Kohala Center Receives Grant for Farmer Training Program
The Kohala Center recently received a $562,000 grant from the USDA to create and deliver Ku I Ka Mana, a beginning farmer training initiative in the Hamakua region.
The Center was able to secure the grant with matching funds from the County of Hawaii.
Part of a $18 million new farmer training initiative nationwide, the Kohala Center plans to recruit, train, and support at least 40 new farmers during the next two years.
The program will help these new farmers develop business plans, secure farm leases, gain access to farm equipment and materials, and successfully produce, market, and distribute their crops.
As part of this program, The Kohala Center is developing a farm training site in Honoka‘a, which will be used to teach successful farming practices.
The goals of Ku I Ka Mana, like that of state and county governments, island leaders, and community groups, are to increase local food production, decrease dependency on imports, diversify Hawai‘i Island’s rural economy, create jobs, and promote greater self-reliance.
Though there are abundant fertile lands and a 12-month growing season, the Big Island imports approximately 85 percent of its food from at least 2,500 miles away.
Issues such as food security, energy costs, and time required to transport perishable food make the need to increase local food production even more critical.
A recent University of Hawai‘i study identifies small-scale farms producing food for local consumption as the sector of Hawai‘i’s agriculture industry with the greatest potential for future growth.
However, recent Hamakua Community Development Planning workshops identified several challenges facing potential farmers and ranchers, including land costs, accessibility to capital, and distribution challenges.
“While a lack of knowledge and experience in farming and ranching discourages many prospective farmers across the country from entering the industry, Hawai‘i faces additional, unique challenges,” said Dr. Elizabeth Cole, deputy director of The Kohala Center.
“The Kohala Center and Ku I Ka Mana will help program participants navigate and overcome many of these barriers through education; access to leasable farmland, equipment, and materials; business planning; mentoring by successful island producers; and access to loans and other funding sources.”
Beginning farmers who successfully complete the training program and create viable farm and business plans will be able to work with the State of Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture to execute short-term leases on farmlands managed by the Hamakua-North Hilo Agricultural Coop, County of Hawai‘i, and Kapulena Agricultural Park, with the understanding that satisfactory farm operation start-up will allow for longer-term land occupancy.
“We plan for this to be a sustainable program that will live beyond the initial USDA funding,” said Jim Cain, director of Ku I Ka Mana.
“We anticipate harnessing the knowledge and successes achieved during the grant period to deliver the program in at least two other areas on the island in the future.”
Cain pointed out that Hamakua is an ideal place to start, and that given the breadth of viable and available agricultural lands, as well as diversity of crops that can be grown on island, the program could potentially generate positive results for decades.
Community members interested in learning more or applying to Ku I Ka Mana are encouraged to visit http://www.kohalacenter.org/farmertraining/home.html, or contact Jim Cain at [email protected] or call (808) 333-0457.