A Charter Amendment to create a Maui County Department of Agriculture, introduced by Councilmember Shane Sinenci, will be decided by us, on the November 3 ballot. As a farmer and a Maui citizen I will be voting yes on this initiative to create a new Department that is dedicated to local agriculture.
You may ask why the State Department of Agriculture isn’t adequate? In my experience they are overburdened and underfunded. One of their duties is to inspect incoming plant material for invasives, such as, the red fire ant and coqui frogs. This is a full time job that sucks up most of their tiny budget… less than 0.5% of the total state budget.
Across the globe, forward leaning communities have seen a rise of vibrant local agriculture that supplies food, medicinals and careers. Food security has been critical in the time of COVID and right now on Maui we see a surge of support for locally grown produce and products being pioneered with the label that says ‘Made on Maui.’ Each one of these pioneers has a story describing the adversity and challenges that they faced in creating, packaging, and marketing their products.
A Maui County Department of Agriculture will be an advocate for all aspects of Plant and Animal production. An advocate unlike any in Maui County at this time. Established Maui County Departments have decades of focus on their niche in County Governance. Their bandwidth is full. The Office of Economic Development has one person overseeing the entire County of Maui Ag industry. His title of Agricultural specialist can only do so much. Their web page states that: “OED recognizes the challenges facing our agriculture industry. These challenges include: Low yield on investment forcing farm closure on plantations and small farms; more stringent safety and health regulations; increased competition from other growers (both nationally and internationally); and the need for greater business acumen and utilization of technology coupled with increased marketing efforts.”
Farmers need help writing grants, making plans for food aggregation, food distribution and the big star in the food world… value added products. A Department of Agriculture could include specialists to support our framers with this part of the industry. Growing Food is an all day; every day job and many individual growers do not have the time or capacity to focus on this important side of the business.
COVID more than anything has shown us our vulnerability to relying too heavily on one industry. A Department of Ag on Maui will help develop a companion industry to the economic engine of Maui that is mainly fueled by Tourism. Now is the time for change and growth and what could be better than the growth of our agriculture sector to help secure food security for our islands.
Image Credit: Greenleaf Farm