Thursday | September 29, 2016
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Blocking ag tourism hurts farmers

What can you say about people who are committed to gaining direct control over the lives and livelihood of others?

What about when the planning committee tries to protect farmers from dilatant suburbanites who move into agricultural subdivisions then complain about the business of farming. Janice Palma-Glennie in her letter attempts to redefine what a “real” farmer is to justify her dislike for the commercial aspect of agriculture. She, and a lot of other amateur foodies have been reading too much Michael Pollan and Wendell Berry. They have a utopian vision of an esthetically acceptable, ecologically perfect lifestyle they can feel comfortable in. To these people, a “Zombie Bill” is one that doesn’t give them the power to just say no to any activities they deem offensive before they are even in existence. This attitude ensures there will be no change to the status quo. We have seen the same argument used over and over again. Just say no to aquaculture that isn’t from the stone age, just say no to astronomy because it makes the mountain look ugly, just say no to genetically modified organisms because we prefer random plant breeding to scientifically precise engineering.

Palma-Glennie’s laundry list of complaints about the original ag tourism bill neglects to mention the amount of existing law that presently covers these potential issues. Her “horror” stories she recounted at the hearing I attended consisted of the lack of parking on her street when a neighbor occasionally had paying guests on their farm.

A generation ago, people would leave the cities to visit pick-your-own farming operations. I remember harvesting apples, strawberries, gourds, cherries and Christmas trees. This was an early form of ag tourism — it was local, it was fresh, it was profitable to the farmer and it saved consumers a little money while visiting the countryside.

In places like Maui, Australia and New Zealand I have visited large, attractive and educational ag tourism operations. These are farms, not industrial plants. We have a constant stream of visitors who want to experience tropical agriculture, we have a struggling farm industry, farm tours in a bad harvest year can make the difference between staying in business or selling out to a developer.

The Food and Drug Administration is about to drop a 1,600-page bombshell into the lap of every farmer called the “Food Safety Law.” It will require an unprecedented amount of documentation, administration and physical alteration of every farm so that growers will be held accountable for all the produce they sell.

Food retailers, distribu-tors and processors are behind this legislation because it will shift liability backward to growers. Agribusiness is behind it because it can use its shear size to pass the costs onto consumers. Small to medium farms will be out of luck.

We have many successful farming operations on the island, these include coffee, tea, vanilla, tropical fruits, macadamia nuts and on and on. Why do we need a whole new body of laws and boots on the ground enforcement? Was there some disaster I missed out on? Has another Crazy Horse been built? Should Palma-Glennie head a panel to sort out the “bona fide” farmers from the “pseudo” farmers?

I hate to sound prosaic but if farms make no money, there will be no farms, they are not monasteries. If tourists want to pay to see where their food comes from, that is a legitimate aspect of agriculture. For those who see farming as some sort of pure, sacred occupation to be enshrined and separated from the market place, let them buy up all the ag lands and do it their own way.

Brian Lievens of Holualoa is president of the Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers, West Hawaii chapter.

Viewpoint articles are the opinion of the writer and not necessarily the opinion of West Hawaii Today.