September Highlights: Cost of Local Produce, Introducing the Localicious Leadership Council, Free Education Programs
Imagine this: It’s football season and you’re having a few friends come over to watch the big Sunday game. You run to the grocery store to pick up some ingredients for quick bites to eat, including the game day must-have: salsa. You’ve made it a handful of times and know exactly what you need, so you direct your attention to the produce isle and never look back. You stop your cart in front of the tomatoes, carefully scanning the stand of perfectly stacked baby heirloom, Roma, cherry, grape and salad tomatoes. To you, they all look the same but what really sets them apart is the price: local baby heirloom tomatoes are $5.99 per pound and salad tomatoes (grown in Mexico) are $1.99 per pound. Which do you choose?
To most, the $1.99 per pound salad tomatoes would make the most sense. In fact, we’d bet that most everyday shoppers wouldn’t even pay much mind to the more expensive local option. The intentional disregard for the higher priced good is a result of sticker shock, where we are so stunned by the expense that we don’t even consider it to be a feasible option.
What if we asked you to reconsider that decision?
As one of the most isolated archipelagos on the planet, Hawaii imports approximately 92 percent of its food. Of that total, 90 percent of beef, 67 percent of fresh vegetables, 65 percent of fresh fruits and 80 percent of all dairy are imported into the state. These extremely high statistics all lead to one pretty scary conclusion: Hawaii’s is more at-risk of food shortages should a natural disaster ever strike and is far too reliant upon out-of-state sources.
The solution? Looking past the sticker shock and stocking your fridge with more foods that were grown in our Islands’ soil. For starters, it’s imperative that we understand why local prices are set the way they are.
Being as remote as we are, essential on- and off-farm costs are significantly more expensive here in the Hawaiian Islands. This includes water, pest management, distribution, marketing, maintenance of equipment, electricity/fuel, fertilizer, cost of land, labor and more. Shin Ho of Ho Farms (pictured below), one of Oahu’s most popular specialty tomato producers, shared that her biggest cost is fair-wage labor, consuming more than 70 percent of the farm’s annual profits.
“The input cost of things like fertilizer and drip line – all of the stuff we import for mainland – they’ve all quadrupled in price in the last seven years,” said Dean Okimoto of Nalo Farms. “That’s what eats away at the farmer’s profit margins. One bag of fertilizer used to cost me $11 back in 2007…today it costs me $41.”
Though that $1.99 per pound salad tomato may seem like a better bang for your buck, there are some disheartening financial influences that went into making that price so low.
“I would say it’s globalization,” shared Ho when asked what keeps the price tag small. “Large companies continue to utilize low wages throughout the world to gain their profits. I would remind consumers that before they compare imported produce to Hawaii produce, they must consider the economic factors in where the product was produced.”
In addition, shoppers must keep in mind that most fruits and vegetables are on a seasonal calendar and aren’t always available throughout the run of the year. Prices may also fluctuate throughout the year when accessibility of a certain crop may be at-risk. For example, rainy seasons can make it difficult for local tomato and cucumber crops, which can be destroyed when exposed to prolonged rains. Small farms are reliant upon these crops and, in most cases, suffer from a massive financial hit that makes it difficult to maintain their daily required costs.
“When we get major rain storms, say the field goes under water, we lose all of our crops and sales for at least a month, which is equivalent to losing $100,000,” Okimoto shared. “On top of that, we’re paying workers to clean up and replant everything…so with one bad storm, we can lose up to $160,000.”
So, next time you’re prepping for the big Sunday game, do more than just get your ingredients. Choose to support the little guys that grow big amounts of food for local families and opt into programs like the Hawaii Agricultural Foundation’s Local Inside Community Supported Agricultural (CSA) program, which helps grow the customer base of small farms. The impact of your purchases and/or CSA membership extends far beyond your community and has the power to inspire positive consumer movements throughout the agriculture industry.
“I understand that buying local may be out of budget for some family, but I would encourage them to do so when they can or shop at farmers’ markets that commit to carrying only local produce,” said Ho. “Diversified farmers need all the help that they get; we don't have a strong industry. It’s about localization, especially for Hawaii since we are so isolated. We need to redevelop strong industries outside of tourism.”
For more information on Local Inside, please visit www.localinside.org.
Our team at the Hawaii Agricultural Foundation is passionate about sparking important conversations that affect the future of Hawaii’s agriculture industry. Through EAT THINK DRINK, we’re able to continue the dialogue and encourage more consumers to lead in their communities as stewards and become agents of positive change.
Mahalo to all of those who attended EAT THINK DRINK: Show Me the Green and helped us make it a sell-out event. Save the date for our next episode on November 21 from 6 to 9 p.m. at THE MODERN HONOLULU, themed The Future of Food Friendships: How Government, Business and Community Can Work Together to Grow Your Thanksgiving Bounty.
In case you missed the conversation, you can view photos and Lou Cooperhouse’s presentation on our website! Just visit www.hawaiiagfoundation.org and visit “Past Episodes” under “Events,” or click one of the images below.
The Hawaii Agricultural Foundation is thrilled to announce that it has launched the official 2018 Localicious Leadership Council. This committee was created to extend Localicious Hawaii’s mission of raising public awareness of restaurants that are committed to sustaining the local agricultural industry. As a result, these leaders will play a significant part in helping HAF expand fundraising efforts to grow agricultural education in public school classrooms throughout the state.
Please join us in welcoming our new co-chairs of the 2018 Localicious Leadership Council: Michelle Karr-Ueoka and Wade Ueoka of MW Restaurant and Troy Terorotua of REAL a gastropub and BREW'd Craft Pub.
(Pictured from left to right: Blayton Chun, Hawaii Agricultural Foundation, Michelle Karr-Ueoka, MW Restaurant, Troy Terorotua, REAL a gastropub and BREW’d Craft Pub, Wade Ueoka, MW Restaurant and Denise Yamaguchi, Hawaii Agricultural Foundation)
The Hawaii Agricultural Foundation is dedicated to educating future farmers and stewards of our state’s agriculture industry. Through our free educational programs, we work to build a strong continuum of ag educational opportunities in grades K through 12.
Our education team is currently accepting applications for Where Would We Be Without Seeds, at no cost to you or your school. See below on how to apply:
Where Would We Be Without Seeds
Where Would We Be Without Seeds is a one-unit, three-lesson curriculum that focuses on foods grown from seeds, plant life cycles, local agriculture and the farming industry. The program focuses on answering four essential questions:
- Why are seeds important?
- How do plants go through life cycles?
- Where does our food come from?
- Why is agriculture in Hawaii important?
If you’re interested in bringing Where Would We Be Without Seeds to your classroom, please send the following information to Iris Mizuguchi, Director of Education Programs at firstname.lastname@example.org:
- Full Name:
- Phone Number: