The Journey of Hokulea

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They voyaging canoe, the Hokulea, arrive in Honolulu yesterday which was a tremendous fear after traveling the globe.  Millions watched as it sailed into the shore. A long journey was completed.

If it were not for the brave souls who decided to collect information from the wind, stars, weather, and ocean currents, what we know as Native Hawaiians may have not arrived here in Hawaii. As Hokulea traveled the world following the ancient ways, it’s a reminder that someone must take that first brave step to change the future.

Is it good to be clinging to the relics of old and be blinded to what the future holds? Or do we use the past as a reminder of what our ancestors did to get us where we are today?

To look well into the universe to see beyond what we know is like jumping into that canoe and taking a new journey for the people of Hawaii and even humanity.

Outhouse

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My dad has a very funny story he tells about his adventures on the farm.  I love hearing him tell of such a different life that so many of us know nothing about.

When my grandparents moved to Kaneohe in the late 1930’s, the majority of the landscape was farms.  They settled down near Keole Road to start up their farm.  They tended to cows, taro, and bananas.  Being that the area was rural, no sewer lines or cesspools were in the area so if you wanted a toilet, you had to build an outhouse.

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My grandfather was a resourceful man who would take my dad and his siblings down to the junk pile to search for little treasures that might be useful to make something.  He’d take an old can and fill it with old nails and screws and other stuff.  Many of the old structures he had built were made from stuff that was thrown out.  Back in those days, it wasn’t too hip to recycle and using old junk was just a symbol of a poor farmer.  I doubt he really cared about that image very much because he continued to use junk and scraps for years to make sheds and other farm structures.

From the junks of others, a useful outhouse was built outside their home.  Nothing was bought to make it.  I think of it as a pretty amazing feat how he could transform what looked like trash into a fully functioning outhouse.

Back in those days, there wasn’t bountiful amounts of affordable of toilet paper either and people had to make do with what they had.  Toilet paper for my dad’s family was using the old tissues that wrapped oranges.  They saved all of the tissues from the oranges and recycled the old crates to store it.  Just to have tissue to wipe was a luxury for my dad.

One night, when my dad was about 8 years old, he had to go to the outhouse very badly.  In those days, there was no lights and everything was pitch black.  Being the resourceful kid he was, he decided to take the matches with him to provide some light while using the toilet.  He made his way in the dark to the outhouse with no problem but inside, he thought he’d make some light and lit a match.  He took the match and lit a piece of tissue for light.  Before he knew what was happening, the tissue burst into flames and he dropped it into the crate of tissues.  In no time at all, the tissues were set afire and then the entire outhouse was set on fire, sending him running into the bushes naked.

He told me that it is a story that he would never live down because the blaze could be seen from a distance and it was well known to many that Kenneth burned down the family toilet.  We still laugh heartily at that story every time he tells it.  It also reminds me how his generation really was the first “green” people.

As an occupational therapist working with rehabilitating people, I see firsthand how much the older generations were very much “green.” When someone has a hip replacement or some major illnesses, the basic task of toileting becomes difficult.  I have to teach people how to get back to being independent with something so many take for granted.  One thing I’ve noticed is that my seniors have a very unique way of using toilet paper.

Instead of grabbing a wad of toilet paper, my patients will carefully count out their preferred about of toilet tissue.  If you hand them a wad of toilet paper, they will unfold it and separate the squares.  Then they fold it in a very certain pattern before wiping.  They will use those 4 or 5 squares to get multiple wipes from it and I get so impressed with this toilet paper origami.  These behaviors are lifelong learned patterns of using resources wisely because they knew there would be times when there may not be any.

I do chuckle about this but there is a grain of truth in the old ways and learning from the lessons they experienced.  When we are in abundance, we do go for quantity, whether it be food or toilet paper.  It’s human behavior to indulge.  There is a price to pay with indulgence as it leads to unintended consequences like a clogged toilet or weight gain.  No longer do I see huge advertisements for supersizing food or buying huge quantities of food.  I admit that I used to stock up at Costco for foodstuff only to realize that we weren’t eating all of what we bought.  That discount we thought we were getting became a wash when we landed up wasting the food.

