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1979 United Airlines commercial: Hawai‘i has many  faces, all calling to you. Come paddle my quiet   lagoons, discover my miles of endless beach… Narrator: For half a century,   tourism has driven Hawai‘i’s economy.  Today, it contributes more than  a fifth of the state’s GDP.  But when the COVID pandemic  hit, tourism ground to a halt,   triggering calls for a more diversified economy.  The pandemic also raised concerns  over the state’s food supply.   Hawai‘i imports up to 90 percent of its food. 

Can growing the state’s agricultural  sector solve both problems?   What would that take? Old C&H commercial:   Hey kids, let’s sing that song you  like, the one about the sugar cane.   Okay! C&H, C&H, everyone… Narrator: Before tourism,   Hawai‘i had an agricultural economy with  sugar and pineapple dotting the landscape.  Companies like C&H, Del Monte and  Dole employed thousands of workers   and pumped money into local communities. Donovan Dela Cruz: Most people in Hawai‘i   have a strong connection to ag. I mean my  grandparents came from the Philippines;  

they worked in the pineapple fields. My great  grandparents came from Puerto Rico; they worked   in the sugar fields. I come from Wahiawā. It’s  a rural community and what’s really important is   if we want to keep our local kids here, we want  to make sure that they have living wage jobs,   but jobs that fit the community. So agriculture  because of our history that makes a lot of sense.  Narrator: Sugar plantations began closing in  the 1970s. Pineapple followed in the 1990s.  Today, agriculture comprises about half  of 1 percent of the state’s economy.  Michael Roberts: So agriculture  is really tiny in Hawai‘i. It's  

a really, really small part of our economy. That said, it's still a really interesting sector.   It's a lot of land. So there are really  important questions about what we do with   that land and what can we do that’s good for  Hawaiʻi, good for society. And our environment. 

Donovan Dela Cruz: You can see  lemongrass, you can see moringa,   and then here, you can see tomatoes and cucumbers.  We want to acquire as much ag land as  possible. That doesn't mean it's going   to be productive right away, because it depends  on the infrastructure, but we need to land bank   for the future. We want to do what we can  to help farmers become profitable so that we  

can see all of these ag lands in production. Narrator: Much of the land used by sugar and   pineapple still lies fallow. Only 7 percent of  the farmland in Hawai‘i is harvested cropland.  Denise Yamaguchi: With farming there's  infrastructure issues. So lots of land, there's   lots of land, but then there's no, there's no  water, there's no irrigation, right? There's no   drip line. And and all those things cost money.  So the startup costs for farmers is hefty. And so   that's why it's a hard industry to get into. Michael Roberts: The crux is scale. You need  

to be able to operate at a size  or a capacity to get costs down.  Having a big flat field where you can run a  tractor, you know, with 24 rows and run that over   the whole field. And then that person can take it  the tractor and they can, they can do thousands   of acres with just one tractor. You can't do that  here. The fields are fragmented and they're only   so large. They're really slopey and  rocky and the type of agriculture   can't use that equipment. So you have to run  smaller tractors and more specialized equipment,   and you need a lot more labor. Narrator: For Hawai‘i farms,  

labor accounts for about 40 percent of  their expenses, which is 1 and a half   times greater than for farms in California. Michael Roberts: Throughout the country, we're   seeing more and more production on bigger and  bigger farms and productivity getting higher and   higher and higher. And here, our farms are getting  smaller, less concentrated, and productivity is   getting lower and lower and lower, and it's  getting more and more difficult to compete.  Nicholas Comerford: Prior to the pandemic,  there was about 7,300 farms in this state.   If you're going to be a successful farmer,  you want to be able to support your family.   The number of farms that probably can support  a family of four at twice the poverty level,   it's about 4% of our farms. Narrator: Most farms in Hawai‘i  

are small farms that contribute little to the  state’s agricultural output. In 2017, only 1 out   of 4 farms generated sales of at least $25,000. Michael Roberts: The only way you can make   things work in Hawaiʻi is to get really  good at fruits and vegetables. The fresh   produce that you get at the local store. We can  probably grow that really, really well here.  

