I tagged along Saturday morning while Richard gave a really interesting farm tour to some University of Hawai‘i at Hilo students. They listened and asked questions and seemed very engaged.
Asisstant Professor Jon Price brought 12 of his Introduction to Environmental Studies students, and Assistant Professor Kathryn Besio brought a similar number from her Food and Societies course, which is offered through the university’s geography department. In addition, there were a couple students present from the Keaholoa STEM program.
Jon Price told his Environmental Studies students that they have covered agriculture, energy and biodiversity in class, and that during the tour he wanted them to think about how those subjects relate to each other, and come to some conclusions. I think Richard gave them a lot to work with.
He took them around the tomato packing house, the banana operation where Williams bananas were hanging in neat rows and to see the banana fields and some of the greenhouses.
“Everything you’re looking at now,” he told the students, motioning to the farm, “was planned five years ago. You’re not looking at today. You’re looking at yesterday.” He told them that he plans for five years out—or 10, or 20.
Yesterday, he explained—five years ago—oil was $30/barrel. Today it’s almost $100/barrel. He talked about how five years ago he was already thinking about sustainability and getting away from oil dependence.
He talked about how industrial agricultural—the big operations on the mainland—largely rely on oil for their refrigeration, packing, etc., which keeps up the prices of food that is imported to Hawai‘i. “Eventually,” he said, “as oil prices continue getting more expensive, and imported food prices keep increasing, local farmers will be in a better position.”
These days at the farm, he explained, they are working on “tomorrow.” He talked about the hydroelectric plant that’s in the works at Hamakua Springs, which will use the farm's abundant spring and stream water to generate enough power to run 15 refrigerated containers around the clock.
And about biodiesel. Banana waste, supplemented with oil, can be turned into biodiesel fuel, he said.
He talked about working with the farm’s local community and having family units growing different produce at the farm. The farm will help, in terms of pest control and food safety, and if the produce is up to standards the neighbor farmers can market it at the upcoming Hamakua Springs farm stand.
He talked about the farm stand he's opening soon, so farmers who work with Hamakua Springs will have an outlet for their products and so people from the community won’t have to drive into town as often.
He talked about the importance of knowing your neighbors, and trading, say, the ‘ulu you grow for whatever it is they have. He talked about how, in a future where gasoline prices are exorbitant, we might change our driving habits and our entertainment habits too, and entertain more at home by cooking big meals for family and friends.
Charlotte Romo, the farm’s hydroponics specialist, spoke a little about her background as a crewmember in the Biosphere, where they produced enough food on 1/3 of an acre to support 7-10 people.
She talked about the hydroponic system at the farm and how intensive it is. For instance, the farm uses 450 acres to produce four million pounds of bananas per year, as opposed to its 2 million pounds of tomatoes, which grow on only 15 acres.
Richard told them that before it was about making money; but now it’s about “How are we going to feed the people? We have 1.5 million people on this island. If we use hydroelectric and grow more food, we may be able to feed more people.”
“This is about common sense,” he said. “Look at the problem, and don’t get stuck on what others say.” He summed it up on an optimistic note: “It sounds grim, but the harder things are, the more opportunities come up.”
Hawai‘i is fortunate, Richard told the students, because we have sun energy all year long. “I recently attended a conference in Houston,” he said, “on peak oil, and when I left I didn’t have the nerve to tell the people there that we have energy from the sun all year long.”
Richard told the students he is confident that we can start educating people and making changes now to cope with an oil crisis that will gradually affect most aspects of our lives. “From what I see," he said, "I feel the future is bright because of people from your generation."
—posted by Leslie Lang