As the local food movement sprouts wings and takes flight across our country, here in the Hawaiian Islands the importance of food security has a special relevance. We have a 365-day growing season but rely on barges to bring us 85 percent of our food.
With less than a seven-day supply of food in stores at any given time, is it any wonder that on the fourth Tuesday of every month in Haiku the Maui Farmers Union United meetings attract 150 to 200 people?
Why the amazing popularity of this particular organization and its monthly meetings? Perhaps it's the massive locavore potluck or the great presentations by local chefs who take pride in using local products, or the focus in the meetings on the importance of soil health in protecting our aina while delivering important nutrients to our bodies. It could be the role that MFUU plays in putting regenerative methods of food production on the desks and in the hearts of our politicians, but it seems more than that.
Looking around the room, one will see many young faces, with ruddy complexions, dirt under their fingernails and an air of hope. The older farmers in the room look vibrant but tired from their years of hard work. I am sure they are loving that the locally grown food movement has sparked the younger generation into wanting to take part. The education of young farmers is one of the key missions of Hawaii Farmers Union United and its local chapter, MFUU.
Regarding mentoring young farmers I ask myself, "If the average age of farmers is over 60, what has stopped the children from following their family tradition of farming?" While I don't know the answer, I am learning that young people are interested in learning the ancient practices of building healthy living soil that supports food growth. MFUU does not oppose modern practices but sees the need for the ancient practices to be bridged to future farmers who are inspired by regenerative soil health practices. MFUU is all about the food and growing young farmers to supply our community with fresh, local food.
Jan. 7 and 8 marked a monumental event for HFUU and Hawaii farmers. The 2014 Food Summit at the state Capitol was sponsored by HFUU and was attended by important players in Hawaii government, including Gov. Neil Abercrombie, state Rep. Jessica Wooley, state Sen. Clarence Nishihara and Scott Enright, the head of the state Department of Agriculture. In total, more than 100 citizens, including investors, chefs, school garden advocates, land-use experts and scientists, participated in discussions at this roundtable meeting.
Wooley and Nishihara have introduced four bills on farm mentoring as part of a comprehensive Food Policy Bill for the 2014 legislative session. If passed, the Farm Technique Mentor Program (SB2037) would authorize and direct the University of Hawaii's College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources to initiate a program of competitive grants to develop integrated farm mentoring or expand existing mentoring capacity. Preference will be given to existing farms that use a minimum of 75 percent of local resources for agricultural production and existing farms that are certified to teach Korean natural farming techniques. One can learn more about this farm-mentoring program on Oahu and the Big Island and the approach to recycling farm waste while fostering soil health at www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/sustainag/news/articles/V14-Wang-KNF.pdf.
MFUU was formed in 2009 as a volunteer-based, grass-roots organization advocating for small farms and ranches on Maui. Five years later, MFUU is going strong with 207 members in the Maui chapter, and chapters on the Big Island, Kauai and Oahu. Like its parent organization at the state and national levels, MFUU advocates for empowering island farmers to earn a prosperous living through regenerative stewardship of our lands, waters and communities, acting as a key bridge between farmers and consumers.
* Bill Greenleaf is the owner of Greenleaf Farm in Makawao and president of Maui Farmers Union United. MFUU meets on the fourth Tuesday of each month at the Haiku Community Center. Doors open at 5:15 p.m., with the meeting beginning at 6 p.m. MFUU meetings are free and open to the public. For more information, go to www.mauifarmersunionunited.org.