Drawing Attention to Food Self-Sufficiency

As big round figures go, this one is pretty remarkable: Hawai'i imports more than 85 percent of its food.

At the Taste of East O'ahu in April, I explored the implications, as well as the missed opportunities, presented by our incredible dependence on imported food. The underlying message conveyed at the event - organized, in part, to help promote hunger relief in East O'ahu - was that we need to protect and strengthen agriculture in Hawai'i.

Proceeds from the fund-raising event benefitted the Angel Network Charities, the only food distribution center in East O'ahu, and scholarships for the Calvary by the Sea Montessori School.

It might be hard to believe, but the state Department of Agriculture reports that if Hawai'i replaced just 10 percent of the food it imports with food grown locally, the shift would generate an estimated $188 million in sales and create 2,300 jobs.

Take, for example, the eggs produced on local farms. If twice as many Hawai'i consumers bought eggs supplied by local farms, instead of those shipped from the mainland, it would generate more than $17 million in sales and create 217 jobs, according to the Hawai'i Board of Agriculture.

It is evident that if we are to become more self-sufficient, then growing more of our own food must be a priority. Given that reality, we want to encourage all of our residents to request and buy locally grown food whenever possible.

For our part, our Administration's 2009 legislative package included initiatives aimed at increasing Hawai'i's food self-sufficiency as well as supporting our local agriculture industry. In fact, a measure that passed would establish a 15 percent price preference for locally grown food purchased by schools, prisons and hospitals.

The Taste of East O'ahu made it easy to see why it is important that we increase our support of local farmers, especially since current economic conditions have prompted more people to seek help at food banks. For instance, the Angel Network reports this year that an average of 160 people have been seeking its help every two weeks, compared to an average of 50 people last year.

By increasing our food self-sufficiency, we contribute to our state's economic recovery and help farmers by spending money on locally grown produce.