The engineer and entrepreneur Nolan Bushnell (@nolanbushnell) recently tweeted, “Innovation is inventing the future. Get on it. I want to live there.” Bushnell may not know Vincent Mina, the owner of Maui’s Kahuna Aina Farms and president of Hawaii Farmers Union, but Mina has his back concerning agriculture’s future.
I first met Mina at his farm, which is tucked away in a Wailuku neighborhood. There, he operates at maximum efficiency to grow micro greens on 2,000 square feet. The palettes that are currently growing will create the compost for the future crops. The harvest and wash room connect to the packaging and refrigeration room, which butt up to the driveway that holds the delivery van. It’s a very clean operation.
We sat in the kitchen where he washes his produce before it goes to market, between super-sized salad spinners for the micro greens and two huge crocks that made a “bloop bloop” bubbling sound as the fermenting process turned Maui grown veggies into probiotic-rich kim chee. It’s a product that will be on the menu at the upcoming 11th Body & Soil Conference on April 11, 12 and 13.
“Since our county is primarily a service-based economy, I feel a leveling of the playing field in promoting more of a production-based, diversified agricultural economy that would not only provide more jobs but more tourists who would love to see diversified, regenerative Hawaii family farms and not more strip malls,” Mina told me. “It’s our experience that they also want to eat more locally produced food and are appalled to hear that we import a majority of our food.”
The night before my farm tour, the Maui Farmers Union United held their monthly meeting. Food is a big part of these meetings, and everyone brings prepared dishes. After the welcoming circle, eating is first on the agenda. Mina is president of the group, both for the Maui Chapter and the Hawaii Farmers Union United’s state chapter. These unions are connected to the National Farmers Union, which was founded 112 years ago to create agricultural communities via legislature, education and cooperation.
“I want to see more government commitment to the small farmers,” Mina said. “Even Don Guzman, our Agriculture Chair, was bewildered that we do not have an agriculture department in our local government.”
This isn’t too surprising. On April 2, Noe Tanigawa of Hawaii Public Radio interviewed George Kent, Professor Emeritus at University of Hawaii and global food expert about the future of food in Hawaii. Kent says that Hawaii’s agriculture products largely were chosen for profitability–not nutrition or health.
“We have to get away from simply saying we need more land in agriculture,” Kent told Tanigawa. “We need to do more in terms of policy to make that connection between health and agriculture policy.”
Mina and his wife are doing exactly that. In 2001 they founded the Maui Aloha Aina group to promote life-nurturing practices for the body and soil.
I first heard about the Body and Soil Conference in 2010 but dismissed it as just for farmers. Mina disagrees. There’s something for everyone here, he said, from farmers to foodies. It’s about feeding your family with educated decisions and learning to be a cog in the local food chain. Mina’s ideas are visionary, but not far-fetched: In Michale J. Schiemer’s The Ultimate Nutrition Guide he writes, “Nothing tastes as good as being healthy feels.”
Crafting policies that provide financial rewards to farmers for recycling nutrients into the soil and creating nutrient-rich crops are what makes Mina tick. Another idea is creating an Agriculture Community Development Cooperative, which would support small farmers and ranchers, along with a support system to handle regulation, safety, marketing and other costly measures that draw farmers away from what they love: the actual farm.
Food sovereignty policies were big news this past March when communities in Maine voted in town hall meetings, deciding that creating food for each other superseded government regulation. In Naturalnews.com, JD Heyes wrote,
“According to the website FoodRenegade.com, Sedgwick is the first city in the U.S. to free itself from the constraints of federal and state food regulation. Published reports say the town has passed an ordinance that gives its citizens the right ‘to produce, sell, purchase, and consume local foods of their choosing,’ regulations be damned. The ordinance includes raw milk, meats that are slaughtered locally, all produce and just about anything else you might imagine.”
Mina says the Body and Soil Conference brings “presentations that articulate whole system strategies for regenerative agriculture and holistic health, working in concert with one another.”
Jerry Brunetti, one of our nation’s foremost speakers on soil and animal health, will appear for the seventh time, sharing his knowledge that helped him cure himself of lymphoma via holistic methods and refusing chemotherapy. Brunetti studied animal science at North Carolina State University and now teaches holistic animal remedies for farm livestock.
Heavy metal toxicity is a hot button, with exposure including airborne mercury, cavity fillings and fish consumption from polluted water. Dr. Chris Shade will speak about increased levels of heavy metals that can block your nutrient intake. He will also discuss how to boost your body’s ability to push out those toxins.
Dr. Patrick MacManaway from Scotland will help attendees with the primal aspects of growing and farming. “Research and experimentation over the last 50 years have shown us what perhaps our ancestors knew all along–that the ‘Spirit of Place’ where we farm, and the natural intelligence innate in the plants and animals that we work with are central to the success, resilience and sustainability of our practices,” MacManaway has said.
In addition, every day during the conference a local speaker will also present topics. Dragon’s Den’s Malik Cotter will talk super foods and herbs. Farmer Eva Lee from the Big Island will talk on April 11 about burgeoning tea crops. Seth Raabe, the founder of Maui’s Whispering Winds Bamboo, will take attendees through restoring and preserving local fertility.
There’s also a daily trade show of ecological and holistic vendors, and Mana Foods is behind this year’s Ma’a Signature Organic Farm Harvested lunch. The breakfasts and lunches will showcase our island’s home-grown, organic, pesticide-free and humanely raised foods, whipped up into dishes by Bruddah Willy of Maui Tropical Plantation, Epic Harvest, Maui Vegan Soups, Nancy Brown and John Cadman.
Mina said past conferences have actually led to the creation of new farms on Maui. “True investment is not what people pay to come but what they do with the inspiration when they move on,” he added. “In our current agricultural system I see baby steps toward regenerative farming. Our message is being spoken, just not loudly. I don’t have time for baby steps. I want to see this happen in my lifetime. Do our leaders have the time to make this happen?”
To register for the 2013 Body and Soil Conference, go to Mauialohaaina.org/2013-body-soil-conference.