Minnesota Farmer

Sourcing food in Paradise

On my recent American Farm Bureau Federation trip to Hawaii I got into a few discussions about the food available in paradise.  When we are in such a lush area we may think that getting food would be no problem.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

First off you have to remember that Hawaii has a limited amount of land that is suitable for farming.  Much of the big island of Hawaii is covered in lava rock and has trouble supporting a goat.  The areas that are in production are mostly for raising cattle.  The largest cattle ranch in the United States is in Hawaii.  Little of the island is either suitable, or gets enough rainfall for production of food.

While on Oahu we drove past large areas that do get enough rainfall, and do have good soil for food production, but these areas are fallow.  Since sugarcane and pineapple production moved to other countries where labor is cheaper, no one wants to farm the land.

Hawaiian acres that are farmed are mostly used for the production of high cost items like coffee and macadamia nuts.  There are areas that seed companies use to get a winter crop of corn or soybeans, but again these are high value crops.  Very few are raising the staples needed for everyday life.  There is an abundance of tropical flowers, but most flowers cannot be eaten.

You would think there would be an abundance of fresh seafood in Hawaii as they have a tradition of farming the sea.  The shrimp industry is supplied by many farm raised shrimping operations, as well as both fresh and salt water ponds for fish production.  Most of these are sold to tourists at roadside seafood shacks.

But my conversation with a chef in one of the larger restaurants in Honolulu showed me some cracks in the food supply.

  • Despite having the largest cattle ranch in the country, there is nowhere to process these cattle.  Cattle must leave the island to be processed, so there is no major source of locally grown beef.
  • The islands large chinese population eats a lot of pork, but there are no large pork producers on the islands, and pork must be sourced elsewhere.
  • While Hawaii seems to be a fisher mens paradise, most of the fish eaten in Honolulu is shipped from other countries.
  • Despite the large amount of vegetables used in cuisine for those who like the oriental cooking preferred by so many in Hawaii, most is imported.
  • Rice, a stable in most of the meals eaten in the islands, is not grown here.

The list goes on.  In short, Hawaii is a land on the edge.  One person I talked to estimated that there was enough food on the islands to last 5 days, perhaps less in the more populated regions.  Wow, what will it take to put Hawaii over the edge, not much.  In fact, Hawaii, like most other large cities in the world cannot survive long if we have a major transportation problem.

Our modern world has become so dependent on so few to be sure it is fed everyday.  A shortage of transportation fuels would doom so many unprepared people.  I live in an area of abundance of food, yet a large snowstorm can decimate the shelves of the local grocery.

Hawaii and its food supply is a warning.  Where is your next meal coming from.  Are you sure there will be food to eat if something happens to our food distribution system.




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