Their islands battered by climate change–induced rising seas, many in American Samoa and the Marshall Islands are leaving their home nations at some of the highest emigration rates in the world. Often, they move to Hawaii, where they frequently have trouble finding jobs, and, like native Hawaiians, face the highest food prices in the U.S. Unable to afford healthy foods, these two demographic groups rely on high-calorie processed foods, contributing to the worst health profile of any U.S. ethnicity. Seeking a win-win solution that can provide income for farmers and healthy, affordable food for Hawaiians, Ho‘oulu Pacific has developed a “distributed agriculture” model that uses small, household farms to grow fish and vegetables in aquaponic systems, then redistributes that food to local communities. Six times more productive than traditional farming while using 98% less water, the group’s prototypes have already produced 50 types of fresh produce and fish, yielding all of the servings of fish and vegetables that a family needs plus significant surplus. Ultimately, Ho‘oulu Pacific aspires to expand to other U.S. Pacific Island territories, giving immigrants from climate-threatened islands a fresh opportunity to stay healthy and at home.
Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities face some of the greatest health challenges of any populations in the world. These challenges are made even more pressing due to the increasing effects of climate change. Ho‘oulu Pacific works to improve self-sufficiency and holistic health in communities through innovations in farming and distributed agriculture.
As keiki o ka ‘āina (Hawaiian for “children of the land”), we grew up aware of the challenges of living on an island (e.g., scarce land and water resources, limited agriculture, impending effects of climate change, and expensive shipping). However, it wasn’t until we worked at a business based in a low-income community and developed close friendships with co-workers who were residents there that we fully grasped the severity of these challenges for low-income island populations: nutritional deficits, poverty, and the negative health effects of malnutrition. Many residents cannot afford fresh vegetables and fish and instead must consume cheaper, nutritionally-devoid processed foods. As a result, these residents suffer some of the world’s highest obesity and diabetes rates.
One of the goals we have set for our organization is to become completely financially self-sustaining. We want the revenue we earn from selling produce and fish to completely cover our operations and to fund our expansion into more and more homes. We are trying to grow and distribute as much nutritious fish and vegetables as possible and as efficiently as we can.
We are fortunate to have the opportunity to build on the work of aquaponic pioneers in Waimanalo who were also master community organizers. They taught us the importance of trying to involve the entire community in our work and that our goals should not only be to help families to grow their own healthy food, but also to teach families how to best use the food that they grow. We are inspired by the staff of the Center for Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources at the University of Hawai‘i and the entire Hawaii aquaculture/aquaponics community. They work tirelessly, pushing the boundaries of what aquaponics can become and they generously and patiently share their knowledge with us. We are also inspired by the boards of the organizations that have funded us throughout our journey. These leaders had the vision and the courage to try something new and untested and to put their faith in us. We are very grateful.
The incredible group of families in our pilot program in Waimanalo, Hawaii, has approached each challenge they face with creativity and persistence, and we are all learning together. These families agreed to take a journey with us and to explore a very different sort of business model. They understand that they are growing food…not just for themselves…but for their neighbors in the Waimanalo community and beyond. Our organization’s success depends on participants who buy into that mindset.
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