Al and Joan Santoro do farming on Oahu's North Shore. I knew they were good farmers but I hadn't previously known that Al is a trenchant thinker and an excellent writer.
I commend to your attention his op-ed piece...
...in the Dec. 17 edition of the Star-Advertiser:
Santoro's thesis is that Hawaii agriculture policy is stuck in the Sixties, when plantation agriculture hadn't died yet, and continues to promote farm exports instead of growing local food for local consumption, despite all the lip service paid to the idea.
"Our existing ag institutions, composed primarily of the state Department of Agriculture, the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and the Hawaii Farm Bureau, are inbred with 'old think' and must take responsibility for this bankrupt model," Santoro asserts.
Actually, I think Dean Okimoto of Nalo Farms has done plenty to preach the gospel of local food for local consumers, but he was recently turned out as leader of the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation for having had the temerity to be active in one of the gubernatorial campaigns.
He picked one who didn't win, Mufi, and some farmers may have thought they needed to do something about it, although it probably would have been sufficient to say, "What were you thinking? Don't take sides any more. Just vote for the guy you like from now on."
Fortunately, Okimoto is a true believer and will continue to work for local food production, to the benefit of some of the very people who ejected him.
They need all the help they can get, because Santoro correctly points out that the state still has more financial incentives to produce food for export than to produce food for Hawaii.
"There are more than 1.1 million acres being 'farmed'," Santoro says. "Less than 10% of those acres grow fruits or vegetables, and most of that is exported... yet all 1.1 million acres get the same subsidies and tax breaks as our food growers."
I have explained in this space before that encouraging land to stay in agriculture is a good way to control development, but Santoro says in practice developers have had little trouble getting ag land rezoned when they're ready to build on it.
Santoro also raises the fascinating argument that rigid controls over what can be called organic, a concept he describes as "another mainland import," acts as a disincentive to grow food for local markets.
What makes this argument doubly interesting is that Santoro himself has the largest certified-organic farm on Oahu (Poamoho Organic Produce in Waialua) so this isn't mere sour grapes, but a heartfelt argument by a man who knows he would have more competition if his argument won the day.
Because Santoro is aiming darts at the ag institutions he lists, the instinctive human reaction will be defensive. But how many people read op-ed pieces? In truth, key people at HDOA and CTAHR can read the piece, quietly ponder what Santoro says, and ask themselves if there is anything more they might attempt to nurture more food production for local consumption in a state covered by verdant soil that nevertheless imports 90% of its food.