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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, October 17, 2003

Lingle touts farmers market

By Sean Hao
Advertiser Staff Writer

Jason Iwamasa of Hawai'i Employers Mutual Insurance Company gave a lei and a hug to Merrissa Uchimura, who works for UH, at a Hawai'i agriculture conference. Gov. Linda Lingle spoke at the gathering yesterday.

Photos by Rebecca Breyer • The Honolulu Advertiser

Lingle said yesterday that a farmers market in Kaka'ako could help tourism and local agriculture.
Hawai'i could sustain a world-class farmers market in the Kaka'ako area and the state is ready to work with the private sector to make it happen, Gov. Linda Lingle said yesterday.

Similar in scope to the Pike Place Market in Seattle, the Kaka'ako market could be an attraction for both residents and tourists while providing an economic boost to the state's agriculture industry, Lingle said during a luncheon at the Hawai'i Agriculture and Landscape Industry Conference in Waikiki.

A study by the state Department of Agriculture showed such a market, tentatively dubbed The Gathering Place of Honolulu, would cost $24 million to $30 million to build and more than $1 million to operate. It would employ 230 people full-time on site and another 65 off-site jobs.

Lingle said she would work with the federal government and businesses, which would need to take the lead, to make a premier farmers market a reality.

"There's great opportunity for federal funding for such a thing," she said.

The number of farmers markets in the United States has grown from about 300 during the 1970s to 3,100 today, said David Cole, the new chief executive for Maui Land & Pineapple Co.

In only his second day on the job, Cole delivered the conference's keynote address, focusing on the success of his 600 acre organic Virginia farm.

The popularity of farmers markets has increased in part because of widely publicized cases of food contamination such as mad cow disease and an incident in 2000 when pesticide from genetically modified feed-corn was discovered in taco shells, Cole said.

Farmers markets are an important avenue for farmers to connect directly with consumers and command premium prices for produce, Cole said. Farmers who focus on growing organic produce in a sustainable manner should be in better shape, he said.

Organic, sustainable farming has been the focus of Cole's Sunnyside Farm, which uses farm animals to aerate and fertilize fields, among other environmentally friendly techniques.

Cole said the goal of Hawai'i growers should be to increase their share of the $4.5 billion that the residents and visitors spend annually on food. Currently the state's farmers generate only about $500 million in annual sales.

He said Hawai'i is the envy of other agricultural areas because it is the only state where the number of farmers is increasing.

The success of local farmers not only helps the state's agriculture industry, but tourism as well, Cole said.

"You really can't have a great tourism sector if your green space turns brown," he said.

Reach Sean Hao at shao@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8093.