One theory suggests that instead of food, the main focus became oil, since it is the biggest nonrenewable commodity. Another theory points to permafrost.

By Clarissa Zeller, Student, AG230, Sustainable Agriculture, Fall 2017.

Map of permafrost.
Map of permafrost in Alaska. Source: NSIDC.

Growing up in Alaska I knew that most food (not including subsistence) I ate was not Alaskan grown, but imported goods. The figures are about 96 percent imported and three to five percent locally grown, showing a great imbalance and reliance of foreign goods. It’s know by the government that Alaska only has three to five days of food supply in times of state of emergency. Also, to note that the cost of food varies greatly the farther away from major cities due to transportation fees and difficulties. In the community of Sand Point a pound of grapes costs $6.49, where the average in the U.S. is $2.88—this is just one example of a village/small town in Alaska.

The big question is: Why don’t Alaskans grow more of their food?

A Mesoamerican method of agriculture, chinampa is an artificial cultivation system built in areas where water is the main natural resource present in the environment.

By Antonio Vera, Student, AG230, Sustainable Agriculture, fall 2017.

Man tending land near waterway.
One of the remaining Chinampas (farm island), Xochimilco, 2009. Photo credit jflo.

The chinampa, from Nahuatl chinampan, meaning “in the fence of reeds,” is a Mesoamerican method of agriculture and territorial expansion used by the Mexicas to expand the territory on the surface of lakes and lagoons of the Valley of Mexico. However, it is believed that it is a technique initiated in the Toltec era, although its maximum development was achieved in the sixteenth century. By 1519, this method of cultivation occupied almost all of Lake Xochimilco, and its combination with other techniques such as irrigation by canals and the construction of terraces, allowed to sustain a very dense population.

Agricultural modernization is essential to enhance the productive capacity of environmentally-friendly integrative farming systems, farm worker and food product safety, and thereby economic return per unit land area.

By Bruce Mathews.

Bruce Mathews
Bruce Mathews

Whenever there are allegations of pollution or health risks generated by a medium or large scale agricultural operation there are always people who blanket attack modern agriculture, technology, and corporations. They then often advocate for small farms, production methods of the past, or even worse strongly endorse unverified “miracle” practices.

The problem with looking too much to the past is that it can stifle support for innovation which is key to a resilient food-secure future, and rural economic development. Furthermore in our often romanticized view of small farmers feeding half the world we tend to easily forget that many of these people live on a subsistence diet and frequently suffer hunger and malnutrition due to low and (or) inconsistent yields.

In full circle, we were able to observe the work that these farmers had already done to shape their landscape, worked our hands in the soil and planted the cuttings that were harvested.

Students walking through taro patches.
Students make their way through six wetland taro patches.

We stood facing our hosts, our teachers for the day, the kua‘aina of the valley. Following traditional protocol, the chant Kūnihi ka Mauna presented us to Waipi‘o Valley, and more specifically Ka‘ilipu‘ueo. ʻAma Lilly, vice president of the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo Agriculture Club, lead us in this chant. It allowed the club not only to present themselves in reverence to a place rich with Hawaiian traditional legacies but also helped to set the tone for the day ahead.

The entire breadfruit tree is a multipurpose and useful resource.

By Damon Adamson.

Belonging to the Moracceae (Fig or Mulberry Family), breadfruit or ‘ulu in Hawai‘i encompasses four primary sub-species: Artocarpus altilis, Artocarpus incisus, Artocarpus mariannensis or Artocarpus communis. Grown in the Hawaiian Islands, as well as throughout the Pacific Basin area. They have been hybridized and many diversities have become prolific. There are currently 24 distinct species of breadfruit. Fruit size, shape, coloration, seeded or seedless, and seasonal ripening are a few of the differences.

In order to be competitive one needs to be farming at an economy of scale and price point differentials that work, particularly when the competition is imported from continent based mega-farms.

By Bruce Mathews.

Bruce Mathews
Bruce Mathews

While there have been calls for at least 50 years for the state of Hawaiʻi to improve its food self-sufficiency and hence food security, the progress to reduce dependence on imports has been painfully slow. This being said, community interest in increasing locally grown food is rapidly expanding. However, interest alone will not be sufficient to turn the dial substantially without major changes in consumer behavior or extreme market distortions.

Economies of scale

In order to be competitive one needs to be farming at an economy of scale and price point differentials that work, particularly when the competition is imported from continent based mega-farms. Even in Hawaiʻi the entrepreneurial produce farmer success stories that are most often mentioned tend to be on the larger side. It takes a unique mix of entrepreneurial skills, hard work, and capital access to make a decent middle class living let alone a small fortune as a family farmer. Locally grown produce may become more competitive as continental growers deal with increasing water costs and climate change.

Professor Lu presented academic reports at three universities and visited goat and sheep breeding farms and industrial technology demonstration bases.

Christopher Lu standing with colleague in sheep facility.
Christopher Lu (left) visits facility in China.
Professor Lu standing, speaking to large class of students on tiered seating.
Professor Lu addresses class during his trip to China.

Christopher Lu, professor of animal science at the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo, presented academic reports to the faculty and graduate students at three universities in China in May-June 2014. The trip was at the invitation of Sichuan Agricultural University, Hebei Agricultural University, and Anhui Agricultural University.

Lu also visited goat and sheep breeding farms and industrial technology demonstration bases, part of comprehensive test stations sponsored by ministries in China.

The first session will explore the concepts and practices of agroforestry that are most appropriate for farms and ranches here on Hawai‘i Island.

Zach Mermel
Zach Mermel

INSTRUCTOR:  Zach Mermel of OLA Design Group

COURSE LENGTH: 6-hour sessions, over a series of five Saturdays (30 hours total)

LOCATION: College of Agriculture Building, Room 102, University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, the adjacent UH Hilo greenhouse, and various agroforestry sites in East Hawai‘i

Session 1: Overview of Agroforestry Practices for Hawaii’s Farmers (March 14th).
In this introductory session, we’ll explore the concepts and practices of agroforestry that are most appropriate for farms and ranches here on Hawai‘i Island.

Over 60 varieties of dry land kalo have been cultivated by farmers on the Big Island.

By Rory Akau.

TaroWhile kalo (taro; Colocasia esculenta) is a common staple crop found throughout the South Pacific, Hawaiians were the only Pacific Islanders to produce pa‘i‘ai, or poi, from the kalo corm. Rather than spoil, poi ferments and was sometimes stashed alongside trails for hungry travelers.

To make poi traditionally, steamed or boiled taro corms are pounded between papa ku‘ i‘ai (wood board) and ku‘ i‘ai pohaku (poi pounder) with a small amount of water until the mixture forms a thick paste. This pulverizing action removes most of the air from the starch to extend shelf life.

At the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management at UH Hilo, we are concerned with food production and sustainability, and we value and promote all effective agricultural systems.

By Michael Shintaku, Professor of Plant Pathology.

Michael Shintaku
Michael Shintaku

We have some very serious plant disease problems in Hawai‘i, and plant disease issues keep farmers and conservationists awake at night, as disease-causing pathogens too often take everything away.

A good example of technology used for plant disease management is right in our own back yard. Papaya ringspot virus (PRSV) arrived in Puna in 1992 and rapidly spread through Puna and Kea‘au, killing every papaya tree it infected. The industry and almost every backyard papaya tree would be long gone if not for the transgenic solution provided by Dr. Dennis Gonsalves’s research team, who developed transgenic papaya plants (now widely planted) with PRSV resistance.