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Farmers convention growing the good stuff

Knowledge-sharing draws hundreds to Puunene event

A table on little fire ants provides information on the invasive species during the Hawai‘i Farmers Union United ninth annual convention. The Maui News / KEHAULANI CERIZO photo

PUUNENE — Hundreds of farmers from around Hawaii gathered in Central Maui over the weekend to cultivate a deeper understanding of ag in the Aloha State.

As the leading conference of its kind on Maui, the Hawai’i Farmers Union United annual convention featured 35 speakers and roughly 60 presentations, ranging from soil health to cacao, ulu, tea, hemp and taro crops, among others. Organizers said more than 300 attended the three-day event held at Mahi Pono community farmlands in Puunene.

One chef tent, two ag discussion tents, a hemp tent and a main tent with keynote speakers and video were concurrently abuzz with activity Saturday. Also, locally produced food, vendors, entertainment, healing arts and even camping options were offered. The ninth annual convention started Friday and ends today.

Through the years, soil health remains an important topic.

“There’s a community of people here that really value soil health,” said HFUU board president and founding member Vincent Mina. “It’s kind of a metaphor that we have the mulch here on the ground. A biology is developed because of that. So that’s what we’re looking to do, ramp up the biology in our ag system. If we can have healthier soils, we can have healthier plants.”

Agricultural planner and Hawai‘i Farmers Union United convention speaker Hunter Heaivilin discusses farmer needs, climate change and food price Saturday at the ninth annual event. The Maui News / KEHAULANI CERIZO photo

This year, the discussion and chef tents boosted interactivity and participation from listeners. Experts were encouraged to have three to five points of interest; that way, information was easier to digest and audience members wouldn’t have a steep learning curve when practicing what they learned, Mina said.

“I wanted them to draw out people in the audience to be able to engage and be interactive and not just have to watch a bunch of talking heads,” he said.

Mina said he hopes information gleaned from the convention will grow into application.

“The true investment that (participants) put into this convention is what they do with the information gleaned after they leave,” he said. “In this way, they can adjust their lifestyle somehow to support what they value. A lot of that is, I think, why people come to events like this, to have some kind of spark where they go, ‘Oh yeah, I really like that.'”

Part of the National Farmers Union, HFUU, established in 2010, represents 13 regional chapters from around the state. Members include farm owners and operators, foodies, ranchers, gardeners, permaculturalists, cultural practitioners, landscapers and suppliers and businesses that are part of the local food chain. Also, membership offers educational opportunities for youth and adults at local, state and national levels.

Maui cold-pressed juice company r.i.p.e. offers blends, “Joy,” “Heal and “Blue Hawaii,” among others, on Saturday at the farmers convention in Puunene. The Maui News / KEHAULANI CERIZO photo

Looking ahead, Mina said, the HFUU is in early stages of collaborating with The Mahi’ai Foundation to “marry music to agriculture” with an event this summer.

“That’s something to look forward to,” he said.

Hawai‘i Farmers Union United ninth annual convention featured 35 speakers and roughly 60 presentations Friday through today at Mahi Pono community farmlands in Puunene. The Maui News / KEHAULANI CERIZO photo