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Project*Biome Hawaii

We will revitalize soil and human health by connecting native wisdom with today’s farming and policy systems to foster a resilient future.

Photo of Susannah Derr
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Project*Biome

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Farmer’s Footprint - storytelling on regenerative agriculture Hawaii Farmers Union United - organization representing Hawaiian farmers Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Design - restorative landscape designer Harvest Port - agricultural inputs Kiss the Ground - educational curriculum *Seraphic - land manager and clinic

Website of Legally Registered Entity

https://farmersfootprint.us/

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • Under 1 year

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Project*Biome headquarters is located in Encinitas, California. Founders reside in Kaneohe, Hawaii.

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

The state of Hawaii. We still start on the island of Maui.

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Geographically isolated from the rest of the world, the islands of Hawaii serve as a microcosm of the widespread consequences of chemical agriculture, and a proving ground for the capacity of regenerative agriculture to heal soil and human health. At a deeper level, the mana of the land in Hawaii is incredibly important to our team. These islands have not lost the soul of the indigenous people that still define the culture of Hawaii in so many ways. 

In Hawaii, the word given to non-Hawaiian settlers is “haole,” which translates to “the one who steals breath.” In contrast, locals use the word “Aloha” to say “hello,” “goodbye,” and “I love you.” The actual translation of Aloha is “to share breath.” These translations underscore our current health and ecological crisis. When we as humans disregard our resource usage, we disrupt the carbon cycle underpinning our own biology and connection with ecology-- in essence “stealing breath” from Mother Earth. 

Project*Biome Hawaii envisions the opportunity to restore breath and share the spirit of Aloha with the world by proving the benefits of regenerative agriculture in the state of Hawaii. Hawaii is the most isolated land mass in the world; well-situated to spread the benefits of regenerative agriculture to the continents. Historically these islands were rich in resources, and people thrived off the land. In the last two decades, the U.S. government has granted permission for the largest chemical companies in the world to use these grounds as a test site for unapproved chemical herbicides and pesticides which degenerated the soil, water, air, and human health on the islands. Project*Biome Hawaii will be our proving ground for the science and methods to reverse the adverse effects of chemical agriculture and begin a co-creative, rather than consumptive, relationship to the land.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

The Hawaiian Islands are the most isolated islands on our planet. When Polynesians settled here around 500AD, they brought with them the roots, cuttings and seeds of 24 plants for food, cordage, medicine, containers, and fabric, now referred to as “the Canoe plants.” The cultivation of Canoe plants (including breadfruit, kalo (taro), sweet potato, and coconut) was key to Hawaiian culture, feeding and housing native Hawaiians for centuries. Colonists arrived in the 18th century, recognized Hawaii as an agriculturally prosperous land with moderate temperatures, and proceeded to transform the land into plantations, drastically altering Hawaii’s economy and population. 

To work the plantations, permanent immigrants came from Japan, China, and the Philippines. Plantation owners, often American, began to pressure Hawaiian chiefs for land tenure, which King Kamehameha III responded to with a land distribution act called the Great Mahele of 1848. Its intent was to provide secure land titles to Hawaiians, divided in self-sustaining areas called ahupua’a, following the natural boundaries of the watershed. The upper third of the land would go to kings, the next third to chiefs and managers, and the last third to the common people. However, in implementation, the Great Mahele ended up separating many Hawaiians from their birthright when people failed to “claim their land” within the allotted two year time period. Only 32% of Hawaii ended up being owned by the state. This is one factor that led to a long-running tension between native Hawaiians and people from the continental United States. Today, collaborating and learning from local groups is imperative to creating lasting land management reform across the state of Hawaii, especially on the contentious issue of agriculture. 

Understanding the agricultural history of Hawaii is critical to understanding its food system. Despite prime growing conditions for Canoe plants, the modern Hawaiian diet relies heavily on processed foods resulting in higher rates of obesity and diabetes for Native Hawaiians. In recent history, Monsanto and other companies growing genetically modified crops have used Hawaii for over 3,000 field trials, clashing with Hawaiian cultural and environmental views on herbicide and pesticide use.

