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Chancellor takes farm tour with stakeholders of innovative community development initiative

One of the farming programs planned is the “Veteran to Farmer” initiative, for which UH Hilo is proposing a new undergraduate certificate in agriculture solely for U.S. military veterans.

Group photo taken in a pastoral setting.
Pictured is the Waimea Hawaiian Homesteaders’ Association site visit to the community land development project featuring 161 acres that will be developed for a community cemetery, native Hawaiian health clinic, community agricultural park, community center, green waste digester facility, recreational fields, and more. Represented are organizations from the Department of Hawaiian Homelands, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Kamehameha Schools, University of Hawaii at Hilo, Kreske Foundation, Bill Gates Foundation, First Nations, the White House, and Governor Neil Abercrombie’s office. Photos courtesy of Risse Ala of Wow Farm.
Chancellor Straney with D. Noelani Kalipi, seated.
Chancellor Straney with D. Noelani Kalipi at the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement Foundation’s site visit in Waimea last week. Mrs. Kalipi is president of Tileaf Group, a locally-owned Native Hawaiian advocacy and communications firm. She is also part of the Waimea Nui Regional Community Development Initiative team. A former staffer for U.S. Senator Akaka and a Native Hawaiian veteran, Mrs. Kalipi testified in May to the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs about the “Veteran to Farmer” program being established on the Big Island.

University of Hawai‘i at Hilo Chancellor Don Straney participated in a Homestead Farm Tour in Waimea on the Big Island last week. The purpose of the tour was to bring together many of the stakeholders and facilitators involved in the Waimea Nui Regional Community Development Initiative,  a grassroots project involving community groups, Native Hawaiian leaders, and county, state and federal government. The overall vision of the initiative is to create pathways toward self-sufficiency.

From the project’s brochure:

The Waimea Nui Region covers in excess of 27,000 acres of Homestead Lands on which 536 leases have been awarded. The Homestead is part of the Waimea Community which has a population of about 14,000 people of which roughly 40% are of Hawaiian decent. Waimea is a diverse traditional agriculture region, with strong opportunities from both its human and natural resources.

The Waimea Nui Homestead community is composed of land used for residential, agricultural, and pastoral purposes, as designated by the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act (HHCA). Currently, there are limited local economic opportunities for the Waimea Nui Region residents and most commute 40 to 50 miles a day to the Waikoloa Coast for employment.

The Waimea Nui Regional Community & Economic Development Program is a beneficiary driven, shared community effort. The purpose is to create the fundamental infrastructure needed to build a vibrant, self-sufficient community grounded in traditional Hawaiian values.

People seated at long table having meal.
The Farm Tour luncheon was hosted by Wow Farm featuring Chef Babian and Chef Nick from Hualalai Four Seasons Resort. Lunch was prepared on site of Wow Farm featuring Wow tomato Bloody Mary’s, local greens, shrimp and opah entrees, and a Wow tomato sorbet. Music was performed by local entertainer Kunia Galdera.

The replicable and innovative models of the Development Initiative can service other communities and be duplicated to suit the needs of other. The next step is a Master Plan which integrates a series of community service and economic development projects specifically designed to promote the resilience and self-sufficiency of Waimea, facilitate timely and comprehensive community based growth focused on 6 specific areas with corresponding goals:
1) Community Facilities
2) Farming and Ranching
3) Health and Wellness
4) Fitness and Recreation
5) Economic Development
6) Utilities

Group photo
(l-r) Chancellor Straney; Tui Ala, son of Wow Farm owners; and David Ruf of Rivertop Solutions. In the background are grantees bending and fabricating greenhouses at the Wow Farm site visit.

Veteran to Farmer Program

One of the farming programs is the “Veteran to Farmer” initiative, a community-based program for which UH Hilo is proposing a new undergraduate certificate in agriculture solely for U.S. military veterans. The program will provide a certificate level hands-on farming skills training curriculum, classroom-based business training, business start-up support, and health monitoring for veterans.

Partners in facilitating the Veteran to Farmer program along with UH Hilo include Rivertop Energy Solutions (a project-planning firm assisting with development of the initiative), Hawai‘i Community College, the State Department of Agriculture, the Department of Hawaiian Homelands, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Mealani Research Station, the Pu‘ukapu Agricultural Community Facility, Native Hawaiian leaders and organizations, several community-based groups, Wow Farm and other local farmers in Waimea on the Big Island.

A key goal of the program is to enable veterans to develop the necessary skills to farm while also addressing the difficulties many face in transitioning back to civilian life after military service. Completion of the program can enable veterans to create new farm businesses, and to meet the requirements to acquire the leases and loans needed to start a farm. Some participants who complete the certificate program will be ready to pursue a bachelor’s degree at UH Hilo in addition to becoming farmers.

Photos courtesy of Risse Ala of Wow Farm. Information on Waimea Nui Regional Community Development Initiative provided by David Ruf of Rivertop Energy Solutions. Mahalo!

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