In a few hours, there will be lots of people gathering at the legislature in downtown Honolulu to talk about farmers. They are miles away from any farm but many have an opinion about it. Meanwhile, my dad, brother, and their workers are in the fields, are the ones living and breathing farm life.
As a third generation farmer, my brother is coming to the harsh reality of farming. They have over 20 acres of trees planted and ready to be harvested every week. With only 4 people, it takes hours to pick all of the fruits. He just finished working over 12 hours and they still weren’t done.
On top of that, those same fruits must be processed. That includes grading, cleaning, sorting, and packing it. After that’s done, it all goes into the refrigerator to maintain it’s freshness to be ready for market. Hawaii’s moderate climate can accelerate ripening that can lead to damaged fruit in shipment.
The next day of work means delivering it to stores. With Honolulu’s bad traffic, there’s always delays along the route. We are fortunate that there are dedicated customers waiting each week for them but they’ve run low on patience lately and complain of the short supply due to cooler temperatures and delivery delays.
Imagine spending nearly 24-28 hours working in the hot sun all day doing back breaking work only to have angry customers. Do people have no idea how hard it is to get a single fruit into the store? Have we become so impatient and ungrateful towards those who grow our food? Is aloha running so low in everyone lately? Please tell me it’s not so.
Well, after a day of delivering, the work doesn’t end. The bugs attack the trees and can destroy an entire field making the fruit unsaleable. The weeds can sap nutrients from the trees and rob its sweetness. One must go back to the elements and tend to that field that provides for your food and roof over your head.
You would think that you’d find peace and solitude tending to your field, but sadly, there is no peace there. Homes now border much of the farm lands across our state. Instead of getting friendly waves from your neighbors, you get to faces fearful mothers and others who think you’re poisoning them. Other neighbors stand on their porches warily watching you as you spray things like sulfur to protect against bugs. Because you’re not an organic farmer, they assume you’re polluting the air, even though you use exactly what organic farmers use.
Then if you need to spray for weeds, it’s even more terrifying for the neighbors. Forget the fact that their other neighbors probably use it and it’s used across the state on the highways, parks, hiking trails, golf courses, and by landscapers, to see a farmer use it is a heinous crime in their eyes. They’d complain of dust and runoff if we forgo weedkiller so it’s a losing battle.
You might say why not hire more people to do the work. It’s easy to say but finding the right people is hard. Thanks to minimum wage hikes and mandatory coverage, the cost of more labor sometimes means no income for the farmer. Medical coverage is very expensive and if the weather is bad or there’s too much bug damage, it’s tough making ends meet.
It’s even harder to find anyone who wants to work on a farm too. The labor force used to be high school or college students. They no longer want these jobs. The ones who do want the jobs, former criminals looking for a second chance, can’t be hired because of our leasing agreements. Labor is a major problem here that limits us tremendously. There is also a lot of training needed for farming too and as soon as some catches on, they move on to another job.
My dad is also on the farm at 74 years of age. He’s building sheds, driving tractors, packing fruits, delivering, moving bins, and literally busting his buns 12 to 14 hours a day at least 5 days a week and at least half a day on each weekend day. His golden years are still spent on the farm and not leisurely relaxing like most retirees. No one works as hard as that man, and yet he never complains about it ever.
My brother came with optimism and hope to farming but as times change, sometimes the reality sets in. The public keeps talking about growing Hawaii and keeping it local but we aren’t even supporting the local farmers in word or action.
Something needs to change or this will make us a three generation farm. Will you help lend your support to the small Hawaii farmer in word and in action? For all the work that’s put into growing food, can you send some appreciation to your farmer when you see them or even speak up for them when someone says something incorrect?
Stand up for what you love and show it. Be grateful and appreciative to those who grew your food. The time is now. The Hawaii farmers need you now or we will just become another memory of that special local business that is no more.
Don’t let my brother, Mike, be the last farmer standing. Support your farmers now!
Let our politicians know by sending them a message at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. Take time to write a letter to the editor on behalf of the farmers. We need your voices now!