In 2014, Maui citizens put forth a petition for a moratorium on GMO production and testing, citing contaminated groundwater from pesticides, the importance of protecting land for tourism (a major economic contributor), and the expansion of organic agriculture, which currently makes up 1-2% of Hawaii’s produce. In mid 2018, as a result of grassroots community organizing, Hawaii became the first US state to ban the use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos. Today, Hawaiians continue their environmental activism and hope to regenerate the health of the land, water, and community by imbuing its current food system with traditional culture to restore their self-sustainability.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

28311

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

1420000

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Hawaii’s current food system looks very different from the days of geographic isolation and Canoe plants. Hawaii imports nearly 90% of its food from the continental United States. Importation drives up costs of living for all residents and makes Hawaii’s food supply particularly vulnerable in the event of natural disasters or shipping issues. Much of the imported food is processed, contributing to public health issues: higher rates of diabetes and obesity for Native Hawaiians. A 2012 report by Hawaii’s Office of Planning found that replacing just 10% of the food Hawaii currently imports with locally grown produce would save $313 million dollars and add 2,300 new jobs for the state. Achieving food self-sufficiency would also promote healthier lifestyles and nutrition, while aligning with Hawaii’s cultural origins of small-scale farming and local consumption.

However, producing food locally has its own challenges. Agricultural land is down to 43% of what it was in 1980, and the remaining land is expensive at approximately $100,000 per acre, creating a high barrier to entry for supporters of the local food movement. Irrigation, while critical, diverts much of Hawaii’s fresh water supply. Conventional farming methods degrade soil quality, decrease nutrient density of produce and limit future crop yields. However, farmers often lack the educational and financial support to transition to economically-viable regenerative farming methods that can benefit soil and health. While there are organic tax credits available, the certification process is cumbersome and financially prohibitive.

Hawaii is on the forefront of the sustainability movement, being one of the first U.S. states to adapt the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to suit its culture via its Aloha Goals, many of which concern the sustainability of Hawaii’s food system. However, to integrate its goals by 2050, there needs to be greater connection and collaboration between political, educational, agricultural, and cultural groups. In our work in Hawaii, we’ve encountered countless groups motivated to support Hawaii’s food system and culture, but touchpoints between the groups are limited. To work towards a healthier, sustainable food future, everyone needs to be collaborating more.

Hawaii is particularly vulnerable to future challenges to its food system. The continental United States faces a shrinking farmland supply. If Hawaii continues to import 90% of its food from the mainland, food costs will skyrocket leading to increased economic inequality. If Hawaii invests in the local food movement without considering environmental implications, water quality will suffer, impacting both public health and the economy -- Hawaii’s draw as a tourist destination is largely reliant on its ecological health, and tourism makes up 21% of Hawaii’s economy today. 

To maintain Hawaiian culture, restore the environment, and promote food sovereignty for 2050, the time to reintegrate indigenous farming practices is now.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

By collaborating with key stakeholders including Hawaii Farmers Union United (HFUU) and Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, we will foster the implementation of farming practices that benefit soil, land and human health for Hawaiians. To address Hawaii’s food system challenges, we’ve developed several strategic partnerships.

To address the lack of economic subsidies for farmers, we connected with Senate Majority Leader Kalani English to advocate for passage of a Hawaii Farm Bill that supports farmers with educational and financial assistance to implement land conservation practices, an existing organic tax credit proposal, and the creation of a specialty crop block grant program to encourage cultivation of culturally-important crops including taro, kalo, coconut and sweet potato. HFUU will help us to connect with farmers and understand their needs directly. We’re partnering with the Hawaiian Organic Farmer’s Association to draft this bill and advocate for its passage. In consideration of how healthy food reaches Hawaii’s residents -- nearly 13% of Native Hawaiians are diabetic, perpetuated by a diet of highly processed foods -- we will develop communications around the importance of eating organic and local to encourage islanders to buy from one of the dozens of existing farmer’s markets, in addition to partnering with a Hawaiian organization to provide agricultural education in schools about growing and cooking healthy foods.

