Food Sustainability, What can we do as individuals? │ G70’s Sheryl Seaman, AIA, IIDA, LEED AP, Vice Chairman and Principal.

I am an informed consumer and not an expert but strongly believe that a commitment to food and water sustainability is crucial to the future of our state. I hope we will all contribute to the best of our ability to address this essential need.
G70 April Nc Hero
Photo: courtesy of G70

What’s keeping me awake at night? Thinking about food!

No, not the “too much pepperoni pizza too late” kind of food issue, but what would happen to our islands if our supply chain were interrupted. As I understand it, Hawaiʻi currently imports 85 percent of its food.

I like food! I like to eat it, cook it, and even grow some of my own. What if we as a state could only eat what we grow? What would it taste like? Would there be enough?

G70 April Nc Garden Image

Photo: courtesy of G70

G70 April Nc Table Image

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I began studying this topic about 15 years ago. I wanted to see how much of my food could be grown locally. My diet is largely plant based, so getting a variety of vegetables was never a problem. What was missing was cooking oil. This was rectified by the advent of macadamia nut and sunflower oil. Although expensive, locally sourced meat is readily available. Salt and seasonings abound. There is even chocolate and vanilla and gorgeous mushrooms to be had.

As the daughter of a Kansan, I need flour (wheat), the same way so many people in Hawaiʻi need rice. I have discovered a few interesting flour alternatives. I have baked with sweet potato, macadamia nut, and kiawe bean flour, as well as gorgeous locally milled cornmeal. I have yet to use ulu flour, but I am hoping to try some soon.

Does Hawaiʻi’s current crop production produce enough caloric value?

According to the FDA, an average person needs 2,000 calories per day. For a population of 1.5 million, the combined caloric need is three billion calories per day. The state contains almost 2 million acres of zoned agricultural land but only about one million acres are in actual agricultural use according to the 2015 Statewide Agricultural Use Baseline. Of that total, over 75 percent is in pasture, 2.5 percent in forest or flower, foliage, or landscape. That leaves about 125,000 acres for diversified agriculture to support our food needs.

I researched the data at a level deep enough to satisfy my curiosity. I am no expert, however, looking at the chart below, it appears that we can only generate 65 percent of the food we need using our current strategies.

G70 April Nc Graph Food Security

Photo: courtesy of G70

Agriculture is a complex system of land, water, labor, and weather. It is affected by politics. Performance is inconsistent and circumstances are unpredictable. Food is perishable and finding ways to store and distribute it is almost as important as growing it. During the pandemic I began to have locally sourced food delivered by Farmlink Hawaiʻi, one of the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs. It has given me easy access to many locally grown and produced food items. If we are to be truly sustainable, we need to look at allocating land and water differently. We must study and adapt the indigenous cultural practices that allowed the Hawaiian community to thrive, while looking for innovation and resilience.

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