And if people are willing to pay a  little extra for local and fresh,   then maybe we can produce more of the fruits  and vegetables that people consume locally.   You know, that's not going to be a huge share  of our economy, but that's something where,   where we might be able to do a bit more. Brendon Lau:   Mari's Gardens is it started  off as a landscape nursery,   and we kind of fell into vegetable  growing. So now we do both.  We started with hydroponics  partially because we thought   we want to do farming, but we don't want to do  the normal growing in the ground, labor intensive   farming, we kind of want to make it  appealing for younger generations. 

Hydroponics we find is about 10 to 20% faster than  growing in the ground. Also, the, the water usage   is greatly decreased because we recapture most  of our water and recycle it. Uh, we find that it   uses about five to 15% of the water usage that you  would see growing the same crop in the ground. And   the lettuce can grow so tightly packed together  that you're producing more per square foot.  What got us into aquaponics  was the need for filtration.   So we started pumping this water up  into filters, and then we said, okay,   let's put a little more fish in. All right,  now we need more filtration. So the filters  

got bigger and bigger. And eventually we  said, why don't we just plant stuff in it.  This tank feeds out into our cinder grow beds  out there, and our lettuce production. It goes   out to the lettuce and it circulates out there.  It does not return to the tank. So this tank gets   replenished as well with just fresh city water. This is one of the larger systems that I've seen.   It's about it's about 20,000 gallons per tank.  So yeah, this is enough to feed actually a   larger operation than this. This was all part  of an experiment for the Hawaii Department of  

Agriculture to do this test on how much it costs  to develop an aquaponic system, commercially.  It's about a million dollars an acre,  and that's what we found. And that's   for a greenhouse with the growing, the lettuce  growing system and the fish and the equipment.  We think it's a, a really good investment compared  to other types of farming because long-term   you save on overhead and the main  overhead being intensive labor. 

Todd Low: Hawaiʻi has great resources for  aquaculture. Um, there is a history of aquaculture   through, uh, the Hawaiian culture that it has,  the fish ponds are there. You see? And, their   integration with the ahupua‘a, which is the water  coming down from the mountains down being reused   all the way down to the shore. However, those  aren't really built for scale, but those represent  

a integration of fish within that culture. I hope that we can do more with aquaculture.   That's sort of my job, but, um, it's, it just  depends of course on the priorities of the   department and the governor and the legislature  on, on how they're going to fund this thing.  Glenn Wakai: If you look at the department of  agriculture today, it's about 420 employees.   Three, three are dedicated to aquaculture.  It shows you how aquaculture, certainly not   a priority for the state, but I intend and  I’m working with my colleagues to make 2022   the year of aquaculture, because  there are great opportunities there.  

We just have to on a state side figure out  what's the game plan. How are we going to   fund it? And then let's just get going on it. Denise Yamaguchi: It's been tough promoting   ag. It's been a struggle. I mean, I think  people always say they support agriculture,   but then when you look at how much funding  is provided to agriculture, it's miniscule.  Narrator: In 2016, Governor David Ige set a goal  to double local food production by the year 2030.  But for 2022, the State of Hawai‘i only  allocated to the Department of Agriculture   52 million dollars or a third of  1 percent of the state budget. 

