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Photo: S. Halas

Hawaii Farmers Union United Hosts State Convention on Maui

Three days of ag events at Tropical Plantation Waikapu, Nov 13-14-15 (Fri-Sun)

Hawaii Farmers Union United (HFUU), a statewide agricultural organization, hosts its fifth annual convention at the Maui Tropical Plantation in Waikapu. The event runs Friday November 13 through Sunday, November 15 and features a mix of agricultural and food,  and some related events that are free and open to the public.

Opening remarks are slated for Friday night featuring Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-2nd Congressional District ) a member of the US House of Representatives, who will be joined by her father, State Sen. Mike Gabbard (D-20th Senatorial District- Oahu) who chairs the Hawaii Senate’s Water Land & Agriculture Committee.

Mauian, Simon Russell, 42, HFUU’s Vice President is the lead organizer for the convention. An agenda can be found on line at http://hfuuhi.org/events/2015-hfuu-convention/. There are admission fees for the food and entertainment segments of the weekend program, but other aspects of the gathering are open to the public at no charge.

 Simon Russell, 42, HFUU’s Vice President Photo: S. Halas
Simon Russell, 42, HFUU’s Vice President Photo: S. Halas

According to Russell, there will be free information tables hosted by a variety of agricultural agencies and organizations will be set up on Sunday. Those attending include: Farm Services Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Hawaii Ant Lab, Maui Invasive Species Committee, Hawaii Department of Agriculture, College of Tropical Agriculture Cooperative Extension, Sustainable Living Institute of Maui, Maui College Ag Program, Maui Master Gardener Program, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTHR) Sustainable Organic Agriculture Program, and International Certification Services.

Also open to the public are reports from each of the organization’s nine chapters which will be presented in the Millhouse Restaurant on the Plantation grounds between 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on Sunday. These include four from  the island of Hawaii chapters, three from Maui and one each from Kauai and Oahu.

Meanwhile outdoors in the same time slot, near the Millhouse Restaurant, a seed and plant exchange will be another featured event. Participants and visitors are encouraged to bring cuttings, plants and seeds to trade.

Simon credited organization president Vincent Mina with bringing the HFUU to Hawaii and working hard to encourage its rapid growth here by advocating for sustainable agriculture and the interests of the small family farm. These include growing healthy locally produced food and supporting the local economy. “It is not a requirement to be organic,” he said, “but many of our members follow organic practices.”

hfuu-convention-2015x300 farmers unionThe group was first founded on Maui in 2009 and now has approx. 865 members throughout the state. Of that number about 400 are Maui based. He said the growth has been particularly strong in the past year where membership grew by approx. 200 dues paying members. Russell identified the HFUU constituency as, “farmers, gardeners and food people — who care about what they eat. “ The HFUU Hawaii chapters are affiliated with the National Farmers Union, a nationwide organization established  in 1902. (http://www.nfu.org/). Annual membership is $50 per person or groups of four can join at the ‘Ohana’ rate of $100.  A list of benefits for members can be found on the organization’s web site (http://hfuuhi.org/about/hfuu-member-benefits/).

Russell anticipates attendance at the convention at about 300 participants and that the event took over nine months to plan and cost over $70,000 to produce, adding that that number would increase to “six figures” if all the in-kind and volunteer work was counted. He ended our conversation with wanting to thank the 20 private sponsors who assisted in making the convention a reality. No county or state funds were involved.

In addition to his work with the HFUU and organizing the convention Russell is a member of the State Board of Agriculture. He was appointed by Gov. Ige in April 2015. His appointment runs through June 2016. Russell fills the post vacated by Molokai farmer Lynn DeCoite when she was appointed to fill a vacancy in the State House of Representative created by the death of Mele Carroll (D-House District 13 – East Maui, Molokai & Lanai). The Board of Agriculture has ten members and oversees the operation of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture. (http://hdoa.hawaii.gov/chair/boa/boamembers/)

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About Susan Halas

Susan Halas is a Senior Political Contributor at MAUIWatch. She has followed Hawaii politics since 1976 when she moved to the Valley Isle. She was formerly a staff writer for the Maui News as well as other local print and digital publications.

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