Where Have All the Farmers Gone?

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Maui, Hawaii

My interest in food goes beyond eating it. I have a part-time obsession with the politics and policies behind it; shockingly despite my blog name I really do think we should eat less meat, buy local and move toward organic sustainability.

So coming to Maui is fascinating because it is secluded and isolated and getting anything here means a 7 day freight or a very costly flight.

It’s also why Maui is comparatively expensive. People are shocked to see $9 gallons or milk or $6 loaves of bread. These aren’t pricing mistakes. Costco recently entered the picture and have become a savior to some and a source of resentment for local competitors trying to make a living.

In just a few days here it I’ve noticed that many people in Maui are starting to rethink things and local is becoming increasingly important to support local business and keep prices competitive.


But there is one major problem.


The average age of a local farmer is 61. At a time when expertise and experience is most needed, an entire generation is moving toward retirement. The younger generation may be interested in food but being a farmer isn’t as sexy as an executive chef, which also opens opportunities on the mainland.


Maui ag fest

And so the community created the Maui’s Agricultural Festival. It’s not like any other food festival I’ve attended before because it’s not just a celebration of food it is so much more important:

– Introducing the public to the farmers, artisans and local business. Helping people put a name to their food.

– Promoting farming opportunities to a younger generation.

– Acting as a center for networking between food producers and restaurants.


Maui Agricultural Festival

It’s really an exciting time for Maui, entering a new direction where food and wine events become food, wine and farmer events, much like Jamie Kennedy’s Open Kitchen.

It’s important that people understand where their food really comes from as the answer shouldn’t stop at Costco.



Join the Conversation

  1. A Cook Not Mad says:

    Good post, Costco definitely isn’t the answer. It’s sad that people can’t even afford the food that grows where they live.
    This is happening all over the world. It’s more economical to fill up on Coke and McDonald’s than buying nutritious food.
    And don’t get me started on the milk quotas in Canada.

    1. Caro from Passport and a Toothbrush says:

      You bring up a very good point, affordability. It’s really too bad that often what stops us from buying local or organic are the high costs. I’d love to support local farmers as much as possible but in the end, I need to be able to afford food period! But when I can, I head to the farmers’ market and nothing beats that : )

      Great post as always!

      1. Ayngelina Author says:

        You know the time I ate the most local and organic was when I was saving for my RTW. The challenge is that you need to eat less meat. I only ate meat once or twice a week and used pork to flavour vegetable based dishes (hence Bacon is Magic). Dried beans are incredibly cheap and if you buy vegetables in season they are also really affordable, even when organic.

        But it helps that I can cook 🙂

        1. Caro from Passport and a Toothbrush says:

          Thanks for the tips!! It may be hard for me meat-wise … I’m Uruguayan hehe!

  2. Great post! I love learning about stuff like this. It’s good to hear the locals are realizing they need to make a change or a lot of people could be out of business.

    I didn’t realize the average age of a farmer in Maui is 65. I guess with the shift toward technology, the younger generation doesn’t generally want to go into farming.

    I try to buy local whenever possible and I am a lot more aware of my buying habits since we started a business that focuses on producing locally.

    I think our generation has a long way to go before more people start caring about where their food and products come from.

    I think awareness is the first step though.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      It’s part of the reason I loved your kickstarter business. It’s so important to support local businesses.

  3. In a past life I worked as a beer writer and perhaps my most fascinating interview ever was with Garrett Marrerro of Maui Brewing. Everything they do there is so different from any other brewery I visited or interviewed. Garrett was a big believer in doing AS MUCH AS HE COULD locally. First and foremost, that meant getting what he could from Maui. If he couldn’t get it there, he’d try to source it from the other Hawaiian Islands. Finally, as a last resort, he’d source from the mainland. This applied to just about everything for Maui Brewing from their ingredients to their labor. It’s nice to see that this is a pervasive attitude on the island.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I am really hoping to make it over to Maui Brewing in the next couple weeks, everyone raves about it.

  4. I remember the prices for food being steep when I went to Maui with my family ages ago, and realizing that it was because so much of it is imported. In Greece, due to the lack of city jobs, many young professionals with university educations are returning to the land and learning to cultivate it and grow more local food. The vast majority have found it to be a blessing in disguise.
    Thank you for posting this – awareness right now is the best step we can take, and hopefully we’ll learn to take a step back and realize how important local food and farming is to our survival.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Maui is so isolated I think local should be a focus for them, but really even at home I think we need to look at how we support community businesses.

