Food Wars

As I’m preparing food for thanksgiving, a thought came into my head about food. So many families are gathering today around food. I’m betting that most families will not be having a full on organic meal this year because at Thanksgiving, that really doesn’t matter.

Food brings people together as it did at the beginning of mankind. When a hunt was completed, people gathered together to consume it. We do the very same thing that our ancestors did years ago.

It strikes me as odd that once we leave our tables and get into the political arenas, food is not bringing us together. Whether it is in Europe or the US, a food war is going on. Some shouting that we must only go organic and no one can use pesticides. Politics is adding more regulations on farmers that are not based in scientific evidence but rather on feel good rules. Imported activism is keeping developing world farmers from improved plants also. In the end, our ability access food becomes hindered when science is pushed aside in favor of emotion-based regulations.

Most of us will have an abundance of food to enjoy today because of science and technology that few will ever see to appreciate. Everything we eat, whether it is organic or conventional, has been grown with science. Even the recipes we consume has precise measurements for taste and satisfaction in each recipe. Science is everywhere but so easily rejected by the non-farmer.

If only politics of food could start at the Thanksgiving table where we call all share in the effort of a great meal. If everyone stopped to think about the food on that table, we may be able to find a common ground to move forward upon. Sadly, the food wars take place in a sanitized room far from a farm and after well-fed people who are out of touch with the reality of farming.

This Thanksgiving, truly think about that food when you eat it and know that someone worked very hard to get it there.

A Smaller World

I am on a plane flying home from a whirlwind of a trip in Germany and Brussels. It is something I never thought I’d do but am so glad that I did. I realize that the world is much smaller than most of us can imagine.

I learned a lot about German policy around agriculture through the German Farmers Association. Like American farmers, we face similar challenges with implementing policies not based in science due to consumer pressure funded by non-governmental organizations.

These feel-good ideas are placed upon farmers with no consideration of the consequences of its impacts. This has resulted in the closures or consolidation of farms due to the costs. It is even more sad to know that the German farms in the west are mostly small, multigenerational farms with some dating back over 300 years.

Development is also impacting farmers where some areas are losing acres of agricultural lands to development. Buildings and homes are filling prime farmland and stopping all farming forever. New developments move in and farms are kicked out or face constant complaints.

There is also an image by Europeans that American agriculture is something bad. The perception is that we are harming the environment and endangering people. That tale has its roots in Hawaii unfortunately. Thanks to fear mongering, this idea affects trade of U.S. goods and is hitting the farmers.

As much as we want to talk facts, facts clearly do not matter. Whomever has the best story is heard the loudest despite any evidence. This angers me to no end because farmers have a powerful story that is constantly drowned by activists’ manipulation. Minds are shut with fear and all critical thinking is gone.

While touring the EU Parliament, I came upon a fascinating sculpture. Each part touches each other even though they seem distant. I find it quite ironic that policymakers can walk past this with no consideration of what their work is doing to the developing world. Europe’s inconsistent laws on GMOs have made it extremely hard for their own farmers and others worlds away.

When the well-fed reject advancements in science and technology, we affect people that we never see or hear their stories. We never feel hunger pangs from the lack of food. We live in comfort everyday and minor issues become big deals in our lives. The complaints of the hunger-free have huge repercussions around the globe.

Farmers in the US and Germany may be thousands of miles from each other but there is a common link. Many German farms have a long family history that keeps them going for centuries. The same applies to the US farmers I met on this trip who want to see their farming legacies passed on. Farmers want to keep continuing their work. It is universal. However, if society chooses to makes their lives harder, we will lose more of them.

At a time when the climate is changing around us, society is rejecting the evidence that farmers operate upon. Farmers need to be able to adapt but are having their hands tied by the loudest minority. We need innovation and technology to survive. Without it, we will see more farmers become less sustainable.

If you want to have open spaces, we need farmers. If you want an abundance of fresh foods, we need farmers. If you want to have comfortable clothing, we need farmers. Want farmers? Support them in word and action.

Poor Farmer

A few weeks ago, I was at work picking up the recycled newspapers for the farm. My 3 year old was with me wearing his plaid shirt and cowboy boots. One of the family members saw him and remarked at how cute he was dressed as a cowboy.

My little Connor stood there and listened to her. He quietly lowered his head and looked at the ground shyly. He raised his head up slowly and made eye contact with her.

“I’m not a cowboy. I’m a farmer boy!”

