The History of Organic Farming in Hawaii
By: Grace Chen
Hawaii has a cultural history of producing sustainable food . The agricultural systems were developed with the environment as its pinnacle focus, thus ensuring it could support many thousands of people over the long-term. And that tradition carries on today as there are approximately 200 organic certified growers in Hawaii with the median farm size ranges from 5 acres on Maui to 13 acres on Kauai. Due to its size, the big island of Hawaii boasts the most certified acreage of all the islands.
For nearly 100 years, the University of Hawaii has conducted research and developed tools to enable farmers to carry on the tradition of biodiversity and ecologically sound practices.
Despite the strong history of organic growing in the state, research showed that until 2008, consumers here had a varied understanding of how the word “organic” applied to agricultural production and were almost completely unaware of the standards imposed these products. Many credit the opening of the first Whole Foods in the state in 2008 as responsible for bringing “organic” into the food conversation.
Certified organic producers often express concern over the challenges of marketing their products to consumers across the state, but various culinary movements like “farm-to-table” have helped ignite local enthusiasm for Hawaiian-grown organic products. And the University of Hawaii, the Hawaii Organic Farmers Association, and the local chapter of the EPA have instituted various programs aimed at helping current certified farmers maintain a viable business. They also encourage conventional farmers to consider switching to more sustainable production methods by offering educational seminars, consulting services and other resources. Established organic farms on the islands also offer consulting services as they strive to improve the quality of the world food supply and the sustainability of its agricultural practices.
Organic farming has a long and valued history in Hawaiian culture, and given increased global awareness and the US government’s dedication to green alternatives, it is a movement will continue to grow.