With little funding and  high costs for labor, land,   utilities and transportation, it’s uncertain  whether farms can meet the governor’s goal.  Another challenge is an aging workforce.  The average age of a farmer in Hawai‘i   is 60 years old. Denise Yamaguchi:   We started with a program called Veggie U and we  provided each of the teachers with not just the   curriculum, but also the grow kits. As time has  gone on, there have been more and more teachers  

interested in agriculture. And because of the  pandemic, and there's such a spotlight right   now on where our food comes from and how do  we get it? There's even greater interest in   learning about agriculture. Jackie Freitas:   Everybody always calls ag, oh, these are for  the kolohe kids. Those are my best working kids,   but this one offers a wide range of  students. You get your students who are your   valedictorians because they see the science, they  see how much science, how much hands-on activity.   It’s not just sitting into the classroom. Keali‘i Figueroa: I say, it's more fun for  

me. I like getting dirty that's why, and  I liked the outdoors. And I love to take   care of the ʻāina too. So I do as much as I can. Jackie Freitas: I am very open with my students.   I tell them every year, this is how much we  started off with guys. We have $1,100 in our   account. We have to run our business. Every time  we sell something, I tell them, oh, we got this  

much revenue. They keep track. At the end of  the year, we usually end off with about $10,000,   but they see how much work it takes and that  they're not going to be millionaires when they're   farmers, you know, it's, it takes a lot of work,  but the income coming in, because we're so small   is not that high, but at least it's something. Narrator:   While some farms focus on food production,  others set their sights farther afield.  Hawai‘i’s agricultural industry  has always relied on exports,   like sugar, pineapple, coffee, macadamia nuts  and seed corn. These commodities can contribute   more to the state GDP than local food production. Jason Brand: We have a little over 300 acres of   sugar cane right now. This is the cane varieties  that are the canoe varieties of sugar cane, right?  

So these are the ones that came across in the  first canoes with the early Polynesian settlers.  If you're going to take a plant  across the ocean in a canoe,   it's going to be important to you. And so there's  these canes, these canes that you're looking   at it, they have a story and it needs to be told. Ko Hana Rum informational video: When you taste   our white rum, what’s your tasting is the terroir  of Kunia, of this particular portion of Hawai‘i,   and you’re being connected to this place. Like all businesses, it starts with a plan. So   our proof of concept was small scale and  experimentation. Can we grow cane? We were  

a farm for three years growing sugar cane  before we ever made our first bottle of rum.  And for a business like this, we took advantage of  Oʻahu’s location, or at least its place in tourism   and said, we will open a tasting room. So for  us, we repurposed Del Monte's general store.  And in rebirthing this building, we also rebirth  the village of 600 people who were looking for   employment because their employer had left the  island. And so now almost 50% of our workforce   actually live across the street from us. We're not just talking about farming jobs   the way it was a hundred years ago. We now have  distillery jobs, marketing jobs, technology jobs,   barrel house jobs, a lot of sales jobs. So as  an employer is that we find it important. We're  

always trying to train people to the next level  and that's our part in our community. And this is   Ko Hana’s part of this community. Narrator:   One crop with potential is cacao.  Because of its tropical location,  

Hawai‘i is the only state that can grow  cacao, which is where chocolate comes from.  Dylan Butterbaugh: So in the next five months, all  of these are going to become harvest harvestable,   and that'll be the beginning of chocolate. I was born and raised here. I wanted to be able   to start a business that I could grow very large  here and feel good about, which is why I love   the idea of planting trees, because it creates  beautiful environments. It ties up the land in   forestry instead of say hotels and apartments. So  to me, that's what I wanted to do with my life.   And chocolate is just the avenue for that. I felt like I had to start the chocolate factory   first and work backwards. To me that made a lot  more sense. It wasn't linear in the same way,  

but as far as being a successful business and  brand, that did make more sense. And for us,   it has. We can buy beans from other countries. We  could also see ourselves positioned to help other   farmers who were growing it add value because  we were investing in a chocolate factory here. 

