Ways to Support Local Agriculture

There are so many times in a week that we hear the phrases “buy local”, “support local” and “know your farmer.” But how often do we really make the commitment to do so?  And what does that commitment look like? Today I’d like to explore the ways in which you can make a commitment to support local agriculture and give you some facts to think about as you decide where and how to support your community.

If you do a search on the Hawaii Department of Agriculture website for growers on Oahu, you will find a listing of 146 operations. They are all agriculture, but not all food producers. One thing we should remember in our conversations about agriculture is that it encompasses all kinds of production - food and fiber. This includes ornamentals, landscaping, and potted plants, without which we would not have stunning floral displays at weddings, beautiful lei for graduations and celebrations, and picture perfect landscaping in our outdoor spaces. It’s important to realize that this is a way for us to support agriculture beyond buying locally grown food. Purchasing lei that was grown and strung here makes an impact on that producer, as does sourcing plants for your backyard from a local nursery. Even some box stores source from a local nursery.  

Buying locally grown food is the one area that is probably the most commonly discussed when it comes to “buying local”. There are now so many avenues for this that it seems it’s a given to know where to go…but just in case you don’t know where to find locally grown produce, a few tips can help. First, farmers markets are found all over on almost every day of the week! If you are not sure whether there is one in your area, you can use the Hawaii Department of Agriculture website to help you. Search for farmers markets and you’ll find a listing by island. If you’re not sure if the produce at a market is really locally grown, you can check that by contacting the Hawaii Farm Bureau. Or you can look for the Hawaii Seal of Quality, which lets you know which fresh agricultural products are entirely produced in Hawaii. Processed items are similarly identified with the Made In Hawaii with Aloha brand.  

If going to the farmers’ market isn’t your thing, try committing to a locally owned and operated CSA. CSA stands for community supported agriculture.  Many of these businesses are formed around a single farm and showcase produce from that farm; some source from several small to medium sized farms to bring the CSA members a bag of locally grown fresh produce on a regular basis. Most of these operations provide delivery of the bag or box to a pick up location and some will even provide home delivery. To find a CSA, use the Local Harvest website which will help you find one near to your location. CSAs from a single farm can be a valuable addition to that farm’s income; CSAs sourcing from many farms can help to provide financial support to many farmers at once through the profits they take in and return to the farming community. It’s best to ask the operation exactly how it is structured if you are interested in knowing what your dollars are supporting.  

Supporting local agriculture is a process that requires us to make a decision on how and where to spend our dollars. It also requires that we educate ourselves about the operations in our area. For example, while the biotech farms in central Oahu do not produce food that is eaten locally, they do provide maintenance and financial support for the infrastructure that supports a multitude of small farmers, who in the end we all depend on for our locally grown plants, flowers, and food. It’s important to remember that agriculture in our state is interconnected and due to our size, it has to be. It’s as important to be committed to agriculture as a whole as it is to be loyal to your local farmers market. Without the big and little guys, it’s all at risk.

Melissa Zeman currently manages the Hawai'i Agriculture Foundation (HAF) Ag Park at Kunia.