It’s easy to want to fall back on that behavior of more is better.  My friend started gardening and I mentioned to her that she needed to apply slug bait to prevent rat lungworm disease.  She rushed out to buy the pesticide and said she shook that stuff all over her garden instead of following the label.  There’s not much to lose by using more to home gardeners and following the label isn’t a big deal when the bottle costs less than $20.  If a gardener were to do the cost analysis of growing those cucumbers and lettuce, heads, they’d be shock to know how much it would cost to grow it.

To farmers it’s a complete different story.  Some people believe that farmers will toss fertilizer out like crazy but when it means cutting into your bottomline, that is far from the truth.  When you’re trying to maximize the benefit of a product to help support your livelihood, you’re not going to toss out bags of stuff that costs you money!  It’s not going to provide any additional benefits and will have an unintended consequence along the way.

We all can learn from the lessons of the past to guide us for the future.  Clamoring for the old is a different story when you’ve actually lived it to know what it’s like.  My dad’s lessons keep me grounded and appreciating what I have now.

 

 

 

The Cost of Unintended Consequences

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Who uses pesticides? Many people and it’s evident by the violations issued to homeowners, landscapers, county workers, businesses, agricultural users, the state, and pest control operators.  

A few days ago, I decided to start my usual routine of digging up weeds from my garden. As hacked away at the weeds filling my garden boxes, I dug up a nice fat Cuban slug from my taro box hidden among the weeds.  I remembered that I hadn’t put slug bait in that new box so decided to treat my garden with it to prevent rat lungworm disease.  Eww is all I could think of.

As case number 15 of rat lungworm disease came to light last month, my blood boils a bit because of what has happened over the last several years.  For years, I had to testify to legislators about farmers’ need for pesticides and that we indeed were proper users for good reason.  I remember a meeting where Representative Chris Lee as well as several others sat there listening and the feedback we got was that the farmers need to do more to educate the public.  No sooner did that meeting happen then I hear of Rep. Lee, Rep. Creagan, and Senator Josh Green joining in on the anti-pesticide bills being lobbied by the Center for Food Safety’s Ashely Lukens.  The fear mongering continued for nearly 3 years masquerading as a “big ag” issue but really was something affecting all farmers statewide.

When the pesticide mongering was at its height, I remember walking past farmer’s market booths bragging about selling pesticide free products.  Many signs also touted that it was grown organically too.  I used to think that this “hipster” eating will bite us in the ass sooner or later and sure enough, it has brought to light a real microscopic monster that has been in Hawaii for nearly 50 years.

I’ve seen lots of blame being placed on the Department of Health for not doing enough about the issue and legislators not funding research about this.  A few weeks ago, I received a mass email from Ashley Lukens of the Center for Food Safety bragging about not getting the organic tax credit law rescinded this past session.  Her group, along with the other anti-ag groups like the Surfrider Foundation, the Sierra Club, and even Earthjustice, spent taxpayer dollars to fight a conflated problem and enabled a real problem to surface.

We also stopped multiple industry bills aimed at attacking small farmers (HB452), repealing the organic farming tax credit (HB961) and setting unreasonable standards that mandate all applicators of any pesticide be forced to report their usage (HB1302).

There was ZERO mention of a real food safety issue affecting every farm.  No peep of rat lungworm disease.  Organic farmers and even conventional farmers have lost a lot of sales because of this issue and buyers have turned to the mainland sources instead of heeding the buy local slogans.  For a group that demanded the right to know, I’m not shocked that she prefers to keep the public in the dark about what organic farmers spray and the amounts being used.  Shouldn’t it be fair across the board? I get so mad knowing that this is just another chip at agriculture overall that will make us 100% dependent upon imports.

None of these environmental groups even shared info to their followers on opportunities to follow good agricultural practices either.  These groups told people that government couldn’t be trusted and by sharing info from extension agents only contradicts what they’ve been telling the public all these years.  The focus on trusting experts is in dire need right now but none of these groups could ever turn that stone over and show how wrong they were to begin with.

The tax credit for organic farmers won’t even matter when no one wants to buy their produce in fear of rat lungworm disease.  Why would any consumer want to risk catching this preventable illness to eat expensive, possibly unsafe produce, that wasn’t grown properly?  The experts have already stated that controlling the vectors like rats and slugs is a huge way to prevent this from happening.  There’s even emergency situations where organic farmers can use pesticides to manage this issue.  The fact that pesticides have utility is really coming to the forefront as more stories are told of pain and debility from this parasite.  I’d like to see the politicians repeal that law next year and put the funds back in to help ALL farmers produce safe food and get a tax break, not just one certain group.  To not do that is discrimination if you ask me.