Many farmers require educational support if they choose to transition to regenerative land management practices. Farmer’s Footprint will collaborate with Kiss the Ground and HFUU’s Farm Apprentice Mentoring (FAM) program to establish a curriculum to guide farmers through the transition to using farming practices, tools, and systems that benefit soil and produce health. We will also host quarterly community events to convene agricultural educators and local farmers to share knowledge and facilitate conversations between mainlanders and Hawaiians, and amongst Hawaiians themselves. 

To ensure Hawaiian culture is respected along with the environment, we will partner with local farmers and ecological design firm, Nelson Byrd Woltz to create a map informed by indigenous wisdom and the historical ecology of the islands. The intended result is to provide landowners, farmers and policymakers a guiding map of how to regenerate their land. We will share this document online, through our partners, and at quarterly educational events to maximize our impact across all of Hawaii. Throughout the process, we will work with Kamehameha Schools and others to progress toward three of the Aloha Goals: Local Food, Natural Resource Management, and Green Workforce and Education. We will measure farmers’ progress on building soil health and evaluate our strategy through partnership with UH’s CTAHR and ‘Aina Pro, an application that supports organic and regenerative farmers by allowing them to communicate and record their practices.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

By providing a template to reversing environmental degradation from traditional agriculture via regenerative farming, soil health will improve and Hawaii will see a boom in its local food movement. The passage of a Hawaii Farm Bill with subsidies to grow culturally-important crops will economically support farmers, reduce the cost of certain produce, and encourage a return to healthier, natural food diet for all Hawaiian residents. Health indicators for Native Hawaiians will improve. The economy will be more stable, as local agriculture and agro-tourism will create several thousand jobs for local residents and contribute a greater percentage of state revenue. There will be a better communication network between different groups working on food sovereignty across the Hawaiian Islands, and an increasing number of Hawaiian youth will consider farming as a viable career option. 

Environmentally, Hawaii will be at the forefront of the United States after its successful incorporation of Hawaii’s Sustainable Development Goals and its Aloha Goals. Hawaiians will see a resurgence in once-endangered plant species and slow the extinction of others by ensuring sustainable investments in regeneration. Other states will model their ecological policies after Hawaii’s success, encouraging communication between the Islands and the continental United States.



Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

We envision a Hawaii where farmers are economically encouraged and supported in their use of regenerative agricultural methods, where all citizens have access to affordable, healthy, culturally important foods, and where the environment is not only sustained, but restored to its historic ecological health.

Though Hawaii is geographically isolated, its farming stakeholders need not be. Project*Biome is creating a community of stakeholders from farmers to policymakers to agricultural educators to accelerate the adoption and implementation of regenerative farming practices on the islands. To address Hawaii’s food system challenges, we’ve systematically developed several strategic partnerships and objectives across all six interconnected themes.

Environment: Conventional farming practices have damaged soil, biodiversity, and native landscapes over the last several decades. Our nutrient-deprived, calorie rich food system has been scaled to feed the majority of the developed world, leaving native Hawaiian lands in cycles of monoculture and chemical usage. By incorporating regenerative agricultural practices, we can reverse environmental damage, improve economic outcomes, and restore human health to create a more resilient Hawaii. We are investing in regenerative agriculture because these practices go beyond sustainability to create a healthier landscape. Cover cropping, no till, composting, and rotating crops all contribute to greater biodiversity for soil, allowing it to sequester carbon, reduce runoff and improve waterways. Hawaii stands to gain perhaps more than other states, given its cultural roots in environmentalism and a natural diet, dependency on a tourism industry supported by its lush environment, and geographic vulnerability to increasingly devastating natural disasters.

Diet: Today, nearly 13% of Native Hawaiians are diabetic, likely as a result of poor diets made up of highly processed foods and sugary drinks. Our vision changes the potential pathways by which healthy food reaches Hawaii’s residents. We will develop and deploy a holistic communications strategy around the importance of eating organic and local foods to encourage islanders to buy from one of the dozens of existing farmer’s markets. Additionally, our partnerships with Hawaiian youth development organizations will produce agricultural education opportunities in schools that reduce barriers to growing and cooking healthy foods. By working with stakeholders throughout the process from farm to fork, we will transform food access and consumption in Hawaii to enable sustainable diets that nurture both human and environmental health.

