by Joni Kamiya, Hawaii Farmer’s Daughter, September 8, 2016
Every week for the last few months, I’ve been working on Sundays to be off on Tuesdays. I may not work my regular job but I do spend a full day at my folk’s farm. I decided to take on working 6 days a week to help them out since I do have that flexibility. For that I’m blessed that I have the ability to do that.
Working back on the farm is a huge reminder of how hard it is to really get food put on our tables week after week. It’s something too many of us take for granted when we get to drive to air conditioned markets and pull out a shopping cart and leisurely pick up what we want to eat each week. That is really a luxury that each and everyone has while living in modern times. For some people, that is just hard work because they have to go through hundreds of selections to decide which is the best for them.
As I stood over the large papaya bins this past Tuesday, I really was up close with nature. I had several nice big, brown spiders crawl up my arm and down my leg. Some earwigs made their way up my arm. A yellow jacket came buzzing close to my head as I leaned over to grade the papayas picked the day before. Some ants crawled up my arms and bit me on my neck leaving me with itchy welts. Occasionally, I find a baby centipede crawling around too. I picked up papayas weighing just a few ounces to some weighting nearly 3 lbs. Multiple that by the over 1000 I likely sorted out. Working on the farm is plenty exercise in a day and I wasn’t even the one picking papaya the day before either.
The sun was beating down on my legs as I pulled the fruit out one by one and sorted them into two washing tubs. An occasional rain would hit and then the feeling of mugginess would come over us as we washed, graded, packed and stickered the fruits. It’s pretty monotonous work that very few people want to take on. When my brother’s young farm hand left to try his luck on the mainland, we had very few applicants wanting to work on the farm. With the cost of farming going up, it’s hard to have lots of workers on hand to help do all of the labor involved. It’s almost unaffordable given all the regulations we face as a farm and as a business.
It’s even maddening to see leaders like Governor Ige touting to increase local food production to the World Conservation Congress. His idea is to give loans to young farmers. Seriously, how is that one approach going grow our food when the young people aren’t even the least bit interested in getting their hands dirty? Much of their experiences of growing things are coming from teachers and school gardens. Part of some teacher’s curriculum is to show movies like Food, Inc. to plant thoughts about our food systems rather than to go to the science of food production. Skewed ideas and opinions form from these sources unfortunately. Learning to grow things in gardens is a start but teachers must realize the economics of farming includes how to produce food year round for the masses. Learning about farming must come with asking more questions rather than giving kids what to think. If you’re garden doesn’t grow, what will a kid do to get food? For many kids, the answer is go to the store.
I almost think it needs to be mandatory for every policymaker to come and work on the farm before they can even talk about what policies they want to make. I’ll never forget the meeting the Farm Bureau set up with legislators some 3 years ago to educate them our needs in terms of legislation we needed. While they sat and listened to the stories of my dad, Dean Okimoto, and others in the business, so many nodded their heads in agreement. Then at the end of it, Senator Donna Mercado Kim said that she heard us out. She continued on and said, “Well, I have a suggestion. The farmers need to do more to educate the public.” Then I saw all the other politicians nod in agreement with her on that statement.
I’m not one to have my blood boil, but that day, I truly felt so angry that I have never forgotten those words and the people in that room. I really get mad when I see them talking so much about supporting the farmers and then in action, they do something completely different. Simply going after a law to stop ag theft isn’t going to make farming easier. Raising wages without any consideration for the economics of our business isn’t going to grow more food. Adding more regulations like food safety and other things like pesticide disclosures don’t add to people wanting to farm or even being able to financially cover those costs to start selling their products. The world of rules and laws that aren’t thoroughly vetted out is what keeps adding to the burdens we face.
Every Tuesday, I come home dirty, sticky, and tired. My hands and body aches sometimes from the labor of the farm. My home still has work to do from picking up my kids, feeding and bathing them, doing homework, and getting them to bed. I could be totally fatigued by all the daily things I do but I’m not. I don’t let those things get to me. I want people to learn the story of our farm and family. Our story isn’t much different from any other farming family’s one either. Whether you’re a consumer or a politician, realize that the food that nourishes you was grown by someone who has worked tremendously hard to make it easy for you. You’re unbelievably lucky to have the life you do because of us family farmers.