The failure of legislators to not focus on evidence based problems is showing up as many unintended consequences.  The little fire ant invaded a Maui lot necessitating a court order to allow for treatment of the pests is telling of the fear mongering by those claiming to protect the environment.  The Zika virus and even sharp rises in dengue fever also brought fear to the Big Island and Senator Green called for spraying of pesticides to protect people.  The Civil Beat article also notes that spraying becomes difficult with many organic farms who will lose certification but fails to mention that there are emergency measures that can be taken to avoid that.

I’ve always thought that the leaders of our state, the legislators, had a duty to protect the public and use resources wisely.  That clearly isn’t what’s happening here.  The fear mongering of the organic industry against pesticides has brought rat lungworm disease to the forefront and helped to harbor the little fire ant.  Many livelihoods including their own farmers have been impacted and will be if there isn’t some accountability placed upon these “leaders.”  They’ve clearly made some bad decisions that have permanently changed the lives of many people.  The public deserves better from those holding office and a reminder of the oath they took to protect us, as well as make the best decisions instead of looking at ways to pad their own coffers and egos.

 

A March for Humanity

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Given all the brouhaha happening around the March for Science yesterday, I was a bit hesitant to see what would unfold.  There was a lot of talk on the social media to be present at the march to protest my presence and the group I represented, the Alliance for Science.

As people started to gather for the rally, I started to see the protesters’ signs out in the crowd from anti-corporate accusations and about the Papahanaumokuakea Monument.  There was 4 gathered right in the front of the media folks with their anti-alliance signs to make it clear that I was not welcomed at this march.  Oddly, organizers were told that any hot topic signs or gear would not be allowed at the march, however, these people were allowed openly.  I even saw multiple people wearing anti-TMT shirts also.

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A fan club protesting the Alliance for Science.

As the rally opened, more and more people gathered around.  I didn’t see more anti folks though.  I was expecting to be heckled and yelled at but surprisingly, none of that happened.  It might be because my 2 year old wanted to be held and my 6 year old wanted to show off her “Science feeds the world” sign she had drawn.  It was a relief after I spoke, my children did not have to face rude adults.

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After speaking, I headed towards the table I had set up to spark conversations and talk about science.  I brought my beautiful red Indian corn cob, cotton bolls, photos of GM papaya and virus infected ones, diseased plants, Norman Borlaug stickers, some Alliance pens and stickers.  Our table was filled with things to look at and touch to help bring curious people in.

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It was really funny when people would lean in close and whisper quietly if we were about GMOs.  People were afraid to ask us what we stood for.  Between several of us volunteers there, we worked on educating people about evidence based policies and access to technology on a global scale.  When they realized what the Alliance stood for, there were so many sighs of relief and so many shared their thoughts about how cool genetic engineering was looking out to be.  Many great conversations happened.

My other Alliance member, James Green, was quite clever in his approach to manning the table.  He stood with a cardboard sign with a graph of the Dunning-Kruger effect on one side and the other side explaining what it meant.  He started out by explaining to curious people why there was such strong opinions about the technology but in reality, the true knowledge and expertise was not there.  I’d have to say that many people learned about why GMOs sounded bad but in reality wasn’t when you delved further.

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As the day went on, one of the protesters decided to stand in front of our table with his sign raised over his head to show his stance against us.  He stood there for several minutes and I realized that he’d probably stay there for a long time.  I thought to myself, “What a rude guy to do this kind of shenanigan?”  I assessed the situation make sure that if it got ugly, my kids were not around.  I decided to talk to this guy and see what his deal was.  I figured that if he’d do something ugly, there were lots of witnesses around.

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The protester who decided to stand at our table.

I came in front of  him and read his sign and said, “Why are you standing in front of our table and not coming to talk story?  That is so not local style.”  He proceed to tell me that he heard that the Alliance for Science was being funded by Monsanto.  In my own head I was like, oh, geez, again.  I might have a crazy one ranting about all the horrible accusations.  What have I gotten myself into now?

