By Alyson Murphy, CFJC Intern
Free, pick-your-own avocados in the hotel parking lot, locally-grown ginger and jackfruit at the Hilo Farmers’ Market, patches of sugarcane stalks on the side of the road—as I witnessed on a family vacation earlier this month, fresh food is everywhere on the island of Hawaii. With its mild year-round climate, Hawaii is lush and fertile, sustaining several types of agriculture.
Yet even Hawaii, with its seeming overabundance of fresh food, is not without its fair share of food system concerns. A report from the University of Hawaii’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources notes that despite their potential to be self-sufficient, communities across Hawaii struggle with food security issues. Since 1960, over-dependence on imported food has deterred crop diversification and has withered the amount of farm land on the island.
One viable solution to food security issues in Hawaii—and anywhere in the U.S.—lies in the local production of food. Tours of the Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation and the Hawaiian Vanilla Company, which are both small, family-owned and –operated, organic farms, showed me the incredible potential of local farming. Small-farm agriculture tends to be more sustainable, productive and efficient than its large, industrialized counterpart, and I am convinced that small, local farms are the way to go.
With the Farm Bill 2012 fast-approaching, we must push for policies and programs that promote local and regional food systems over the large farms that currently receive the bulk of federal funding. In particular, the USDA’s Value Added Producer Grant Program supports beginning, small and mid-size family farmers and ranchers. From a family dairy farm that now operates an accompanying ice cream parlor to a small Wisconsin farm that has increased its market by 20 retailers, past grant recipients have been provided a strategic advantage in the marketplace by this program. In addition, the USDA’s Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program specifically funds farmers and ranchers who have been subjected to racial, ethnic or gender prejudice.
Both the Value Added Producer Grant Program and the Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program will be vital in allowing small farms to thrive. Urging Congress to concentrate funding on these and similar programs will be one of CFJC’s many undertakings concerning the forthcoming Farm Bill and will bring us one step closer to mending food system weaknesses.