Friday, November 05, 2010


Thinking Outside of the Box: Breaking Down the Silos

By Henry Curtis

One of the problems is that we keep looking at things through a very narrow lens, while life is actually a web and everything in interconnected. Unless we look at things from a systems approach, were all going to be locked in our silos, protecting our interests, and not looking at how we can built a workable solution. We need to look beyond pessimism and nay-saying, and come up with community solutions.

Food, water and energy are interlinked. Agriculture is heavily dependent upon irrigation powered by electricity. Farm vehicles currently use liquid and gaseous fossil fuel energy for power. Most electric generators require significant amounts of water. Coal, oil, and nuclear plants need water for cooling. Food crops and biofuels often used high amounts of water and many rely on fossil-fuel based pesticides and fertilizers. While fossil fuels are the number one source of climate change, land use changes generated for food, biofuel and timber production is the number two reason for climate change.

Agriculture is based on energy which relies on water. Agriculture is based on water which relies on energy for pumping and irrigation. Now there is a national policy of growing crops heavily dependent upon water and energy in order to generate biofuels to provide the power the move water and power farm vehicles. There are so many interlocking subsidies that it is difficult to determine what is sound and what is unsound public policy?

Agricultural policy is often poorly understood. One of my sharpest memories is from a college economics course. Depending on weather, in some years there is a bumper food crop and in other years there is a food shortage. When there is a bumper crop farm prices drop, when there is a shortage farm prices rise. On average farmers do okay. But on average the public does not do okay. When there are shortages, the rise in food prices leads to hunger, to economically challenged members of the public having to decide between food and shelter.

Since 98% of the public are non-farmers, there was a policy developed that appears to support farmers but actually supports non-farmers. Farmers are subsidized. This leads to marginal and non-production farm land becoming profitable, and this further leads to more food being produced. Thus on some years there is way too much food and in other years the right amount of food. Farmers lose because they fight each other for subsidies, with larger politically connected industrial farms winning and the small farm become losers because they get low prices and no subsidies. In addition, farmers are blamed for needing subsidies.

The subsidies for producing crops, for exporting crops, and for water use often mean that it appears to be cheaper to import food from 3000 miles away, even food flown in by airplane, then to produce food locally.

Frances Moore Lappe (Diet for a Small Planet) is the guest speaker this weekend for the Umematsu and Yasu Watada Lecture on Peace, Social Justice, and the Environment (Watada Lectures), sponsored by the Church of the Crossroads, and endowed by Kathy Watada Wurfel and David Wurfel.

Frances Moore Lappe notes that 1 out of every 9 dollars spent on health care is a result of our dietary choices. She further notes that half of the U.S. food supply is controlled by 10 companies with less than 150 board members.

What we need is food democracy, the return to local food production, where people know where there food comes from, where money stays circulating in the local economy. One example of this is school gardens.
Nancy Redfeather ( runs Kohala Center’s Hawai'i Island School Garden Network. The network works with 2/3 of the all the public and charter schools on the Big Island.

Nancy is working with food activists on other islands -- Tiana Kamen (Malama Kaua'i; Kaua'i School Garden Network), Kukui Maunakea (MA`O Farms), Eric Enos (Ka`ala Farms), and Gigi Cocquio (Hoa Aina 'O Makaha) – to form a statewide student garden network.

This past summer the Mala‘ai Culinary Garden of The Waimea Middle School held a conference (“Smart By Nature – Growing School Garden Curriculum K–12″). Information can be found on the School Garden Blog.

Schools use energy but often have flat roofs in open areas that could easily convert solar energy into hot water and electricity. Maui Community College is seeking to install a single wind turbine to help power the school.

Charlie Reppun and Frances Moore Lappe both believe that we need to move away from thinking about large scale industrial agriculture and into looking at yards, and small urban plots of land to grow food.

Gunter Pauli (Zero Emissions Research & Initiatives)  spoke at the World Congress on Zero Emissions Initiatives sponsored this past summer by Enterprise Honolulu. He spoke to and interacted with a few hundred elementary school students. His message: most of what is used in the home to make coffee is wasted coffee grounds. These grounds can be put on plants killing earthworms and other friendly insects (due to their high caffeine content); they can be landfilled creating methane gas (a potent greenhouse gas); or they can be used inside homes to grow shitake mushrooms (which are high priced, taste similar to steak, and are a lot healthier to eat).

Timothy LaSalle, Ph. D. (Rodale Institute's CEO 2007-10) was a keynote speaker at the Hawaii Ag2010 Conference. He stated that “one of the things western education has done and this has gone global ...let’s look at one little thing and find an answer and that will fix it. ...In essence and search for answers we have to begin to open frameworks, and that’s where I had to challenge my own self, and this is a hard head.”

Water, land, energy, health, schools, and food are all interconnected. Community-based solutions are needed that cut across disciplines. Funding should follow from decisions made through community based decision making.

See also: The State of Agriculture in Hawai`i (September 8, 2010), Agriculture & Justice (July 27, 2010)

Henry Curtis

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I so love reading your blog, but can the rats not disappear now? I get sick and have not been back to Chinatown since first seeing them. Thanks for all of your great work.

To comment on school gardens, I wish that there would be a way for me to get one going in our neighborhood elementary school. Ears are closed, benchmark is the name of the game.

Fantastic blog! In response to the comment, if you are interested in having a garden at your neighborhood elementary school contact the following School Garden Networks on your island:

Oahu private schools:

Happy gardening!

Many years ago I actually got a resolution through the Legislature encouraging the DOE to put in more school gardens. Of course, the DOE didn't particularly care about the reso.

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