I continued to talk to him and said, “You think that I’m working for Monsanto because I’m supporting GMO technology?” He said that only Monsanto would put on a booth like this with all the information and stuff.  I said no way.  I told him that I was up until 2:30 in the morning getting prepared for today.  I had set up the photos, stickers, and stuff and even paid for it myself.  He was in disbelief and said that it couldn’t be true.  I replied that if he wanted to see my receipts, I’d be happy to show him.  I continued to tell him my story about my dad and brother’s farm being saved by technology.

As that story came out, he started to realize that I wasn’t Monsanto and that GMOs like that were good.  He said that he was a marine biologist with some training in molecular biology so he understood that.  Then he said that GMOs are bad because of pesticides.  I wanted to bang my head but instead, smiled and took his hand and brought him to my table.  “Come here and let me show you what I’m talking about,” I told him.

I pulled out one of the lectures I had heard at Cornell on GMOs.  I showed him photos of the Bt eggplant damage from the shoot borer and how small farmers had to spray many times to prevent damage.  Then I showed him a photo of the Bt eggplant and how it had no damage and needed little spraying if anything.  I also talked to him about witchweed and how it destroyed people’s crops but if the seed was coated in herbicides, a crop could grow and yield something.  He told me that he was a scientist and agreed that this applications were a good thing.

Despite this he kept going on about how the pesticides was the issue.  I responded that if he wanted less pesticides, then how could it be done? I waited for his answer and he realized that GM technology could be utilized to change the plant to need less spraying.  I could see a light go on in his head when he realized that.

I pushed back on him a bit and asked why was he hanging out with anti-GMO people who were sitting across the way, refusing to interact.  I told him that if he was a scientist and knows the benefit of GMOs, why isn’t he educating his friends on it?  He said that he knew the benefits of biotech being from Costa Rica but that some people don’t understand it.  I reiterated to him that if he wants less pesticides and better farming, we need research and science leading the charge.  He agreed but then went back to Monsanto.  I was losing my patience and said, “Would you please think about what we just talked about that it’s not about Monsanto.”  He laughed and our conversation didn’t divert but luckily, my attention went to someone else who wanted to talk to me, a cousin who found me on 23andme.

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My newly found cousin found through genetic testing, Jason Higa!

After I had a great talk with Jason, I went back to help at the table and my protester was still hanging out.  We continued talking and eventually got on to the subject of vaccinations which he surprisingly supported.  He was upset at babies dying around the world because of the anti-vaccination movement.  I pointed out to him that supporting the anti-GMO stance he had contributes the anti-vax movement by promoting science denial.  I asked him if he wanted more babies dying because of this rejection of the evidence, to which he stated no.  He was appalled at the anti-vaccination movement and the spread of preventable diseases like measles, whooping cough, and mumps.

My protester friend was still standing in front of our table but he had dropped his sign.  We continued talking about the amazing things happening in the world of science and agriculture and decided to take a photo together.  He said that he would try to educate his fellow anti friends that not all GMOs mean pesticides or corporations.  I hope he follows through with his word.

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Javier and I became friends after talking story.

A day that started out with a bit of apprehension actually turned out to be terrific as another person came to talk to me too.  I had first encountered this student in a group on Facebook when she had posted some buffer zone links to gather testimony for it.  I countered her on it to get her to look at the facts. I also encouraged her to dig deeper and find the actual evidence to her claims. She decided to stop by our table and talk story with me wanting to learn why I held the stances I did against the buffer zone laws.

I pulled out a photo of the papaya tree kicked down by my dad’s fearful neighbor.  I explained to her that this issue about buffer zones isn’t based in science if people are taking those kinds of actions.  She was a bit surprised because she had believed that children had been sickened which necessitated it.  I asked her if she had looked up the evidence for the claim to which she couldn’t answer.  I told her that I’d be happy to show her the evidence so that she doesn’t contribute to the attacks against farmers.  She seemed more than willing to learn and gave me her card, which I’ll be contacting her in the future.

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As I spoke with many children and parents, it was clear to me that few understood the story of agriculture when they picked up my stickers.  I asked them if they knew who was pictured on it.  Very few were able to identify Norman Borlaug.  I explained to the children that he believed that all people should have food, which they agreed upon was a very good thing.

