AgCurious recruits new farmers

Nora Rodli, farm coordinator at GoFarm Hawai‘i Windward, tends the crops. – Courtesy of Windward GoFarm Hawai‘i

Nora Rodli, farm coordinator at GoFarm Hawai‘i Windward, tends the crops. – Courtesy of Windward GoFarm Hawai‘i

Do you have what it takes to be a farmer? On Nov. 12, WCC hosted an AgCurious event featuring expert farmers and GoFarm Hawai’i professionals to teach those interested in becoming farmers about how to get started in the industry.

The GoFarm Hawai’i program is partnered with Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and UH, among others. It kicked off in 2012 and is offered every six months.

“What we saw leading up to 2011 is we saw an increasing number of people that would come to us wanting to start a farm business who never farmed before,” said Steven Chiang, director of the agribusiness incubator program and GoFarm Hawai’i. “What’s surprising when you look at the statistics of census of agriculture, the number of farmers continues to decline.”

Chiang said that these statistics showed that although agriculture has become more popular, fewer people are going into it and are less committed.

The three-hour AgCurious seminar is the first of six phases of the GoFarm Hawai’i program. The subsequent phases, in order, are: AgXposure, AgSchool, AgPro, AgIncubator (optional) and AgBusiness.

Nick Reppun, one of the featured speakers, is a full-time farmer and manager at Kāko’o ‘Ōiwi, a 400-acre leased non-profit farm located on the Heiea wetland. Workers on the farm are trying to restore taro patches that date back to the 1920s and 30s.

“There’s old photographs that document this, 200-plus acres of taro and rice, so that’s the dream really is to get that whole area into production again,” Reppun said.

Wetland and dryland taro, sweet potatoes, bananas and ‘ulu are grown. The farm also runs school programs, particularly in the summer months.

Judah Lee is a farmer at Kahuku Farms, a fully functioning, conventional food safety-certified farm owned by two families on the north shore. His wife is a fourth generation farmer, which is how he got into farming.

The farm grows assorted vegetables and fruits like papaya, long eggplant, taro leaf and apple banana for local supermarkets. It also has a farm café that serves lunch every day from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“It’s important because if you do want to do this [farming], we need people like yourselves,” said Lee. “We need people who are not afraid to take risks and get dirty and be smart and to change.”

“It’s fun and like these guys [Reppun and Lee] are talking about, and I feel the same way,” said farm coach Jay Bost. “I feel like farming is basically an addiction. There’s all these things you hate about it. You’re out there a lot of times like, ‘I should stop,’ but you can’t because when you eat that stuff and people get so excited about what you’re selling, you can’t stop …”

For more information, contact Dave Ringuette at 236-9265 or Nora Rodli, farm coordinator at GoFarm Hawai’i Windward, at 956-3530 or windward@gofarmhawaii.org.

 

by Debbra Baetz, Ka ‘Ohana Editor in Chief