Life Changers

The other day, I was given an opportunity to speak via Skype at the Voice of Farmers event held concurrently during the Monsanto Tribunal at The Hague. Having been a first hand witness as to what biotechnology has done for our family is a story that needs to be heard by the world.  Farming families who have adopted technology are the best sources for the potentials of this feared technology called GMO.

As I was preparing myself for this event, I was struck by the realization of how my life was changed by the papaya ringspot virus.  In just a matter of two years, a beautiful and productive field was going through a very slow death.  If this disease didn’t hit my dad’s farm at the time, I may be have different career path determined.  My dad wouldn’t have told me to forget about farming and I might have stuck with agricultural sciences.  My life has taken a completely different path because of one plant disease.

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Just 2 years before the ringspot virus decimated this field.

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What looks like a healthy tree is infected with PRSV and produces fruit that is not saleable and has decreased taste and texture.

This story may seem very insignificant in a country where very few farm, however when disaster hits countries where over 70% depend on a crop’s success, this can have huge consequences.  Families are affected by what happens on the farm.  Children may have nothing to eat and parents can’t send them to school.  Chronic malnutrition can set in with children being unable to reach their fullest potential.  With no income, there is no money to buy food also.

When I read an article by the Environmental Working Group attempting to debunk the need to feed the world, it angers me that well fed people can have the gall to share it on the internet.  People in the West have never suffered from starvation or malnutrition but are the first ones to deny others of food.  Food is what will improve human performance and capacity to do better things in the world.  The well fed are denying children and families this ability when they block technology.  It’s simply cruel to stand in the way without another option.

Biotechnology can be a life changer for all farming families worldwide if we stop and really see the consequences of not allowing access to it.  It’s utterly disheartening to me to realize that the people of Hawaii was used to send the world the wrong message about GMOs, when we know that papaya farms were saved by it.  The fact that the anti-GMO/organic proponents are focusing only on Monsanto shows that their bottom line isn’t about sole quality of organic food, but relies on fear and misinformation to maintain profitability.  If organic, non-GMO foods were so much better, why not fund studies to show its merits and sell it based on facts?

As I’m having more interactions with environmentalists, the sad truth comes shining through.  Marjorie Ziegler, a long time conservationist, made a comment to me on a fishing article today about how it was only okay for pono fishermen to fish the oceans. According to her, if one was a commercial fisherman, that wasn’t pono.

If you look closer at what is being said, those launching the attacks against farmers and fishermen, the very ones who feed people, are the self decided judges of this concept of righteousness.  They’ve proudly taken on the role of being the decider or who is allowed to fish and farm because they have decided for themselves that’s their role.  Since when has an environmentalist been put at the top of the chain to make unilateral decisions about what happens? It’s as if they think they are God in many ways.  This way of thinking shows why communities are divided when they are not capable or working with many parties being affected by policies they back.

It’s very important to save the environment but not to the point where an environmentalists makes decisions about who lives and who dies.  There is something very wrong when a person thinks that is their role in life.  Shouldn’t we adopt the attitude of how we can improve the lives of people so that they can live the best life they can? Why is it okay for someone who loves to protect nature to discount the lives of those fully intertwined in the environment? There’s a very narcissistic quality about the need to save earth and save themselves first before all others.  That’s a selfish way of thinking that one would not want the tables turned on them.

I have to chuckle when a few years back, the community group funded by Pierre Omidyar, Kanu Hawaii, would tout how it was about creating a compassionate Hawaii.  Recently, I picked up a Hawaii Center for Food Safety brochure stating Kanu was a supporter.  Being anti-GMO and aligning with CFS will not make for a compassionate Hawaii as we have seen and nor is it creating a peaceful world with the stances they support with going organic.  The organic industry is leading the charge to block the very tools that would make the world a better, less hungry place.  If one is so focused on what you’re eating, that mindset will never allow you to have an ability to be considerate of others who aren’t as privileged. Much of the environmental movement is funded by the wealthy and upper elite using the common man to fight corporations, which is really a hypocrisy.

Changing a life means not only changing yours, but realizing how you can impact others around the world who aren’t as lucky.  It’s our responsibility as people who have food in our stomachs and a roof over our heads to give back to others and stop taking away human potential.  You wouldn’t want someone denying you to becoming your best, so stop doing it to others.

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Lessons from the Farm

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My kids are on fall break so this is one of the few times they get to go down to Grandma and Papa’s house.  Some of the time it’s playing and the other time is spent working on the farm.  To my older daughter, it’s not the best way to spend her time but she realizes that she can make a little bit of money so it’s not so bad.  For my younger daughter, her first words are, “Do I have to?”

When you’re 6 years old, it’s way more fun to be playing outside or on the IPad.  To spend hours on your feet and putting stickers on thousands of papayas, it’s not fun.  Heck, I remember as a kid how much I disliked the farm work day in and day out.

