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Local agriculture officials award $2.7M to hundreds of small farmers and gardeners

garden hose water conservation
Ryan McGuire
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Pixabay

A federal program to boost food sustainability in the islands may be about to turn a corner. Local agriculture officials are set to award $2.7 million to nearly 600 small farmers and home gardeners so they can grow more of what we eat.

The second round of the Micro-Grants for Food Security Program was offered to Hawaiʻi residents last year, with a maximum award of $5,000 — all from the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill.

After receiving over 7,400 applications, the Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture began evaluating and ranking proposals based on community needs.

sharon hurd department of agriculture
Office of Gov. Josh Green
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Sharon Hurd is Gov. Josh Green's nomination to head the Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture.

"Remember now, the USDA wants competition in this. So we went with the number of SNAP recipients in each county," said Sharon Hurd, the incoming director of the Agriculture Department. "So the number of awards, 579, reflects the most food insecure households in the state and also the percentage of SNAP recipients in that county."

The department reported 347 awarded grants on Oʻahu, 67 in Maui County, 32 on Kauaʻi, and 133 on Hawaiʻi Island. But funds have not yet been sent out, Hurd said.

"The money's here. We have the funding," Hurd said. "We sent an email to everyone that was awarded, and the instructions are in the email. The next step would be submit your W-9, send it to the email that we provide. We also sent out an email to everyone that was not awarded and encouraged them to try for the next round."

The grants can be used to buy tools, equipment, seeds, and canning equipment, as well as to purchase livestock.

"One of the major projects was fencing. In the food insecure communities, it seems evident that they need protection from pigs, mostly, but in other communities, it's axis deer and the fence has to be tall because axis deer are very skilled at jumping fences," Hurd told The Conversation. "No sense grow crops if the pigs come in and have, you know, their way with it."

"A couple of them were for raising goats so that you can have milk, and then subsequently cheese. Many of them were for seeds, soil, composting, grading, preparing soil to make it receptive to growing," Hurd added.

In 2021, nearly 180 grants were awarded statewide. But unlike that first round, nonprofits were not eligible to apply in 2022 — only individuals.

For those looking to get in on the next round of the program, the window to apply is likely to open in spring 2023, according to Hurd.

"My thing is a very simple food sustainability Venn diagram. You have two circles in a Venn diagram. One is marked 'what we grow,' and the other one is marked 'what we eat.' The more those two circles come together, the sweet spot, the intersection is sustainability. That means we are eating what we grow, and we are growing what we eat. So I'm aiming to get that sweet spot bigger," Hurd said.

This interview aired on The Conversation on Jan. 3, 2023. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at ccruz@hawaiipublicradio.org.
Sophia McCullough is a digital news producer. Contact her at news@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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