This past week I toured Kahumana Organic Farm on O’ahu as part of my broader research on urban food studies as well as prep for a student tour for my American Studies class. As part of our tour and tasting, I was guided by my friend and farmer at Kahumana, Rachel LaDrig — a Michigan native who has worked at the farm for a year specializing in tours and volunteer coordinating.
Rachel gave us an overview of the farm’s social justice and business initiatives within Hawai’i’s current context before letting us graze on tasty greens and fruits as we strolled through one tiny part of the farm.
Here are my takeaways that I hope you take back to your community:
1. Farms are cities. Kahumana Organic Farm is way more than just a farm — it’s a movement to center farming in communities by connecting food, the environment, health, and society. Although I visited the tour center in Wai’anae, the farm includes other fields, markets, and learning centers across the island.
Each campus is part of a larger holistic approach to resolving issues of homelessness, disability, and poor health plaguing the island. The farm runs a transitional housing program in Wai’anae where one of the highest concentrations of native Hawai’ians left have some of the highest rates of poverty, unemployment, and homelessness. Well more than half of Wai’anae’s population lives below poverty level. Additionally, Wai’anae is home to a large portion of Hawai’i’s disabled and differently-abled citizens that are lost in the education system as well as a quick and pretty tourist-driven society. Learning centers provide opportunities for people with learning disabilities to engage with food and farming and learn skills with the hope of gaining stable employment in the agricultural and food service industries on the island.
The farm’s message of organic and holistic approaches to food also attract more well-off agri-tourists who dine in the restaurant, sleep in the retreats, and take yoga classes alongside the farmers and others from the Wai’anae community. The farm would not grow without everyone working together, producing together, consuming together, and supporting the integrated mission of community sustainability. Yet the farm cannot resolve these demands on its own.
2. Farmers are everyone. Quite often in American society and history, we envision the farmer as an older white male. This image stems from the idea of the yeoman farmer – what Thomas Jefferson idealized as the self-sufficient man farming to suffice his family’s needs. Jefferson argued that the future of the republic depended upon supporting the yeoman farmer as the backbone of America.
This image of the white heterosexual older male family man farmer was reinforced through the arts during the Dust Bowl and Great Depression that mourned for their loss, yet the image persists today.
Yet Rachel at Kahumana reminds us that everyone is necessary to farming because farming is everything. Farmers pick crops, plant seeds, and water gardens, yes, but they also deliver crops, cook and sell food, plan routes, give tours, and teach about farming. Kahumana excels because it dismantles the single farmer by revealing a kaleidoscope of farm work that necessitates an entire community of support and, in doing so, supports the entire community. Farmers are every gender, every sexuality, every race and ethnicity, every status of citizenship, every income level, every level of education, and a range of abilities.
3. Farming happens every day. Being raised in South Georgia, I was reminded constantly of how life revolves around the harvest. Our school schedules break for the summer to allow kids to lend helping hands in the fields, our bus routes drive along the fields to pick up farmworkers’ kids… Yet we live in a world of immediate gratification. Our diets and culinary interests are no longer dependent upon the seasons or climates. Grocery stores have enabled us to buy whatever vegetable we want at any time. In a place like Hawai’i where the growing season is year round, farming happens every day.
Because Kahumana produces green mixes for more than a dozen restaurants on the island, every single day seeds are planted to grow that mixture, every single day farmers weed and water and clear bugs, and every single day farmers plan to sell their products to restart the cycle all over again.
Federally-supported big agriculture over the past century that has pushed monocrops, GMOs, and technology-driven production have made food cheaper by using immigrant and domestic low-paying farm labor, mass production technology and machinery, yet they’ve also alienated us from the process of food production as central to community sustainability. Making farming an everyday practice that requires everyone’s participation equals resilience.
Kahumana Farms is one of several organic farms in Hawai’i and part of a growing movement of food-centered community building to support the health, well-being, and stability of Hawai’i’s kama’aina. And when you eat local, you’re able to taste how the local climate makes foods taste radically different from one zone to another.
Pro tip for those going on the Kahumana Farm tour, get Rachel to let you sample the different greens straight from the field – you’ll experience a spectrum of tastes from spicy like wasabi to mustardy and refreshing.
Find an organic farm in your community: https://www.localharvest.org/organic-farms/ and explore others when you travel: http://wwoofinternational.org/ And share your ideas for making organic farms the center of sustainable communities, families, bodies, and environments!