What is the future of food in Maui County? Deep inside all Maui residents that's an uncomfortable thought and an undeniable concern.
The reality is that more than 90 percent of food consumed in Maui County is grown somewhere other than here. I propose that, as a community, we set out to change that number.
Here are some logical steps:
* We need to value and protect our ag lands in the Maui Island Plan process that's under way.
Chapter 8 of the MIP gives strategies to direct growth where it fits best and to protect areas, like agricultural lands, where growth is not appropriate. Protection of ag lands is one of the four major "themes" of this "Directed Growth" chapter - Theme Two: Protect Maui's agricultural resource lands, especially productive agricultural lands.
We need the Planning Department to explain to the public exactly how this goal will be accomplished.
* We need effective tools to preserve ag lands and encourage diversified farming.
At a recent public meeting, Planning Director Will Spence explained that using ag overlays on our growth maps would impact small-property owners. So, if this planning tool, used by General Plans all over the nation, is off the table, what's left to reach our goal? The planning director has suggested several methods, but are they proving effective?
The state's Important Ag Lands designation process will provide the protections we need.
Reality: Large landowners decide which lands are important. Decisions about important ag protection can be based more on future development potential than best ag productivity. Is this the best insurance for food security?
Transfer of development rights from productive ag parcels to areas with less ag potential is hailed as a planning tool to help meet our ag preservation goals, but this concept currently has no legal provision on Maui. If enacted, it may only be used in a few select cases for larger parcels. There will always be more areas with support to be retained as ag land than sending areas, where the development rights can be transferred.
Meanwhile, we sit by and watch while large chunks of Waihee, Waiehu, Haiku, Haliimaile and Kula get sold off for ranch estates and suburban subdivisions.
Our Planning Department, which once supported ag overlay districts, now says that they won't work and that the concept can't be narrowly defined to avoid impacts to small, family-owned parcels. What management alternatives will be proposed instead?
While we watch to see what our policymakers will be willing to do to promote food security for our island, there are steps we all can take.
* Everyone grow a little bit of food. People renting can build a box (8' x 4' x 12"), which is an excellent beginning and can be moved if need be.
* Support Maui County Council members at the ballot box who create legislation and other pathways to create local agriculture support. We need elected officials who place a high priority on facilitating Maui residents to grow food.
* Support school gardens and volunteer your time. Children notice what we do more than what we say. We need to grow young farmers. Become part of the school garden ohana and the children will recognize that we all value growing food.
* Soil building, compost, wood chips and nutrients are necessary for Maui's land to be regenerated. We need Maui County government to be assertive and actively produce these resources for the farming community.
* Lose the mind-set that growing food is hard work. Shift to ideas such as: The farm is my pharmacy, when I grow food, I get healthy in multiple ways and I teach the children new habits.
We need to protect the future of food sovereignty on Maui by protecting agricultural lands. The Maui Island Plan authors saw this need and included it in the plan. This is a crucial step in creating a future for those who come after us.
Let's grow some food and have fun talking story while we eat "local."
* Bill Greenleaf is an officer on the board of the Maui Farmers Union United and has been growing food with his wife, Marta, on Greenleaf Farm in Makawao for eight years.