A lot of learning took place at this March for Science event despite me being censored from talking about GMOs, the Thirty Meter Telescope, and vaccines.  The mood of the marchers was so different than the marches against the TMT and GMOs.  Those marches were full of angry people whose only bond was being against something.  Anger bonded these people together and it made for some ugly after effects.  This same anger fueled more anger and hate that spewed out into the social media for years to come.  This group of people armed with emotion is what led to the breakdown of communities across our state because logic and rational thinking was lost in the equation.

However, at the March for Science, the atmosphere was very friendly and people were curious and willing to talk story with each other.  We were all for something, with the exception of those protesters. The censoring didn’t stop the truth from being discussed or heard.  In fact there were lots of signs about science saving lives and astronomy.

When the march was done, the lawn wasn’t full of garbage or signs thrown the ground like so many other marches.  I saw many people taking home their signs instead of dumping it in the trash cans.  Everyone cooperated and helped to fold up tables and chairs and put it back in it’s place.  The march for science brought out a different crowd indeed and it was pretty amazing to see the civility and cooperation come out in people from all walks of life.  My daughters made many friends from various marchers and even took some photos with their signs.

What I learned from participating in this march is that those who support science and the scientists themselves must be willing to take the brave step in leading our communities in the right direction.  When we are focused on a common goal that helps the greater good, we can put our energies towards the pressing problems ahead of us.  Standing aside and being unwilling to even acknowledge another person isn’t going to create a movement for a better world.

I learned the name of my protester that day.  His name was Javier and despite starting the day feeling apprehensive about him, he is just another person and by taking the first step to talk to him, he was able to have a civil, factual, and rational conversation about a “hot topic.” The rest of his friends who protested didn’t even come near the information that was available to see and learn from.  Even the environmentalist guy who showed up to protest me refused to even show an interest in our table, despite me sharing his post encouraging him to learn.  Javier thanked me for coming up to him and talking with him and I said thank you for talking with me!

We need learners in this world who are willing to be curious about what is happening.  Those who are capable of talking story so that we all can work together to make it better.  The more we focus on collaboration, the better we can sustain our communities for all of humanity.

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The ahu is symbolic of building communities and working together.

 

 

Why I Won’t March for Science

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Tomorrow is the Hawaii March for Science.  I’m not marching for science.  Instead I’ll be walking along scientists and their supporters.

A march is supposed to have a clear leader to guide the group in the right direction.  With a coordinated attack against me and the Alliance for Science planned, it only tells me that there is no leader to guide the public on science.  Instead, this march is one that has turned political where opposition is allowed to co-opt the evidence and anyone who stands by it.

I’m walking with scientists tomorrow to learn their stories and the work that they do.

I will walk with scientists who are trying to make farming more efficient and environmentally friendly.  One day, they will have crops that won’t need fertilizer or other inputs.  These crops may even grow on more land and have better nutrition for people.

I will walk with scientists who are studying the oceans and learning about how to balance our need for food and yet sustain a way of living for island people.  They will know what these creatures eat and see what needs to be done to keep their populations healthy.

I will walk with scientists working on improving the quality of life of those with debilitating illnesses and disability.  One day, someone with paraplegia may be able to walk again and lead a normal life or a person with ALS can no longer fear a slow decline in function.  There may be a scientist who is working on keeping dementia from robbing memories of a grandparent so that their grandchildren will no longer see them lose their loved one.

I will walk with scientists who are creating new ways to harness energy from the sun, oceans, and winds.  One day, we will no longer have to fill our tanks with gasoline and our homes can be powered with the elements around us.

I will walk with a scientist who studies our island’s indigenous plants and wildlife to help preserve it for generations to come.  Our great grandchildren will be able to see the ohia tree dotting the forests with its beautiful blossoms.

I will walk with scientists to learn about their work and passions.  I hope to see that these scientists will be the leaders of the march the help teach the public about the value of their work and why it needs to be leading the conversations around policies and innovation for the future.  I want to see these scientists inspiring others to join their fields to help make this world a better place and improve the lives of people globally.

Science is universal and the best thing we’ve got at understanding our world and knowing what is happening.  The scientists and their work must lead policymaking which is why this march was organized to begin with.  Until scientists become the lead and speak up for their work and the evidence, I will walk with them.  The day they lead us, I’ll march with them.