She chuckled at his response and said, “Oh, you don’t want to be a poor farmer! Better to be a doctor or an engineer.”

We all kind of laughed about it and parted ways. Her statement didn’t sit quite right with me. The older generation still believes in that old stereotype and now the internet generation has the belief that we are some evil villain. What in the world is happening?

For too long, farmers just did their work and others told our story. We ignored and and kept working with no idea that those tales would start to define us. It is already tough doing farm work and having to advocate for what we do, but we must.

Everyday we need a farmer. They deserve credit for why most aren’t in the fields. The elites of the West are blocking technology to farmers in the developing world because they fear progress means the end of rural life. While we farm using high tech, we are still farming the same way we did decades ago doing much of the work one fruit at a time. We don’t have a factory of mechanized processing despite growing biotech fruits.

Progress doesn’t mean standing in the way of tools. If you do not farm, why should you dictate how farming should be done? We need to be utilizing science-based policies to sustain farms. If we did not use science, our family farm would’ve ended with my dad. We need continuous research and innovation so that the vision of a great-grandfather can continue for another generation.

Help support family farms now. Educate others so that they know our plight.

If Everyone Farmed

This weekend was spent planting the new fields in. My mom, dad, brother, and their workers usually do all the planting themselves. A few weeks ago, my mom called to ask if I wanted to plant. Since I really had nothing planned, I decided to join in.

When you work indoors in an air conditioned setting, going outside is rough. That weekend was in the upper 80’s with a high humidity. I got my 3 kids lathered in sunscreen and packed a lunch. I haven’t planted a field since I was a teenager.

When we got down to the field, it was already hot. We went straight to work planting the seedlings. My brother had already plotted out the whole field so our job was getting some osmocote slow release fertilizer in the holes and putting the plants in. When this was said and done, we did some 300 plantings.

I felt pretty good after that and was surprised I wasn’t achy. For each planting, it meant squatting down to the ground and staying in that position to cover the seedling. It really equates to hundreds of deep squats. I felt so young again!

Well, the next morning was a different story all together. After a deep sleep, I tried to get up from my low futon bed and got stuck. My quads were screaming at me, “Noooo!” I was so achy but with a good boost with my arms, I got up and walked it out. I felt fine once I warmed up.

This past Saturday, it was planting time again after a delay was caused by Hurricane Lane the previous week. We had twice as many folks and an acre to plant. Up and down, squatting multiple times was the routine again. We finished the field and even got the drip lane installed too. One of the workers, Chansen, said, “Good we had more people. Went real fast today.”

Saturday took 6 hours of work to complete the field with 12 people working. We got about 600 plants in the fields thanks to everyone’s effort, including two of my friends who wanted to get dirty. The humidity was better and we had a breeze that helped. I felt so good working out in the field.

Well, the very next morning was spent getting up and going to the Okinawan Festival. I was feeling pretty good until midmorning when my legs started to ache from all the squatting. I had to rest and shake out the stiffness before working in the soba booth for 4 hours.

All I can say is that I’m wiped out from this weekend. It was constant moving and go, go, go. I did a lot of work and felt good that the task was accomplished. My muscle pain is worse this time but Tylenol helped quite a bit.

The temporary ache I have in my legs is a nagging reminder that too few will ever feel this kind of fatigue gained from planting food for people. Most modern day folks get this pain from running nowhere on a treadmill or pumping iron in a gym. These efforts help build their bodies but provides no tangible goods for others much of the time.

The workout I got will produce thousands of pounds of food for people for years. People simply walk into a store and select their fruit every week. I hope that when they buy food, they hold it think about who grew and produced it. A lot of sweat equity goes into what we eat. Never forget that fact every time you eat.

Think Farmers are Lazy?

As the papaya trees grow taller, we can no longer harvest it at a certain height. Those trees need to be plowed back into the soil. While the younger fields are being harvested, we have to be preparing for replanting the fields.

Starting new plants means growing a bunch of seedlings and caring for them to reach a good size to plant. This is a job done after harvests and processing. The field itself has to be prepared with some fallow time and plowing weeds and old plants in.

After the field is cleared and the old growth composted back in, it’s time to plot the field. This means measuring out the rows and plotting the planting spots. This task can take several days to do and is usually an after work task.

This weekend was the planting of the trees. I haven’t planted a field in years since I still work full time. Given no time during the week, my dad decided to plant this weekend. My mom called me at 8 p.m. the night before to let me know. Since we had nothing planned, I decided to haul the kids down to the farm.

