What about Development?
“Probably not in my lifetime,” Benjamin has said, referring to A&B’s agricultural land. Until the end of 2016, the company farmed about 36,000 acres. In 2009, A&B selected 27,104 of those acres for designation as Important Agricultural Lands (IAL).
State law established the IAL designation, administered by the Department of Agriculture, in 2005 in hopes of keeping Hawai‘i’s most fertile soils in agriculture. Participation is voluntary, but the State provides tax credits and other incentives. A&B was the first landowner to petition for IAL status. “But,” says Arakawa, “A&B is a corporation, and like all corporations, it requires profits.” The acreage that A&B has not designated IAL lies along existing roads and towns and could perhaps be seen as a map for future development. “We are finding ways to maximize the benefits for them and for the community,” says Arakawa. “A&B has been a good partner.”
Farming . . . Anyone?
“We don’t have enough farming,” says the mayor, who was raised in a farming family himself. “We need people to stay in the agricultural field to have a different economic engine [other than tourism].” He then lists all the ways that farming on Maui is horribly challenging — the regulations, the cost of everything including laborers and the land itself, and a myriad of farm-ruining pests. Invasive goats. Pheasants. And soon all American farms will become subject to new national food-safety laws that favor big, corporate-owned farms and put survival-threatening constraints on small-scale farmers.
Gerry Ross, of Kupa‘a Farms, is a small-scale farmer and former earth-science researcher. He and his wife, Janet Simpson, inherited a depleted four-acre farm in Kula, and over thirteen years, have turned it into an organic ecosystem, thanks to Ross’s enthusiasm for soil health. (He has spoken at length with HC&S about large-scale composting systems that could transform the 27,000 tons of food waste generated on Maui each year.) He manages to operate in the black on those four acres by relying on local customers. He’s reluctant to lease former cane land only because he would live at such a distance from his fields. For a while he was eyeing twenty arable acres for sale in Kula, but the price was a million bucks. He spent four years developing a garlic that customers swore was the best in the world, but even when he priced it at the cost of production, local stores wouldn’t buy it. “Maui-grown” doesn’t seem to divert many residents from Costco pricing. Yet Ross believes that “a lot of tourists would love to eat more island-grown food. They ask, ‘Where’s all the local produce?’”