Can Local Farmers Give Us What We Want?

We’ve always said we wish we could get fresh, local produce  and not just the picked-long-ago and boat-shipped veggies and fruits that have forever been the staples of our supermarkets. We’d get a few local items such as Manoa lettuce but the reality’s been that we have very small farms, weather and other growing conditions inhibit their ability to deliver  to wholesalers, and the shopper would find no local lettuce, no local tomatoes, no watercress, no onions.

So supermarkets tended to depend more on the mainland suppliers who can tap whatever states’ farmers have what we need. If California’s down on oranges, Florida is not. But the quality. A peach never tastes like one. The avocado is rock hard. That spring lettuce has been hanging around in a cellophane bag for a long time. You bite into a Fuji apple and taste slightly sweet sawdust.

A lot of the prime local food our farmers grew went to the explosion of great Hawaii restaurants. But undeveloped land at an affordable price for agriculture is scarce here. You see what happened on that Campbell Estate farmland in Ewa. And even Kunia became a scam for “farmers” to build unpermitted houses and rent to tourists as TVUs.

Then we went into farmers’ markets. Some were fakes with stuff-off supermarket produce. Others were policed by the Farm Bureau, but as at KCC they moved more into offering small-plate food to Japanese tourists and less-and-less produce for local shoppers. The crowding made them a very uncomfortable experience. They’d have been fine if all those buses full of Japanese tourists had not found them to be a no-cost way to keep their paying customers happy for half a day.

Then came Covid. Goodbye tourists. Goodbye farmers’ markets. It was a long hiatus.

Now they are partially back. At least in some parks and at the Blaisdell Center. Not at KCC. Another operation called Farm Link Hawaii does home delivery or pick-up at several locations. The latter is very convenient because you order online Friday-to-Saturday and pickup (Banán across from UHM) Sunday afternoon, or Tuesday-to-Wednesday and pick up Thursday (there and other locations around Oahu.) Minimum order of $30. Banán workers bring your box out to your car in the back parking lot.

My argument is that the selection of produce is small except for bananas, lettuce and tomatoes. I’m a serious cook. I need more. Also, much of it is pretty pricey. I won’t pay $2.25 for a papaya.

I’m experimenting with Farm-to-Car now. Again, order online and pay by credit card. But ordering is on Sunday and pickup isn’t until Saturday. I can’t always wait that long for what I need. The offerings are much, much larger than Farm Link’s because this is an official Farm Bureau affair. You drive mauka on Ward from Kapiolani, pull into that large lot behind the Concert Hall, call your name, they’ll toss the box in your trunk, and you’re off to King Street, Beretania or the freeway.

It has a $25 minimum purchase, plus a $5 handling and credit card fee, so it’s also $30.

But will this last after Covid and restaurant reopenings?

I hope so. But probably not if the Land Use Commission keeps giving the green light to development reclassification because it plays to the 22,000 new houses we need and the property tax we’ll need even more. James Campbell Company’s empty land out in Ewa isn’t going to be leased to farmers. Why do you think it wanted to keep the cross-Koolau water tunnel going to its property? Housing, folks, housing. Not for farmers.

Farms to don’t make investors millionaires.




Published by Bob Jones

Journalist since age 19. St. Petersburg Times, Noticias y Viajes in Madrid, Overseas Weekly in Frankfurt and Paris, the Louisville Courier- Journal, the Honolulu Advertiser, KGMB-TV, NBC News foreign correspondent in Africa and Southeast Asia, and MidWeek columnist. LL.B LaSalle University Law. 3 years in the U.S. Air Force. Covered: Biafran War in Nigeria (1968) Vietnam War (1969-73), Iraq in 1991. George Foster Peabody Award for distinguished journalism for reporting in China. 2 Emmys for documentaries. Married to journalist Denby Fawcett; one daughter. Brett Jones, foreign service officer, State Department.

4 replies on “Can Local Farmers Give Us What We Want?”

  1. The question is answered with your last line. Without massive support from the State, in the form of long and cheap land leases, and reliable and cheap water, our farmers will continue to struggle. Can local farmers give us what we want? No, because “farms don’t make investors millionaires.”

  2. We wouldn’t need 22,000 new houses if we didn’t have thousands of housing units taken off the housing market and converted to TVUs.

    A lot of our problems come back to the lack of enforcement of laws against short-term rentals. I wonder how many owners of such properties were paying GET and TAT.

    How’d Mayor Kawakami get AirBNB and VRBO et al to agree to follow their rules?

  3. Thousands of old pineapple and sugar cane fields are laying fallow with hale koa and large trees beginning to grow on them as one drives from Wahiawa to Haleiwa. Why aren’t they being developed into farms? Lack of H2o? perhaps but bring on the pumps.

  4. Hawaii is closed but a few are trying to grow food. You can too. How many people have papaya trees that go rotting? Mangoes for a month but thousands of them. It is the lack of home gardens that show how dependent the unable are. Rely only on others. Grass yard important to the rich but food is not grown in the best weather for many plants. It is the lack of ability and self reliance that makes so many sheep in Hawaii. Keep crying Bob and maybe some one will feel sorry for you. It a problem if your making.

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