As my dad was overhearing me talk to my daughter about staying on task and helping out on the farm, he started to laugh and said, “Those words sound familiar, huh?” I thought to myself that what she is saying is exactly what me and my siblings used to whine about.  As much as I didn’t like working as a kid, it sure taught me a whole lot of lessons on how each of us are parts of the working machine and when one part isn’t working, the whole machine can’t function well.  It’s the same for a farm.

To make the work more fun for my daughter, I decided to make a little competition with her on who could sticker the fastest on their half of the case.  If it was a tie, then we’d have to play jon-ken-po (rock-paper-scissors Japanese style) and we’d get a winner.  This worked like a charm with her and she managed to stay on task for the entire 6 hours we all spent preparing some 5000 lbs of papaya.  She realized that she was an important part of the farm too that day.

As I’m teaching my children what it’s like to be part of a farm family, I’ve realized that everyone who works on a farm learns some lessons that very people ever get in life.  Here’s some of the lessons I’ve learned on the farm:

  1. You can’t always do what you want on a farm and you have to develop skill to do certain tasks.
  2. If you stop and commiserate about how awful your work is, you hold up the entire operation.
  3. You’ve got to be productive with your time because there’s always something more to do even if you’re tired as heck.
  4. You’re not always going to stay clean and sweat free working on a farm.
  5. There’s always bugs and other pests around that you can either freak out about or get over it.
  6. People are dependent on the work you do and want the best.

A farm relies on the community to survive and thrive.  From our customers down to our workers, everyone plays a vital part in it’s success.  If we don’t grow good food, our customers won’t support us so we’ve got to maintain a quality product and have it for them regularly.  If we don’t have the manpower, we can’t get any of the work done to get our fruit out or cared for either.  A farm is really about people power and having the community be it’s foundation.

What’s the biggest problem with continuing in the path we are taking in Hawaii?  With no support of our current farms and farmers, we lose the next generation of farmers and that is the worst consequence we will face.  No new generation wanting to take on family farms means a smaller percentage of people willing to grow food and grow Hawaii.  Farming families need the support of the community because their failure means a loss to everyone.

Our keiki are spending so much time focused on getting good rest scores and doing well academically, but aren’t learning some real life lessons.  The younger generation is afraid of hard work and lack perseverance.  When things look too daunting, they can’t pull through.  Who will stay farming if the concept of hard work isn’t a value that’s taught? A farm requires dedication, perseverance, a lot of toughness, a love for learning, and tenacity to get through tough times.

The only way we can grow Hawaii is to grow our people and grow leaders grounded in facts to have a clear idea of what we want for the future.  It’s about time that we go back to our communities and start cultivating relationships again because our future depends on it.  We have to get kids on the farm and keep the ones who are on there learning those important lessons if we are to grow Hawaii.

 

When Home is Out of Reach

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This past weekend, I took my three kids to the dentist.  My older two daughters went in for their cleaning and I waited with my 22 month old son out in the waiting room.

Being a typical boy, my son was wandering around the room playing and talking about the fish tank.  A father sat on the side watching my son play.  He appeared a bit sad as he saw Connor busily exploring.

“I have a son too and I love watching the videos I have of him at this age,” he said.  “My wife cries every time she watches it because we miss him.  I just watch the videos alone then cry to myself.”

I was a little unsure about what to say and asked him where his son was.  He proceeded to tell me that his son went to school in the mainland and decided to stay because he found a good job up in Oregon.  He said that it a hard for his son to come back given how expensive Hawaii was.  His son couldn’t find the job he wanted and didn’t want to work at a hotel at the front desk.

I could see some tears of sadness in the man’s eyes as he watched Connor run around.  He was really sad to not have his son home with family.  He went on about how he doubts there is a future for his son in Hawaii with the way jobs are here.  There’s no real incentive to return home.

As I listened to his story, I too did not want to move home.  When I finished graduate school and was applying for jobs, no one wanted to hire new grads.  I needed to have a year’s worth of experience just to apply.  I decided to stay in the mainland instead and had planned to stay there for good.

Thanks to my husband’s dream of farming and against my wishes, I did move back.  I’m fortunate to have a lot of family who helped us get started too.  I wouldn’t have been able to make it here financially without family given the high cost of living here.

There are so many Hawaii folks that I have met over the years who long to come back home but simply can’t.  It takes sacrificing career ambitions much of the time to return.  Hawaii’s job market is pretty limited depending on what one’s skill set may be.  It doesn’t help that starting your own business is very tough.  This isn’t a new phenomenon though.  Coming home is simply out of reach for so many.

Given what is happening to Hawaii, it appears that our local folks are leaving for better opportunities.  I’m hoping that I won’t have to feel the pain of missing my child who wants to come home but can’t.  Are we investing in bringing back our keiki who know and love Hawaii? Are they willing to take sacrifices to live back home? Something has to change or more local folks will leave and a small piece of local ways leaves with them.