back to the trust when they retire.  It is online in concept here:  This is essential if we are to have a community of farmers that treat the land as if it were their own.  Short term leases rarely result in best practices being used on them.  Maui County is writing legislation in support of clustered housing on agriculturally zoned lands to support this concept, as well as legislation to allow land trusts to provide oversight.  Legislation is in draft form, and I can discuss with those interested in supporting this concept.

4) Food Hubs:  Regional food aggregators, whether they are community cooperatives, or leased space for processing, refrigeration and distribution.  These modern food safety compliant buildings will be essential to support the diversity of small farms across the state.  This is a critical pillar for our food security, as so much food falls on the ground and goes to waste, because people cannot afford to drive from a remote area to sell a small amount of harvest.  These food aggregators will also remove the liability for food borne illness from the small producer, and comply with the new regulations of the FDA called the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).  Small holder family farmers will not for the most part be able to afford regulatory compliance.  We will be drafting legislation for an appropriation for these structures, starting with a pilot program, in collaboration with friends and allies.

5) Brand Protection: It is essential that we protect brand Hawaii.  We need to do what Idaho, Maine and France have done for Idaho Potatoes, Maine Lobster and French Champagne;create a system called Geographic Indications (GI), and it is enshrined in international law.  The USA has no such régime, so NGOs like the American Origin Products Association and the National Farmers Union are collaborating to protect producers of American products from illegal counterfeiting of their products.  HFUU (and friends) wrote SB 604 to move this forward.  It was heavily opposed by the packers, processors and distributors in Hawaii, and will need to be redrafted.

Maybe the CLN can help mediate with opponents of a Hawaii GI régime.  Without a regulatory structure in favor of local producers,  importing cheap goods and branding them “Hawaiian” is inevitable (ex. coffee, honey, cacao, sugar, poi, vanilla.…you name it), as the profit motive is too great.  It is important that the farmers make their fair share of the profits of production.  What is happening is that origin product is blended (or not even of origin nature) and labelled “Hawaiian” and sold at a premium.  We need to put a lid on this behavior if people are expected to be able to make a living producing food here in Hawaii.

I know a major producer of goat cheese that blends 90% Cosco goat cheese with his “origin” goat cheese, and calls it Hawaiian.  The USDA requires 51% quanta to label it grown in the US, so how can Hawaii be different than American standards?  The answer is that it cannot, but the state is allowing this 10% quanta to go froward for coffee and other commodities, and there will be litigation eventually.

Link to the Hawaii Origin Products Act (HOPA) HB 1056 & SB 604:

Anyway, there’s a lot more where that came from, that’s my lunchtime Saturday rant, so nice to meet you all, hopefully someone reads all that, if not, it was a good exercise in writing :-)



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