FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 2024.
The Maui Farmer Network (MFN) offers Farmer Navigational Coaching to small and beginning regenerative farmers across Maui County.
MFN was founded in 2021 to support small and beginning farmers in Maui County. Initial programming focused on farmer networking and education through one-on-one online coaching and webinars.
In 2022, MFN was funded by a grant from the County of Maui, Office of Economic Development. In 2023, with ongoing support from the County, a grant from Atherton Family Foundation supported the initial steps to create a Tool Library for Small and Beginning Regenerative Farmers on Maui.
As we enter into 2024, MFN is coaching and supporting about 45 farmers on a regular basis. Proudly entering its 3rd year of programming, MFN is supported by funding from the County of Maui’s NEWLY formed Department of Agriculture, and the Atherton Family Foundation.
“We’re focused on helping small and beginning farmers overcome obstacles and achieve their ag production goals.” said MFN Co-Founder and Coach Georgia Pinsky.
The Hawaii Agricultural Census revealed in 2017 that the average age of Hawaii’s farmers was 60.1. Fortunately, over the past 6 years, beginning farmer programs across the islands boast over 500 graduates. On Maui, a powerful new generation of family farmers are learning how to realize their goals of earning a living, increasing local food production, and honoring the ‘aina by using regenerative, climate smart farming practices.
The COVID pandemic, and more recently, the disastrous wildfires have had a profound effect on the agricultural industry. Many farmers suffered crop loss, as well as market loss. These kinds of impacts can be much more difficult for small and beginning farmers to overcome. In addition, many farmers donated thousands of pounds of food to hubs and food banks across the island to assist those in need. Programs like the Maui Farmer Network Farmer Coaching are critical in stabilizing and expanding the Agricultural Industry in Maui County, and across Hawaii Nei.
Farmers in the Hawaiian islands have always had trouble competing with mainland prices. With inflation putting pressure on family budgets, prices are prioritized when making a decision whether or not to buy local. How then can all these bright and inspired new farmers possibly survive and prosper? Fortunately, there are many resources available to bolster farmers in our County.
THE NEEDS OF MAUI’S NEW FARMERS
As MFN surveyed Maui island farmer training program graduates in 2021, 2022 and early 2023, they found that 92.3% of the 40 farmers polled were socially disadvantaged and 77% were women! In each of its’ yearly surveys, the farmers polled expressed a need for:
Access to tools and equipment used infrequently, but necessary such as a chipper to create wood chips made from pruning trees on their own farms
Help with access to land as leases in 40% of cases had become untenable
Navigation of the USDA Farm Service Agency loan programs
Assistance in record keeping, marketing, processing and distribution.
95% expressed the value they reap from being a part of a farmer support network.
100% said they want to provide ongoing food security for their families and their community, but need help in how to grow more food on limited acreage using regenerative methods
90% said they would participate in a food hub (aggregation and distribution facility)
60% have or had a need for Hawaii Department of Health required wash/pack facilities
Fencing to keep out invasive animals
PROFILES OF MFN’S CURRENT COACHING STUDENTS
During 2022, MFN’s first year of grant funded programming, 27 farmers applied to be coached via Zoom for an average of 16 hours each, as goals were set, modified, and accomplished:
A bee farmer found and purchased her own farm in Haiku and built a web presence
A permaculture consultant to many other farms on Maui, decided to purchase his own farm with coaching help.
An avocado farmer in Huelo looks to expand his orchards, feed Maui, and create an export facility for Sharwil Avocados.
A lo’i farmer born in Moloka’i wants to purchase family land in Waiehu, grow Kalo and process poi and other value-added products to sell to farmers markets and food trucks
A Napili farmer and Kim Chee maker, is assisted to sell her property and prepare to expand her value added product line.
A hemp farmer buys her own farm on Oma‘opio Road in Kula and plans for farm value added products and farm tours.
A farmer who focuses on growing Canoe Crops, buys a farm with his wife and two small children, and are doing farm tours as they develop their value-added products.
A Makena family farmer learns the rules and regs about farm to table to have on-farm events
Several farmers explore their first time selling their product at a local farmers markets.
AREAS OF COACHING ASSISTANCE
Having worked in Ag Support for many years now, Robinson and Pinsky have collective knowledge of the County, State and Federal system for agriculture. These two women have been able to save new farmers and even established farmers hours of arduous time navigating the complexities of:
Obtaining building permits for farm infrastructure
Purchasing or leasing farm land utilizing the USDA Farm Service Agency loan programs
Permitting systems for water access, plumbing and electrical codes and inspections
Off-grid rules and regs for catchment, gray water for irrigation
Methods of improving soil health and increasing production
Discovering what you want to grow, if there is a niche, how to price the crop, and understanding the best markets for those products
Learning how to create a unique brand through support from resources such as the Maui Food Innovation Center, the Kohala Center for Cooperative Business Development, the Hawaii Small Business Development Center, and GoFarm Hawaii
Incorporating agro-tourism into farm business and site plans
Attending networking events on one another’s farms
Taking part, as dues paying MFN members, in a Farm Tool and Equipment Lending Library funded by the Atherton Family Foundation.
Farmer Navigational Coaching is available to ALL MAUI COUNTY FARMERS!
“Overcoming Obstacles and Achieving Your Goals”
Application available at: www.mauifarmernetwork.com
FARMER TOOL LENDING LIBRARY “Got Trees? Need Wood Chips?”
Sign up for use of our 12” Chipper www.mauifarmernetwork.com/toollibrary
Usage Fee: $120/hour (3 hour minimum; includes operator, insurance, transport, and fuel)
Funded by: The Maui County Department of Agriculture and the Atherton Family Foundation. Fiscal Sponsor: Maui United Way