Proposed Waimea Community Agriculture Park hopes to grow new farmers

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Mike Hodson of Wow Farms shows Governor Neil Abercrombie around on Nov. 2, 2012, as they visit the 161 acres of Homestead land that has been acquired and is being developed for agricultural use.  (FILE PHOTO) Mike Hodson of Wow Farms shows Governor Neil Abercrombie around on Nov. 2, 2012, as they visit the 161 acres of Homestead land that has been acquired and is being developed for agricultural use. (FILE PHOTO)
New Waimea farmers work on constructing a greenhouse. (COURTESY PHOTO)
Future plans for the Waimea Agricultural Park. (COURTESY DIAGRAM)
In Waimea, new farmers build a greenhouse. (COURTESY PHOTO)

Imagine having the ability, land and resources to grow your own food — all while working next to neighbors and friends in a community agriculture complex. This is the dream of Mike and Tricia Hodson, of Waimea Nui Community Development Corporation Proprietary, who envision a Waimea Community Agriculture Park.

On behalf of the Waimea Hawaiian Homesteaders’ Association, Waimea Nui CDC secured 161 acres from the Department of Hawaiian Homelands several years ago. As part of the community development effort, Mike Hodson said 30 acres would be set aside to create an agriculture park with approximately 400 farming lots open to families and individuals. Available to anyone in the Waimea community, not just Hawaiian homesteaders, it would be an inclusive effort to build community.

“The idea was to make a place where the community can collaborate and have camaraderie,” said Mike Hodson. “If we create this type of environment, we can be food-secure in our community and not be so dependent on stores.”

The 400-plot Waimea Community Agriculture Park would include 5,000-square-foot lots with two greenhouses (providing a 22-by-96-foot area for indoor growing); 2,500-square-foot lots with one greenhouse; 1,500-square-foot lots with half a greenhouse and 1,000-square-foot lots of straight land. In addition, facilities to support the effort would include an anaerobic digester system, post-harvest processing plant, commercial kitchen, agriculture education offices and a farmer’s market. The purpose of the agriculture complex would be to develop and support local farmers with low cost energy.

“The Department of Ag has statistics showing we have one-third of the farmers than we had 30 years ago,” Mike Hodson said. “We are farming farmers for the future.”

Waimea Nui CDC has submitted a community improvement project bid to the USDA to fund the effort, and hopes to secure $3.5 million needed to begin infrastructure. The Waimea Community Agriculture Park is just one of 10 projects across the state that the USDA will consider funding this year.

“The day we get the funding is the day we start work on the project,” Tricia Hodson said. “But because this is still a work in progress, we need the community to show support for this project and to email or write letters to our legislators.”

The central driver behind the design and proposed operation of the agriculture complex is to revitalize the agriculture industry in North Hawaii. The Waimea Nui CDC team organizing the park has already successfully developed new farmers. In 2013, the “Veteran to Farmer” and “Farming for the Working Class” programs created 14 new Native Hawaiian Homestead farms, six owned by veterans. In January, 10 more people began the farmer training program.

“This project is a critical step in revitalizing agriculture and restoring food security in Hawaii. Paired with the Farming for the Working Class and Veteran to Farmer program, this project provides a model that we hope to replicate across the State,” said Russel Kokobun, chairperson of the state Department of Agriculture.

Tricia Hodson said the land, located behind Kanu o ka Aina Charter School, is the only state land available in Waimea.

“We still have the best land to grow with, and a lot of people would love to have a small parcel to farm,” said Tricia Hodson.

Waimea Nui CDC’s goals for the Waimea Community Agriculture Park include: grow to a 50 percent increase in region farm production by 2017, 100 percent by 2020 and 300 percent by 2025; create low cost fresh foods for local residents to improve diet, wellness and nutrition; lower the average age of farmers in the region to 50 by 2020, and 45 by 2025, and increase farm profits in the region by 20 percent by 2018, 25 percent by 2020 and 30 percent by 2022.

The Waimea Community Agriculture Park is an integrated facility that provides people who wish to farm at a small scale, a common place to begin farming, Mike Hodson said. He added that the park will enable new farmers to learn from others, to share equipment and to find new crops that interest them, as well as to learn how to optimize their crop production.

For more information, call Tricia Hodson at 960-2648 or email WNCDChq@gmail.com.