The 32nd Hawaiʻi legislative session will convene next week, hopefully with Ag concerns fresh in the minds of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Environment, following their visit to the Waimānalo Research Station.
Sen. Mike Gabbard, chair, was joined by committee members Sen. Tim Richards, Sen. Lynn DeCoite, Sen. Brenton Awa and their staff, as well as Micah-Seth Munekata of Ulupono Initiative. They were met by CTAHR’s GoFarm Hawaiʻi program and its farmer-graduates.
The visit started with an overview of GoFarm, followed by a walking tour of the various plots being tended. It was initiated by Sen. Gabbard in preparation for the upcoming legislative session so that he and fellow legislative colleagues could “see the wonderful work that you folks are doing in creating the next generation of trained and successful farmers.”
Most of all, the visit provided an invaluable opportunity for CTAHR and GoFarm to share their successes and concerns with lawmakers in talk story fashion. The Senators were able to connect directly with farmers to see how they are impacting the local food system, and farmers were able to share their ideas with local policymakers, noted Janel.
Although the Senators did not visit in relation to a specific bill or ask, having them see and connect with our local farmers was priceless in helping to demonstrate the value of the program. It allowed them to hear directly from beginning farmers, and hopefully impacts their policy decisions during the next legislative session.
“That’s why we’re here,” said Sen. Gabbard. “You can imagine the paperwork our staff has to consider in dealing with about 3,000 bills introduced every year in the legislature. This visit makes it real. We meet the people, we’re out here on the land, so when we consider that legislation, we remember Janel, and Laura, and Rachel, and Gavin. This makes it real.”
As farmers who “put your heart and sweat into it, your testimony is crucial and your story needs to be told,” said Sen. DeCoite. “On Molokaʻi, we have Ag leases that go out for public auction, but when the farmer is on leasehold, it’s hard to invest and make capital improvements. And by the time your fruit tree is ready to harvest, someone can come along who knows the value of mature trees and outbids you. We can legislate all we like, but we need you to tell your stories.”
Sen. Richards added, “Government should be less concerned with lease rates and more concerned about the economy that could be generated from that Ag.”