I was able to scale up very slowly at  first, to the point where, where we are now,   where we're looking at next year trying  to produce 500 kilos of chocolate per day.  But this was my lesson really early on is this  is a business that works on scale. If I try   and stay really small, I'm going to literally  burn out from hand packaging chocolate bars.   And I learned really quick how to start operating  a business, how to grow, how to hire people,   how to work together. And so it went from me  and then we had a couple other employees for,  

for a while. And now we're at 25 people. Tamara Butterbaugh: Mānoa in Hawaiian means thick,   solid, vast, depth. So when you're thinking  about dark chocolate, the style that we make,   70% dark chocolate from different regions, there's  a start, a middle, a finish. So it has complexity   and also there's depth to the company and what  we're doing. It's making chocolate because we want   to support farmers globally and locally and give  back to the world and plant trees and be a part   of a, uh, an industry that has a positive impact  in the world. So it's a lot, it's a much deeper   mission than, um, you know, just making chocolate. Jason Brand: One of the products that I'm really  

proud of, and I think the distillery is really  proud of is called Koko Leka. So it's a chocolate   honey rum and it's absolutely delicious, but  it represents what Hawaiian agriculture can   be. And it's important because we can only grow  heirloom Hawaiian sugarcane here. Hawaii is the   only state that regularly grows cacao, grows  chocolate. So in the world of agriculture,   there's a chocolate industry to develop and we're  helping develop that. We go ahead and put our rum   and soak hundreds and hundreds of pounds of  cacao nibs in the rum to infuse it like a tea   to have the chocolate flavor permeate the rum. And  at the end of that process, I have a big bag full  

of cacao nibs full of rum. And so not to waste our  ingredient. We go ahead and have one of the local   chocolate manufacturers convert that into  a chocolate bar, a rum filled chocolate   bar. Right so we have rum filled chocolate,  chocolate filled rum, no ingredient wasted   and not just one company benefiting, but two  companies benefiting and twice the demand from   an agricultural standpoint. Narrator: Kō   Hana Rum and Mānoa Chocolate are examples of  the growing trend toward value added products.   Value added products are raw agricultural  products that have been modified or enhanced to   have a higher market value or shelf life. Examples  include pickles, jams, jerky, sauces and liquor. 

Nicholas Comerford: This is where the farmer can  really make profit. These are the commodities   that, actually you can charge more money for. You  make more money for profit and, and where we need   to go with value added that's I think has a real  potential future for the state of Hawaiʻi. Why?  Because we got the Hawaii brand, right? People  look at that and there's just a good feeling it,   and you can capture that feeling economically.  This is where exports really become important in   terms of helping agriculture in this state grow. Donovan Dela Cruz:  

So we're in Wahiawā. They're building out the  Wahiawā Value-Added Product Development center.   There'll be able to teach entrepreneurial skills  as well as product development, packaging,   some food science and some entrepreneurial skills. The goal for all of us is to be able to go to any   city internationally and see value added products  made in Hawaii. So if you go to Dean and DeLuca   or Williams-Sonoma to have a whole section of  value added products from Hawaiʻi is going to be   extremely exciting. You know, that kind of thing  will help us offset when you have a pandemic like   we're in and tourism is down, we need those  kinds of things to help prop up our economy. 

Jason Brand: By next year, we will have  grown from 10 to 15,000 cases of rum a year   up to 75,000 cases. And so the business plan is  working. It focuses on quality and genuineness   to what we're doing, which is stewarding the land. Dylan Butterbaugh:   The reason I really want to grow Mānoa  Chocolate isn't just to have a successful   chocolate factory. Like I've got a much bigger  vision that inspires me to show up every day.  

I want to see thousands of acres of cacao planted. I'd like to see other chocolate makers here doing   it, processing what they're growing. And then  the tourism that does come here goes and visits   these different chocolate factories and sees  how each one does it their own style and their   own unique way with their own varietals of cacao  or whatever that might look like. And so that's   what I see, let's say in the next 50 years. Donovan Dela Cruz: Each community may want  

to focus on a different commodity because  we have so many different micro-climates.   If that can occur, then the state can  be a lot more supportive in processing   facilities, because now you have co-ops. It's  difficult to, to invest in in large facilities   if you don't have the scale and the amount  of people who are going to use that.  Then you can also match up education. Because if  in a particular area, if you have certain crops,   when you talk about ag economies, those, those  specific crops and that kind of farming can be   a highlight of the school's ag  academy. We can't stop here. 

