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Daily News Blog

19
Mar

As COVID-19 Disrupts Maui Community, Organizers Take Action for Local Agriculture

(Beyond Pesticides, March 19, 2020) As communities across the U.S. brace for an unimaginable health crisis and difficult economic times in the wake of COVID-19, the Beyond Pesticides Hawai’i team has linked arms with Maui’s small farms and community organizations to make sure local farms have the support they need to feed communities and stay in business. The virus is causing shutdowns of everything from farmers markets to restaurants, but community organizers in Maui are making an effort to transform COVID-19 related challenges into a spring board for long-term increase in locally produced, organic food—a sorely needed commodity in Hawai’i. 

Hawai’i is the most isolated island chain on the planet. Its fertile soil and climatic conditions coalesce to make Hawai’i potentially a major producer of nutritious food for its residents and for export. However, a complicated plantation history and off-island investment influence has skewed the economy toward tourism and development. The current stark reality is that 85-90% of Hawai’i’s food is imported, making the islands particularly vulnerable to disasters and global events that might disrupt the economy or infrastructure. 

COVID-19 is now disrupting the economy and local infrastructure of Maui.

Farmers markets and other public gatherings have closed. Tourism is down (which, for health reasons, many Maui residents support), causing reduced demand for produce from hotels and restaurants. Small farmers and value-added product producers on Maui watched their income streams dry up nearly overnight. At the same time, unprecedented crowds are showing up at big box stores to prepare for quarantine, buying food shipped in from all over the world, and leaving store shelves empty.

Determined to turn chaos into opportunity, community leaders in Hawai’i have started organizing to connect local farms to resident consumers in ways they hope will last far beyond the COVID-19 shutdowns.

In just a few days, The Common Ground Collective, a local non-profit, quickly launched an online, interactive Shop Local Directory, where consumers can search for locally grown/produced products in their area.

Through social media outreach and “the coconut wireless” (word of mouth), one organic farm doubled its CSA (community-supported agriculture) membership overnight. helping more farms set up CSA programs with digital subscriptions and front porch drop-off service, providing farms much needed business development support while limiting personal interaction during COVID-19 concerns.

From our Hawai’i Program Director, Autumn Ness: “Beyond Pesticides Hawai’i is dedicated to help set up necessary infrastructure and transaction systems to get local farm products to local consumers. We are here to help Hawai’i farms get through this crisis and also build long-term systems that drive demand to support the rapid increase in organic farming in Hawai’i. If you are a farm that needs help getting through the COVID-19 shutdowns, please contact us at [email protected].”

A letter from U.S. Representative Pingree of Maine to Speaker Nancy Pelosi this week illustrates how community farmers across the country are facing similar challenges. Rep. Pingree urged Speaker Pelosi to take actions to support these farmers, including emergency disaster payments, emergency farm loans, and suspending Farm Service Agency (FSA) loan payments. “We should provide emergency disaster payments to farmers selling fresh and minimally processed foods in local and regional markets that have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Rep. Pingree, “Disaster payments could be made available for donating products to the emergency food system that would have otherwise been sold to institutions, such as schools and universities, or through direct marketing channels, such as farmers’ markets.”

According to one Oklahoma farmer, “90%+ of our income comes from the market and the CSA we have. Like many other farmers, the next few months are going to be a time of trying to develop alternative marketing strategies. Our uncertain financial future for the year will have to take first priority. [M]y focus now is on finding creative ways of getting our produce to our customers in the most time effective means possible. But farmers are adaptable and innovative!”

Advocates say we can reimagine our food system with this kind of community engagement—not just in times of chaos, but even in normal day- to-day lives (when more normal times return). 

“Here’s the thing,” says Ms. Ness, She continued: “The chemical-intensive, industrial agriculture model dominates our food system because at one time small, diversified, organic farms were rapidly disappearing. While their numbers are starting to grow again, we have to make sure that organic farms are supported in times of crisis if we are to successfully regulate toxic pesticides in agriculture, increase organic food systems that feed us, and create solutions to the climate crisis. Communities across the U.S. can step up to support their local farms in this chaotic time. The future of our food system, as well as the long-term health of our people and local economies, depends on the choices we make in the next few months and how we turn those choices into long term systemic change.”

Beyond Pesticides, rejecting chemical-intensive practices, supports the transition to organic practices that promote plant resilience and decrease the need for toxic pesticide use and synthetic, petroleum-based fertilizers. In this time of calamity and as U.S. agriculture becomes increasingly toxic with increasingly lax regulations and the continued use of pesticides and other chemical-intensive practices, it is important to organize in your community and also go organic in your own garden.

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One Response to “As COVID-19 Disrupts Maui Community, Organizers Take Action for Local Agriculture”

  1. 1
    Ken Sanford Says:

    I am writing in support of legislation to support local and organic farmers who are hard hit by the current economic slowdown and closing of farmers markets and other places of business where fresh produce and other food products can be sold. Please make a special case for the support of these vital resources of fresh and locally products food products.

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