by Thao Le
With so many Hawaiʻi farmers facing challenges that can seem insurmountable, the timing couldnʻt have been better for CTAHR’s Seeds of Wellbeing initiative to host “Mālama the Farmer, Taking Care of Yourself and Each Other” last month.
The regional conference in Hilo, co-hosted by National AgrAbility, was well attended by local Ag producers and Ag professionals from California, Washington, Colorado, New York, Alaska, and Guam. Over the two-day event, participants learned about services, access and assistance tools to address physical and mental health challenges, including for persons with disabilities.
Keynote speaker Candy Leathers with Colorado AgrAbility showcased effective tools and accommodations for ergonomic safety that can minimize or eliminate obstacles, helping to ensure successful production. Don McMoran highlighted key statistics and needs to address farmersʻ mental health.
Next, a panel of SOW Ag mentors from each Hawaiian island related stories of challenge and resilience theyʻve witnessed in the community, and shared some strategies for supporting individuals and families around stress/mental health. Farm tours topped off the conference, including to Green Point Nursery and Hoʻōla Farms, which serve Hawaiʻiʻs military veterans.
CTAHR Extension generously provided scholarships for local and allied producers to participate, and the pau hana event was made possible through sponsorship by Big Island Grown, HFUU, KTA Super Stores, and individual donors.
Dr. William Field, Project Director of National AgrAbility at Purdue University, remarked the conference “ranks as one of the best we have done in the last ten years.” Other evaluation feedback was equally heart-warming and meaningful:
- “Many obstacles that we face daily. Physical, mental, and spiritual challenges I face as a farmer. I have peace of mind knowing now there are people and places to turn to when it becomes unbearable to shoulder. Thank you to the people, partners, and funders for making this happen.”
- “Aloha, I’m an organic diversified generational farmer from Kula. After a birth defect caused a stroke and brain surgery, I had to learn to walk and talk again. I still don’t have full use of my right hand. However, I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to attend and tell the organizers and sponsors how grateful I am. The first sentence I was able to say after my stroke was thank god everything is going to be all right – and that’s how I felt after this conference. So many awesome people were able to eloquently communicate the important messages that can save Hawaiʻi, not just those of us farming with severe disabilities but the entire community. I can’t thank the organizers and sponsors enough. Mahalo”
- “Hawaiʻi is a hard place to be disabled and harder still to be a disabled farmer. This conference has been instrumental in initiating steps to bringing services and equipment to this community that will ensure access to farming for many more farmers.”
- “Need more local farmers to attend. Amazing networking opportunity.”
- “The whole conference was informative and the feeling of mālama the farmer was demonstrated. I invited new people from my team to this conference and they walked away surprised by the work and passion of the people gathered at this meeting.”