It’s a new year and Class 15 is back together exploring Hawaii Agriculture. We are on Oahu and our theme for this seminar is Hawaii Agriculture in the context of food distribution, food systems, export, and its intersect with government. Today we visited the state legislature, and since we are in the opening week of this years legislative session, energy was high and everyone was primed to make a difference.
Being my first visit to the Hawaii State Legislature, I’m going to outline my top three lessons learned.
Lesson 1: The passion is there but there are still crucial needs. (a.k.a. money…)
We had the opportunity to meet with Scott Enright, the Chair of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture. We had a very frank yet short conversation with Scott, but it was eye opening. Scott told us that the Department of Agriculture has 0.4% of the state budget and he also told us that in the legislature money is love. Frankly, if you receive money then they love you. So, what do we need to do to? We need to connect, weigh-in and talk with our representatives and senators to educate them on the needs of agriculture so we can see the love (a.k.a. money…) Scott stated, “We don’t have enough Aggies in the legislature.” So basically, get involved! Do your civic duty and try to move that .4% to .8% and drive progress. It will take work, but and if it’s not hard then it’s not worthwhile.
Lesson 2: The state has a huge responsibility with our land and the responsibility that goes with it.
We also met with Suzanne Case and Kekoa Kaluhiwa with the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DNLR). The DNLR manages 1.1 million acres of land and 3 miles of ocean, from mauka to makai, literally. With only $150 million dollar budget how do you draw the line between protecting land for conservation for public enjoyment and agriculture. As we’ve seen with the recently with the announced closure of Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company and the celebration that came from the public. How does the state allocate and support lands that the public feels that that they know how to best utilize, but ultimately are not realistic? Our meeting with the DLNR was realistic, they are conscious of agriculture and the needs of the community, but where can they help both. Land stewardship is their ultimate goal, whether it’s agriculture or public enjoyment, let’s ensure they have the support and knowledge to make the best decision possible.
Lesson 3: There is NO reason to not be informed and involved.
One our last stop in the morning was at the Public Access Room which is funded by the Legislative Reference Bureau and its purpose is to provide a platform for public knowledge. If you have a focus or bill, the Public Access Room will help you get involved. In true democratic spirit the Public Access Room is the true opportunity to be involved in the legislative process. If you want to make a difference and influence the lawmakers, it’s is the starting point.
Overall, my first day at the Hawaii State Legislature was eye-opening, depressing, and promising all at the same time. If we want to make a change and grow agriculture in the state, then make sure you are properly informed and get involved!