Planting papayas mean a lot of squatting down and covering up the seedling. We used an old shovel that I played with as a kid. My dad used junkyard iron pieces given to him by an old welder for his trailer. The old tractor used was a dumped one left at an abandoned farm. My brother laughed that the 4″ pots they used is reused every year so they never have to buy new ones. Goes to show how green farmers are!

Planting is indeed a team effort. My dad drives his beat up salvaged tractor with a homemade trailer carrying seeds and water along the rows. One person digs the holes where the chopstick marker stands. Another person drops a teaspoon of osmocote fertilizer the feed the new plants. The rest of us squat down and plant the seedling and cover up the roots. The last thing we do is give it a good drench of water.

We planted some 300 plants this weekend. It was like doing a bunch of squats and dead lifts. I really got a gym workout by doing that. Planting the field so it can feed people is so much more satisfying then pumping iron to make myself look good. Our tired bodies were worked to it’s max and we farming folks get a great feeling of satisfaction when people appreciate it.

If you want food, it comes from a farm. If you aren’t farming and get your food from an air conditioned store while pushing a cart, you are darn lucky. When you pick up the produce at the market, be sure to remember who grew it. It wasn’t the loud, selfie-obsessed, internet activists growing it. It’s your long time farmer who is producing what you buy.

After busting butt in the fields this weekend, I have a new respect for the work of our farmers. My skin feel parched. My legs are sore. My feet is tender. I have a blister on my baby toe. My hands are stiff and achy. I hurt all over but feel good that my work will bear the fruits of my labor.

Farm Fair 2018

This weekend was the 56th Annual Hawaii State Farm Fair at Kualoa Ranch. Once again, we spent the whole weekend working it. We didn’t sell our papayas but donated it to be sold in the Farm Bureau ag tent. We passed out thousands of samples to many families.

As always, we get hit with anti-GMO activists here and there. This farm fair was a bit more prevalent than the last 2 years, which was odd. We had one lady drooling when she saw the slices of papaya, but then abruptly changed her mind when she saw the dreaded “GMO Story” on our booklet. While she rejected it, half a dozen little kids were chomping down on papaya. A few minutes later, she came back and took a slice and ate it to the skin.

Several other people saw the papayas asked if it was GMO. When we told them they were, they weren’t even nice and said, “I don’t want it then.” These folks did this in front of their kids displaying no manners. It was quite irritating. Other realized it was modified but thanks to photos of diseased fruit posted, I was able to start a conversation about it. Others were curious to learn the story joined in and asked questions.

I had many people saying that they thought GMO is dangerous. I asked them why and most could not articulate a reason other than saying they read it somewhere. Many of these folks were teachable and willing to learn. They simply lacked critical thinking skills and did not know how to find good information.

I did get the GMOs means pesticide bit too but easily walked them out through photos. It helped that the Department of Ag had a contest that made people seek out answers of the farming booths. By presenting a question, many did not know where to find the info. Great learning experiences happened through that.

I have to say that it wasn’t a surprise that the rejector of GM papaya went right to the food trucks. There were no organic food serving trucks and has never been at the fair ever. These folks think a fried lumpia is better than a slice of fresh papaya. Many were also wearing cotton clothes while saying no to GMO.

Several who expressed being afraid of pesticides had dyed hair and covered in tattoos. They inject synthetic inks into skin and apply it in their hair but fear Roundup. I’m simply amazed and saddened by the level of ignorance in people.

Politicians even came by to talk story. I reminded them that ag needs support in words and action, not pandering to the loudest activists. We need facts and more science to adapt to climate change or face devastation. We need tools to sustain us, no fear mongering attacks seeking to remove options. They nodded in agreement and hopefully will pull through but I have my doubts.

Despite the few rude anti-GMO activists, learning was happening this weekend. I’ve realized that those who tend to know the least but avoid GMOs are victims of heavy handed fear mongering campaigns. They’ve been deceived by what they read on the internet. All we can do is treat them fairly even though they cannot do the same.

Many people learned our story and why the technology is needed. They saw pictures of the disease and how farmers are hurt by it. The reasonable person can learn our story and hopefully share it with others to combat the fear against the very farmers they rely upon.

Hawaii cannot afford to be manipulated by outside influences. If farmers are to be successful, we need communities on board with our work. There is land to be cultivated and we need the people and communities supporting us.

If you want local food, you got to be supporting those who are working towards that goal.