By Jay Fidell
We had a great time at the ThinkTech-HVCA Recovery and Transformation program at the Plaza Club last Wednesday. If you didn’t make it, don’t despair – we’re posting the video on thinktechhawaii.com.
So far we’ve posted Dick Gushman’s now famous wakeup keynote about the incredible transitions now going on in the leadership of our state, the book report by Craig Howes and Jon Osorio regarding their new book of essays called “The Value of Hawaii,” and the blockbuster Vision Oanel featuring Robbie Alm of HECO as moderator, with Robin Campaniano of Ulupono Initiative, Peter Ho of Bank of Hawaii, Janet Liang of Kaiser Permanente and Billy Kenoi, Mayor of the Big Island, who was a great hit.
We’ll post the videos of the other panels in the next few days, and soon enough you can see it all on ThinkTechHawaii.com. Olelo will also be broadcasting its video of the program on Channel 54 over the next few weeks. All this documenting is absolutely appropriate in view of the many remarkable statements that were made. The conversation isn’t over, though, and we’ll be doing video interviews of the speakers and panelists to follow up with their thinking re the issues they discussed at the program.
Now that that’s done, it’s time to move on to our next ThinkTech-HVCA program. This time it’ll be at Laniakea, the Women’s “Y” on Richards Street. It’ll be another ambitious half-day program (the only way we can cover the ground in sufficient detail and depth) on Thursday, October 28th. The planning committee for the program is already at work identifying and approaching the panelists, moderators and speakers, and from all appearances this is going to be another interesting and important program.
What’s it about? We’re calling it “Hawaii’s High Tech Renaissance in Agriculture.” We started by calling it High Tech Agriculture in Hawaii, but yesterday, at the Hawaii News Now debate between Neil and Mufi (which it seemed to me was won handily by Neil), Neil referred to a “renaissance” of agriculture taking place in Hawaii. I thought this word was exactly right and what we want to capture, so we changed the name of the program Hawaii’s High Tech Renaissance in Agriculture in the notion that a renaissance is already taking place in agriculture in Hawaii and that high tech is a clear driver.
Yes, this is related to the Recovery and Transformation program; it is a transformation of our economy in its own right, a historic process already in play which will hopefully lead to meaningful diversification of an otherwise moribund economy. This is all good news, but it has to be disseminated around the state, so the process can be incentivized and encouraged. That’s why we’re doing the program.
The dream of course is to offer every family in Hawaii the opportunity of owning and successfully operating a farm. All this can be made possible with modern growing technologies, all of which are available at UH Manoa, the Hawaii Farm Bureau and the Hawaii Agricultural Research Center in Aiea, to name a few. New growing technologies, seed, planting and harvesting, can make farming much easier than ever before and can allow local families to earn a decent living and send their kids to college.
The threshold problem, which we need to discuss in detail at the program, is that these young families can’t get land to start their farms. Generally speaking, big landowners won’t sell or provide long term leases to farmers, so would-be farmers don’t have a property interest they can take to the bank and arrange financing for equipment, seed and the like. No land, no financing. No financing, no seed. No seed, no farm. It’s that simple, and it starts out, as so many things do in Hawaii, with the land. It’s a shame on us all that most big landowners don’t help or in any way encourage our young farmers. Why don’t they see how important this is? By holding on to the land, they’re killing a generation of middle class farmers. It’s not easy to start a business or a farm, but it’s really hard without land or financing.
What to do about this. Even if the big landowners don’t want to support the renaissance of farming, hopefully, the legislature will recognize how important this can be and will fashion some meaningful incentives to farmers, and perhaps some disincentives to large landowners who would otherwise prefer to let the land lie fallow. Perhaps it will come up in the next session. Wouldn’t that be great.
Anyway, this program on October 28th is bound and determined to raise these issues and see if we can’t get people to wake up to the huge benefit agriculture can mean for the state. Jobs, iInvestment, local fresh food (instead of spending $6 billion for not so fresh food shipped in from elsewhere). But it’s more than that, it’s the young people making their life on the land, with their families. Hawaii has a great legacy of agriculture and there is no good reason at all preventing us from returning to the land and feeding our state on the bounty of the land. On the other side of it, not doing that is an embarrassing squander of our unique resources, prospects and workforce. What a shame. Let’s do something.
So we’ll have the Farm Bureau and the Crop Improvement Association at the program. We’ll have farmers and scientists tell us about new farm technology and what it can do for us. We’ll have investors, bankers and capitalists tell us about the capital problems and the possibility for funding farm operations in Hawaii. And we’ll have farmers, talking about what they do every day and how they feel about the existing agricultural structures in our the state and what can be done to improve and expand them to where we can eat local fresh tasty and cheap every day of the week, where our restaurants can provide us with local fresh taste and nutrition unequaled anywhere. It’s not so hard, and it’s doable right here.
Want to try your hand in farming? Want to get into the industry or help the industry get going? Do you care about diversification and how the state is doing in this Great Recession and what it needs to do to become self sufficient and survive in the future? Well, then you should save the date, October 28th, and sign up when the flyers come around. And come around they will – your Renaissance committee is working hard to bring this one to you. Do you have questions? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be happy to tell you the status of our planning and what you can expect at and from the program.
As was evident at the debate, there’s a new freshness in the air, a new Hawaii patriotism coming up around us. Somehow the renaissance of local agriculture is part of it. We can’t afford to miss this wave. It may be the last time we can go back to the future. This is a special intersection of tech, diversification, respect for the environment and good living. It can bring us together and allow us to “Stand up Hawaii.” We can’t afford to miss that, and you can’t afford to miss the Renaissance program on October 28th.