Many students and interested residents have asked the question: "How do you actually launch a new, successful and sustainable agricultural business?" And University of Hawaii Maui College professor and program coordinator Ann Emmsley of the Agricultural & Natural Resources Department came up with an answer by creating a new opportunity.
The barriers facing new agricultural businesses on Maui County can be daunting, especially for those who don't come from a farming family with experience and an established network. How do you access land and water resources? How do you market your business? What county, state or federal agencies can help?
To address these issues, Emmsley developed a New Farmers Institute that would help bridge her department's successful agricultural curriculum with the practical skills required by new farmers or agricultural entrepreneurs. This institute is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor through the Rural Development Project in the amount of $234,549. Students interested in the cohort can start in fall 2012, enrolling in the Sustainable Crop Production Associate of Applied Science program.
"The goal of the New Farmers Institute is to build a network that will assist students in the AG&NR (Agricultural and Natural Resources) program interested in farming become entrepreneurs or enter careers in agriculture and food systems," said Emmsley. "It will help them find internships to give them real-world experience while they're in school."
Cultivating the next generation of farmers is especially important considering that Hawaii imports much of its food and at the same time the average age of a farmer in Hawaii is 50 years or older. The dependency on Mainland and foreign sources of food leaves Hawaii vulnerable to transport costs and disruption in the transportation system. Produce transported across long distances is less fresh than locally produced fruits and vegetables. In order to increase food security and long-term agricultural enterprise in Hawaii, the number of small farm businesses growing a diverse number of crops needs to increase - sustainably.
"Students are looking carefully at the big picture, especially when it comes to sustainability," said Director Cynthia Nazario-Leary, who received her bachelor of arts degree in horticulture from Penn State and is pursuing her doctorate degree in Natural Resources and Environmental Management at UH-Manoa. "They want to incorporate sustainability at all levels of the farm, from growing the crops to structures they may have on the property."
The New Farmers Institute will seek to develop networks and partnerships with land-owners, markets and other agencies that can provide assistance with lease agreements, marketing tools and sources of funding and expertise.
"Resources are there for new farmers, but it's very spread out," said Nazario-Leary. "The institute will be a centralized place where participants can access that information easily."
One student interested in the institute is already thinking about creating a "learning farm" that would be open to the public and share information about sustainable farming practices.
"That's the ultimate goal," said Emmsley. "We hope that participants in the institute will be able to serve as mentors, not only for students in the college but also the community."
Anyone interested in joining the New Farmers Institute fall 2012 cohort needs to be seeking a degree or certificate in sustainable crop production.
For more information, call Nazario-Leary at 984-3752.
* Clyde Sakamoto is chancellor of the University of Hawaii Maui College. Ka'ana Mana'o, which means "sharing thoughts," is scheduled to appear on the fourth Sunday of each month. It is prepared with assistance from UH-Maui College staff and is intended to provide the community of Maui County information about opportunities available through the college at its Kahului campus and its education centers.