A renewed interest in agriculture is a welcome shift for all those engaged in the vocation. Comments in the media that seek to assign blame for mistakes of the past have dominated the discourse. Our reliance upon imports is not the fault of individuals nor institutions but the result of economic forces. We would do well to seek solutions rather than assign blame.
Agriculture is a diverse industry, and this diversity is a strength. Farmers, ranchers and aquaculturists are free to choose the methods and crops that best fit their vision, values, the land, water and markets available to them. Organic, biodynamic, aquaponic, natural or conventional, large or small, traditional or technology-driven, farmers, ranchers and nursery people share much in assuming the challenging task of feeding people and stewarding the land.
Farmers and ranchers are conservationists. We get up every morning and get to work, dirt under our fingernails, sun on our backs, mud beneath our boots. But there is also logistical, engineering, mechanical, accounting and marketing work. We do what's necessary to produce the food, flowers and foliage that we all enjoy. Our livelihoods depend upon a working knowledge of hydrological and nutrient cycles. We construct and maintain drainage systems that enhance watersheds, reduce runoff and preserve soil. We preserve the pastoral vistas that are a treasured part of our island landscape.
We, too, need to eat. We need to feed our families, educate our keiki, care for our kupuna, maintain our homes and equipment and invest in our communities. We must earn a living. If we can't survive, we won't.
Our needs are straightforward. We require land, water, labor, transportation and markets. We require science and technology to manage today's problems and pests. We need these elements at rates that allow us to be profitable. Without these things, there is no agriculture.
All the arguments for food security have been made. The warning signs are evident. We must move toward sustainability by producing safe and healthy food, flowers, foliage, fiber and fuel for our fellow citizens. We have a duty to do this. The economics of the food supply have favored imports, causing our local food system to atrophy. The solution is up to you. If you eat, you have a stake in agriculture.
If you value food security, you must create the demand. You must buy local, demand local of your grocer and dine in restaurants that do. Our future hangs in the balance.
Hawaii's agriculture is subject to all the pressures of the private sector. Yet we are much more. Ours is a public service. We can revitalize Hawaii's agriculture, but you - as a customer and a citizen - must support Hawaii's farmers and our products. Keeping your dollars local represents an investment in our economy. Support the values that are important to you. Buy local.
The revolution has already begun. Our growing network of farmers markets has never been stronger. Interest in local food production has never been higher. We are strengthening education and careers in agriculture. The new agricultural leaders have arrived and they are growing.
Government plays a critical role in supporting an environment in which agriculture can flourish. Our elected and appointed officials must consider unintended consequences made by imperfect policy decisions. Urge your political representatives to support the agricultural sector. Government is an important partner in the advancement of our common goal of a sustainable Hawaii. You have the power and a duty to hold them accountable.
Occasionally, opinions will differ within our industry. While we engage in respectful debate, we must not allow our differences to dominate the conversation. Rather, we should focus on the overarching commonalities that bind us. Only then can we move forward.
It's a big canoe. There is room for all. Climb aboard. And paddle.
* Chris Manfredi is the vice president of the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation. This Viewpoint was submitted on behalf of HFBF and 16 other organizations in the state.