Eighty-five percent of all of the food consumed in Hawaiʻi is grown outside of the state.
“Part of the reason why developments go in is, well, nobody really wants to farm,” said local farmer Fred Reppun.
A new program at the University of Hawaiʻi Community Colleges is addressing that issue and others, like food security, by growing something extremely vital on this plot of land at Windward Community College—commercial farmers.
It’s called GoFarm Hawaiʻi.
The program is just one part of C3T Hawaiʻi, which stands for Community College, Career Training. It is funded by a $24.6 million workforce development grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.
The UH community colleges are tasked to collaborate with industry partners to develop employer-driven programs. Program that best prepare individuals with the needed technical skills in three emerging areas of economic growth for our state: health, energy and agriculture, like GoFarm Hawaiʻi.
“The goal is to get the people to actually get their general excise tax license so they can be commercial farmers,” said Reppun, who is a farm coach for the program.
There are 12 students in the first ever class, ranging in age from 21 to 60.
They’re each responsible for a 500 to a 1,000 square foot lot where they are expected to spend at least four hours a week tending to their crops and learning, first-hand, how to farm.
“Today we are putting in carrots, putting in soybeans and just a little more prep here,” said GoFarm Hawaiʻi student Rob Hammond.
“Oh, we are learning how to work a tiller, a hand tiller, which is actually kind of scary,” said fellow student Hiʻilani Shibata. “It’s a piece of machine that can just go.”
They also have to attend science classes and business classes each week.
“Business planning is a really big part of this course,” said Reppun.
“That is actually one of the most awesomest thing; being able to have somebody look at your business plan,” said Shibata.
In the last part of the program, the students will get a quarter acre of land at the UH Mānoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources Research Center in Waimānalo, to put their newfound skills to the test. The program is free and lasts approximately 18 months.
“It’s designed to sort of get more intense of an experience overtime,” said Reppun. “The idea, in the end, is to try and help them find land that they can start farming on their own.”
“It’s a mentorship program,” said Hammond. “I don’t think it really ends. They give you enough resources and everything to get you going and if you have a question two years down the road, three years down the road, it is lining you up for the future, creating a good network for everybody.”