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Farmers, community would benefit from agriculture department; please vote yes

Viewpoint

Here are just a few things that a department of agriculture could have done and could do in the future. The department is supposed to be about advocacy and education for the farmer, not regulation, and definitely not bureaucracy. Imagine if you are a farmer and wanted to know what permits you needed to build a commercial kitchen to increase value-added products or where you might be able to apply for funding to put up fencing to keep deer and pigs from destroying your crops . . . wouldn’t it be nice if there was “one-stop shopping” where you could call a local knowledgeable source who could direct you to these resources? Here are some other examples:

• About four years ago the Budget and Finance Committee of the County Council introduced a bill to raise taxes on ag lands to increase tax revenue. The ag community spent a considerable amount of time opposing this and rallying farmers to testify when they should have been out farming and ranching. An alternative might have been, had there been a department of agriculture, for Real Property and Taxation to run the bill by the ag department with the question, “What impact will this have on the bona fide farmers on Maui that feed our community?” This would have saved the ag community a considerable amount of time and energy to deflect this resolution which was aimed at so-called fake farms but in their widely cast net would have dragged all of the farmers under.

• Maui County is facing problems with the age and availability of slaughterhouses to process local animals from ranches and animal farms. This was recognized as a deficiency several years ago (County of Maui Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy [CEDS] 2016) but no movement has happened, until recently. This would be a great project for a department of agriculture to take on to maintain this lifeline for local meat production.

• Similarly, there is a dire need for compost on our island. We are currently throwing out 27,000 tons of food waste a year and pay fines to the EPA for methane emissions from the dump. Wouldn’t a department of agriculture be the logical agency to work on and organize grants to fund a compost facility on the island? According to the CEDS, both a slaughterhouse and compost facility were at the top of the list for priority through federal funding. However, no one had grasped the bull by the horns and our access to federal funds may lapse in the coming year unless we do another round of CEDS. These are opportunities lost to improve local food production and to reduce waste. There is enough food waste every year that if it was turned into compost it could cover more than 3,000 acres a year; currently there’s only about 1,600 acres in vegetable production island wide.

These are just some of the tasks that could be parts of a department of agriculture. The language in the amendment will suggest that a department of agriculture should work with existing agencies at the state and federal level to improve community access to such funds. How many farmers know that the Natural Resources Conservation Service can help pay for deer fencing or for practices that reduce soil erosion and grow soil? This is key for an island that derives both income from tourism and local pleasure from vibrant reefs, which become damaged by soil runoff and airborne dust contamination. How about those fake farms everyone seems to run down? Wouldn’t it be great if a department of agriculture had the ability to inspect ag properties and separate real from fake farmers? More tax revenue for our county from the fakes and us real farmers could rest easy that we are going to be left alone to do our jobs. Please vote yes on charter amendment to create a Maui County Department of Agriculture. We could all use the help!

* Gerry Ross is an organic farmer in Kula (Kupa’a Farms) and his family has been growing food for Maui for more than 40 years.

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