Those Life Saving Facts

Those Life Saving Facts

It was announced a few weeks ago that Kamehameha Schools is looking to put in more affordable homes in Haleiwa.  Despite the fact that this had been planned for nearly 10 years now, the community became very aware of the loss of ag lands.  We all know what happens when farm land disappears.  Homes come up and farms are gone forever and communities are changed.

As I watched the North Shore Community Hub group fill with these posts and complaints, I couldn’t help but shake my head.  Just a few years ago, the North Shore Chamber of Commerce had asked farmers to speak up at neighborhood board meetings to educate about agriculture.  My dad and brother drove out there to speak up and was faced with a hostile crowd who thought conventional farms were poisoning them.  At yet another meeting, long time farmer Dean Okimoto tried to speak to this same crowd and didn’t face friendly people.

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The imported disinformation campaign of the Center for Food Safety had dug deep into people’s deepest emotions that there was a need to be afraid of the farmers out there.  The well established farmers with proven track records were made to be thought of as horrible people.

Even in the community where my dad farmed in remains distrusting of our farm.  It’s evident when they call the ER afraid for their own health assuming my brother was poisoned but actually had a medication reaction.  A neighbor there even posted this ill informed comment to the GMO Free Hawaii group the other week.

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My brother and his coworker know firsthand the effects of misinformation on pesticides.  Every time they go to the field to spray for pests, wary neighbors look out their car windows and wind them up as if they are being poisoned.  My brother has a sense that he’s the most hated person out there in Punaluu but he knows that he isn’t doing anything wrong.  It’s the contaminated minds that are filled with fear that remains to be the problem.

What’s wrong with fear mongering on pesticides? Well, eventually, the unintended consequences will be seen and right on cue, a Civil Beat article told the story of a Maui woman who is suffering from rat lungworm disease after consuming food from the Big Island.  This has remained a problem on the Big Island and it’s being studied there to figure out the best practices for dealing with this.

It’s ironic that there’s so much attention to pesticides on farms here in Hawaii but not much being said by the supposedly food safety group about this issue.  One would think that given the increasing numbers of people being affected by this, the Hawaii Center for Food Safety would be right there working on an awareness campaign.  Instead, in their last email newsletter, they are bragging about their new Pesticides in Paradise website.  There’s something wrong when people are getting sick and this group isn’t doing a thing to protect them from a very preventable illness.

I asked why CFS and other groups like Shaka aren’t informing followers of rat lungworm disease and a friend give the painful truth.

“Those who seek to oppress people deny others access to accurate information.”

Misinformation has consequences and that is what we are seeing right now with this brain infecting parasite that’s made a comeback partly due to the fear mongering of pesticides.  The poison of fear has contaminated minds who can no longer think and question what they are being told and people start to suffer as a result.  Facts can save one from a life of misery and pain if we use it.

 

 

 

Harsh Truths

Many folks are wondering why I told the story of my brother in the last two blog posts I wrote.  Knowing how fast rumors can travel in this day and age, I asked him if he wanted me to write it.  He did tell me that he wanted his story told so that it brings greater awareness to his health issues and what’s happening on the farm.  At his blessing, I told his story.

I shouldn’t be surprised that people started accusing me of lying and “using” him.  The facts are the facts and I can’t change the way events are happening and how it’s unfolding.  He’s sick with lupus and still trying to work on the farm while also worried about defending it.  This life in real time for real farmers.  That is our story and the truth about farm life.  It’s one too few will hear.

There are many people who are suffering with debilitating illnesses that there is no cure for.  There are many scientists working to find a cure or treatment for it.  We can’t address this problem if resources aren’t directed at this issue.  When loud, uniformed people try to influence policies with poorly vetted information, society suffers as a whole.  When science becomes dismissed as “propaganda,” we are headed down a slippery slope.  Who will solve the many problems in this world like impending famines, droughts, infectious diseases, and other things that will plague mankind?

The attacks against science and innovation in Hawaii isn’t going to help our future.  It leaves us disabled from solving real problems in the near future.  I myself am getting tested for lupus and as a possible carrier, my children may face this disease too.  What options will they have for a better life?

I truly believe that society has to embrace science and the many advances we are seeing over fearing and blocking it.  Solutions aren’t going to come from blockers but from the knowledgeable ones who are working at improving lives.  May stories from my family help move us towards that future.  That is our hope with telling these stories.

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