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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Farmers Union Supports Local FamilyFarms

by Diana Duff

Farmer’s organizations have a tough time. Farmers are an independent breed and, like cats, are hard to herd. The National Farmers Union is one organization that has stood the test of time at getting farmers united around agricultural concerns,however. The Union was founded in 1902,at a time when farmers were living very isolated lives on large pieces of land far from towns and other farms probably without all the connecting conveniences we have today. The Farmers Grange, the Farmers Union and the Farm Bureau all served as uniting forces for farmers in the early 1900s.

Though many granges have had to go online to keep farmers involved, the Farm Bureau and Farmer’s Union still survive. Each has a Washington bureau that lobbies for agricultural interests in Congress. Each has somewhat different agendas, however. The motto of the Farmers Union is “united to grow family agriculture”. They are committed to the family farm and have policies that differ from other agricultural organizations especially concerning genetically modified crops. You can read their policies regarding biotechnology at http://www.nfu.org/nfu-2015-policy/2066#_Toc416184483. They recently have come out to support informative labeling of all products containing genetically modified crops. Here in Hawaii where concern over the proliferation of genetically modified crops is rising, an organization with policies limiting GMOs was bound to attract local farmers, especially those with small, organic farms.

The Hawaii branch of the Farmer’s Union began holding meetings on Maui a few years ago. Oahu and Kauai now have active chapters and three chapters are getting going on the Big Island including ones in East Hawaii, Ka’u and Kona. The statewide organization has enjoyed a good year working with our state congress men and women to inform them of agricultural concerns and encourage their support for important bills.

This weekend members of the Hawaii Farmers Union United will meet on Maui to do some strategic planning for the organization’s future statewide. Harley Danielson, strategic planning expert from the National Farmers Union, will be on hand to help with the process. Scott Enright from the Hawaii Department of Agriculture is expected to attend as well. One part of their strategic plan will certainly be increasing membership. The Hawaii chapters have shown a seven fold increase in membership this last year and are hoping to keep that momentum going.

The localKona chapter is certainly part of that membership enthusiasm. President Steve Sakala is making sure to plan meetings that will interest farmers and attract new members. Currently the organization’s membership includes members from other key local agricultural groups including the Tropical Fruit Growers, the Kona Coffee Farmers Association, the Kona County Farm Bureau and the Kohala Center. Steve and his board are hoping to attract more local chefs as well as foodies and those interested in food security to join the Union as well.

Thecurrent board members have planned an excellent program for their upcoming meeting on Wednesday, April 29 to be held at Yano Hall in Captain Cook, across from the Manago Hotel. Knowing how farmers love a good meal, this meeting will begin at 5:30 with dinner. Member Howie Simon and owner of the Lotus Café will be providing the main dish. Attendees are encouraged to bring a side dish to share. To add to the encouragement, those who arrive empty handed will be charged a fee for dinner.

The program for this meeting is an additional attraction. Anna Lisa from the Kohala Center will be the
featured speaker. She will be explaining the farm to school grant that offers farmers the opportunity
to sell their produce to schools for student consumption. Several other HFUU members will speak on a
variety of topics. A new consulting company called FarmWorks Hawaii will share information on financial
support available to farmers. West Hawaii Master Gardeners will update attendees on their latest information
while others will give legislative updates and information about upcoming events of interest to farmers.
Included in almost every gathering of farmers is a produce exchange. This meeting is no exception.
Bring your excess and take home what you need.

If you haven’t checked out the Farmers Union, this is a good opportunity to find out what they are all about.
If you cannot attend this meeting, check out the information about the organization online at
http://hfuuhi.org/hawaii-farmers-union-united/ and consider going to” membership” to join.

DianaDuff is a plant adviser, educator and consultant living on an organic farm in Captain Cook.
Mo' Fresh. Mo' Betta.™

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