Economics & Policy: One of the main obstacles to regenerative farming is the lack of training and economic incentives in place to invest in the transition. In partnership with Hawaii Farmers Union United, we have connected with farmers to understand their needs and collectively envision a Hawaii Farm Bill. In alignment with Hawaiian farmer needs, we will partner with the Hawaiian Organic Farmer’s Association and Senate Majority Leader Kalani English to draft a Hawaii Farm Bill and advocate for its passage. Modeled after the 2019 Pennsylvania Farm Bill, our vision is for a Hawaii Farm Bill that provides farmers with educational and financial assistance to implement land conservation practices, the creation of an Agricultural Business Development Center to serve as a resource for farmers creating transition and business plans to ensure their economic viability, and the creation of a specialty crop block grant program to encourage cultivation of culturally-important crops including taro, kalo, coconut and sweet potato. In addition, we will partner with another HOFA to support the state-funded organic tax credit proposed under Hawaii House Bill 1689 CD 1. Both of these pieces of legislation will benefit organic and regenerative farmers by helping them obtain the price-premium of certified organic products and stimulating job growth in Hawaii’s agricultural sector. 

Culture: To ensure Hawaiian culture is respected along with the environment, we will partner with local farmers and ecological design firm, Nelson Byrd Woltz to create an ecological map with the added context of indigenous wisdom. The intended result is to provide landowners, farmers and policymakers a guiding map of how to regenerate their land to increase soil organic matter and crop yield, reduce topsoil runoff, and improve carbon capture. We will share this document online, through our partners, and at quarterly educational events to maximize our impact across all of Hawaii, beginning on the island of Maui. Along with sharing regenerative farming guidelines tailored to Hawaii’s ecology, our quarterly meetings will convene Hawaiian farming groups with each other, regardless of their opinions on farming given the islands’ deep agricultural roots, and with groups from the continental United States to facilitate knowledge-sharing and collaboration.

Simultaneously, we will work with Kamehameha Schools and others to progress toward three of the Aloha Goals: Local Food (through our advocacy for local and organic produce), Natural Resource Management, and Green Workforce and Education (through education and economic incentives for organic and regenerative farming made possible by the Hawaii Farm Bill and organic tax credit legislation). We will also host quarterly community events to convene agricultural educators and local farmers to share knowledge and facilitate conversations between mainlanders and Hawaiians, and amongst Hawaiians themselves. 

Technology: In the case of farming, one of the most powerful technologies is education. To provide a culturally and environmentally sound curriculum, Farmer’s Footprint will collaborate with Kiss the Ground and HFUU’s Farm Apprentice Mentoring (FAM) program to establish a curriculum that guide farmers through the transition to using farming practices, tools, and systems that benefit soil and produce health. 

We will measure farmers’ progress on building soil health and evaluate our strategy through partnership with University of Hawaii’s College of Tropical Agriculture & Human Resources and ‘Aina Pro, an application that supports organic and regenerative farmers by allowing them to communicate and record their practices. Through regular soil samples and farmer surveys, we will be able to evaluate the regeneration of the land and nutrient-density of the food that is produced.

Our vision is grounded in the goal of providing a compelling and translatable template for reversing environmental degradation from traditional agriculture via regenerative farming. With support from the Food System Vision Prize, soil health will improve, thriving local agriculture and agro-tourism will create several thousand jobs, and culturally-important crops will once again be able to support farmers’ livelihoods.  By encouraging healthier, natural food diets for all Hawaiian residents, the collective health of Native Hawaiians will improve. Most importantly, this work will create strong systems of communication amongst diverse groups working on food sovereignty across the Hawaiian Islands, which will make Hawaii a model economy and culture that is at the forefront of the United States and the world.


Lastly, the vimeo link was not being accepted above; I attached an mp4 but since that is not an accepted format according to the FAQ, this is our vision for a more regenerative Hawaiian food system: https://vimeo.com/388591626/ebad361569

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Website

Attachments (1)

Project Biome Hawaii.mp4

An overview of our vision for a future regenerative Hawaiian food system

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Thank you so much for the Food Extension Initiative.

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