Gov. Neil Abercrombie on Friday morning took a closer look at a Waimea program that aims at teaching people how to be part-time farmers.
Retired police officer Mike Hodson, whose family owns Wow Farm, created the program, which several months ago selected 14 of his fellow Department of Hawaiian Home Lands lessees in Waimea for the working farmer program. The program aims to teach the lessees how to build a greenhouse and how to grow produce they can eventually market, Hodson told Abercrombie.
The program is tailored to Native Hawaiians living on DHHL land, but Abercrombie said he sees several ways he and his administration can be involved.
“The role of the governor is to cheerlead, to articulate it to the greater public,” Abercrombie said after looking at the farm and a large plot of land the DHHL community intends to use for community agricultural lots.
Now is the time to pursue agricultural projects, Abercrombie said.
“The state is in good fiscal shape now,” he said. “You either go or you don’t. You either have legislators that are bold or you don’t.”
Abercrombie said the state can also look for comparable land, to use for similar community agricultural initiatives on all islands.
“I couldn’t wait to get here today,” he told the 30 or so people gathered for the tour. “You can count on this administration to be a full partner.”
His office can be a bridge and catalyst to help public groups and private organizations to work together to get things done, he said. During the next legislative session, Abercrombie said he would like to see legislators enact changes to the state’s procurement laws to make it easier for schools, hospitals and the state prison system to purchase locally grown food.
Right now, Abercrombie said, imported food comes at a lower cost, although it may come with a higher price, when factors other than monetary price are considered. Agricultural workers in other countries are paid “slave wages,” he said, and the food that’s imported is often of a lower quality.
“This is an investment in ourselves because the money stays here,” he said. “Why should we help people in other countries exploit their own people when we can help ourselves?”
People will pay for better quality and if they know the product they’re buying helps local farmers, Abercrombie said.
Hodson, Wow Farms, DHHL, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the other organizations involved in the greenhouse farming program are setting the standard for how to encourage agricultural pursuits across the state, the governor said. The state Legislature earlier this year lifted permit requirements for certain types of agricultural buildings, including greenhouses, which Abercrombie also touted as a way his administration was helping farmers.
“I’m up to here with having to listen to people talk when they don’t have anything to say about agriculture,” he said. “I don’t want to preserve ag land. I want to use it.”
People who have plans to preserve ag land or turn it into a museum piece should “go to Bishop Museum,” he added.
“What’s the major export for Hawaii?” Abercrombie asked as the tour wrapped up. “Dollars. Dollars for oil, dollars for food, dollars for prisoners. That money should stay in Hawaii.”
Abercrombie also took a moment to acknowledge Tuesday’s General Election, noting as soon as that election ends, another election cycle begins, referring to the 2014 gubernatorial race.
“If you conclude we’re on the right track and we can work together, please give me a little credit,” Abercrombie said, getting a chuckle from the crowd.