There's aquaculture, there's orchards, there's  ornamentals. You know, there's so many different   things that we can grow in Hawaiʻi in  the different places, but they all take   a little different type of infrastructure. Jason Brand: We can't just say let's grow   ag without really identifying the sector of  ag we're growing and why we're growing it.  

And without that discussion, we will  always have conflict and likely be   kind of in the same spot as we've always  been. Because the conversation today,   even though COVID has kind of enhanced it is  the same conversation is over a decade ago.  And a lot of it is we just haven't as an  island put together our business plans.  Narrator: It’s doubtful agriculture can be a major  force in the state’s economy like it once was.  

Economists at the University of  Hawai‘i estimate that the Governor’s   goal of doubling food production would only  generate an additional 145 million dollars,   which is about 0.16 percent of today's economy. But there are areas of optimism.   Aquaculture is showing strong growth and emerging  technologies can make agriculture less labor   intensive and more attractive to young people. Governor David Ige:   The future of agriculture relies on producing  crops more efficiently and with less, and with   less impact on the environment. Farmers  are constructing cutting edge greenhouses   using automated production systems and  analyzing data to increase crop yields.  Jackie Freitas: For the cuttings? Yep.   So, grab one of the cuttings… Jackie Freitas: They see the technology.  

That's where they want to be. They do not want to  be in the farm, getting their hands dirty because   they see how much work it is. They see how  much labor it is and they see how much money,   how much you actually get from it. They want to do a little bit more techie   farming. And that's where ag is going right  now. All ag tech, all our machines are run by   computers. You know, that's what they're doing.  They can run things by drones. They can do  

spraying by drones. They love that. They're not  having to go with a backpack and spraying all the   fields and learning all that type of stuff. Nick Comerford: So we're sitting right now   in a greenhouse and there's a number of  greenhouse and shade houses around here.   Why are these important? Invasive pests,  including insects and plant species   are a huge impact on agriculture in  this state. Probably the biggest impact.  

A greenhouse like helps control those. So if  we were to look at agriculture, how I think   agriculture should look like in the future is to  grow them in protected ag situations like this.  You get five to seven times of production per  square foot than you would get out in the soil. So  

if you, if you can justify the cost of the capital  investment and, and some of these things are very   inexpensive if you just want to shade houses  and even do it yourself. This college has worked   on those issues. Then to me, that is another  potential future for agriculture in this state.  Narrator: A more productive agricultural sector  also requires dialogue between farmers, government   and other stakeholders — and clear leadership. Glenn Wakai: The most obvious driver is the   governor, then the head of the department  of agriculture to be pushing it. And then   we as lawmakers kind of come in to support and  hopefully agree with whatever that strategy is.  

But governor's not interested. Department  of Agriculture is not interested. So that's   the fallback. It's really the third string player  being us the legislature that is trying to kind of   shore up and really make this industry blossom. Todd Low: Tourism is easy. Pretty much,   we live off of the sun and the beach and,  you know, provide services around that. 

That's super, but agriculture is difficult.  It's hard work. But we have to decide if that's   important to us. How much local food do we really  need to grow and really get down to it? How much   do we want to have for the local market and  how much do we want to export? What would   that export be? And these are not really super  hard questions. It's just that then we have to   associate the appropriate resources to do that. Denise Yamaguchi: I think we just all have to   work together. And there's many players,  many, many players, not just the farmers,  

there's distributors, our visitor industry  can play a role in growing agriculture   if they're committed to buying local. In order for us to move the needle, we all gotta   be working together. And we all have to say that  this is a priority in order to make it happen.

2022-05-22 00:59

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