  5. santafetraveler says:

    Great post. We’re lucky, we have a lot of young farmers in Santa Fe and you can meet them at the farmers market. We sometimes write about the local sustainable food scene in Food Thoughts on our blog. We love eating fresh and local and supporting our local growers and producers.

  6. Annie - FootTracker says:

    Not enough future farmers is a problem across the world. Yet agriculture major is actually one of the hardest major to study for (in my school anyway) because of all the science classes required.

    Next time when I look at organic produce, may be I won’t hesitate as much XD

  7. I was once on Norfolk Island and remember milk in the shops was very expensive (it had to be flown in from Australia or New Zealand). Locals solved the problem by having a house cow.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      The same when I was in the Philippines, all the milk was from Australia and New Zealand.

  8. Red Nomad OZ says:

    Aha! NOW I know why you liked my food pic best when you were kind enough to visit and comment on my blog!!!

    The issues you describe are, I believe, worldwide. Governments in countries like Australia introduce policies that make farming a deeply unattractive option – there’s just no votes in it – especially when combined with challenging weather conditions. Initiatives such as you describe are marvellous – I hope they work!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      The irony is that we still think big commercial farms are just like family farms. If we knew how our food was produced we would make different decisions.

  9. Christy @ Technosyncratic says:

    I think it’s so important to support local businesses – it’s something we try to do as we travel, but oftentimes it’s unfortunately more work and expense. We can’t just have Costco and Wal-Mart taking over (any more than they already have), though.

  10. Yes, eating local and knowing your farmers is so important. Good to know Maui is making efforts to stay local and have these agricultural events to bring more awareness.

    I was surprised at the high prices of food but it’s true so much is imported.

    I’m like you where I love food just as much as I like to know where it comes from!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I haven’t spoken to any of the restaurants about it but it must make the cost of ingredients high and the price margin low.

      The other day I had a a great dish and it had lobster from Maine in it, why? There are so many great ingredients here, you don’t need to fly lobster in.

  11. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures says:

    I think everyone needs to think about where the food they are putting in their mouth is coming from. Sad that they don’t already! Very illuminating post 🙂

  12. Ava Apollo says:

    It’s funny, in the MW, investors are buying up land hoping to cash in on the population increase. It’s almost like farming is becoming more trendy over there. Complete opposite here.

    Either way, knowing where food comes from is a bigger deal than I ever thought it was. I’m guessing you’ve seen Food, Inc. Quite life-changing.

    P.S. I dig the photos

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Maui may be more progressive because the need is so much more obvious here but eventually I think we’ll see it in the rest of North America.

  13. Roy Marvelous says:

    You’d think at those prices people would just grow their own food…

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I would definitely have my own garden, and learn how to make bread myself.

  14. The Time-Crunched Traveler (Ellen) says:

    Ok … have I not yet learned? I’ve got to stop reading your blog late at night! This really makes me want fresh produce … great perspective on where the food actually comes from. I bet fruit/vegetables in Hawaii are amazing.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      The best pineapples are the ripest so not fit for export and they really are amazing – almost with coconut undertones if that makes any sense.

  15. Arianwen Morris says:

    This sounds like the kind of thing I write about for my current job. ie, the sustainability of farming practices and encouraging people to change their diets. I was actually at a talk by Robert Winston last week where he was saying that intensive farming and people eating more meat, even in developing countries, was leading to all sorts of problems. Really interesting stuff Ayngelina. Perhaps if I was staying in my job I could have convinced them to send me to Maui to write about it too! 🙂

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I can’t remember where I saw this but I also heard that China is moving to a heavy meat-based diet and the impact of that population alone has significant environmental impact.

      Years ago I signed up for an environmental challenge where I pledged not to eat meat once a week (much like Meatless Mondays in the UK) it’s actually so easy to do and makes preparing dinner so much faster.

  16. I am really loving your recent post on Maui. I have learned more about pineapples and farming from you then I think in like ever. I know my parents have a farm in Mexico, but it has never interested me, but now I wonder if I should ask them about it and see how it is going with the orange business they have and if they too have similar problems like this. Very interesting.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I grew up in an agricultural area too and had no interest in it at all. But lately I’ve been so interested in how they actually survive.

  17. Scott - Quirky Travel Guy says:

    I’ve struggled with this for a long time, especially when I was on a severely tight budget and had to buy nearly everything at Walmart. Local is so much better in every way!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      It really depends on what you eat. My progress in food was gradual. I saw a documentary about Monsanto and decided to cut out all non-organic corn but that meant not eating ANY processed food because corn is in everything. Then I wanted to go 70% organic (as I can’t expect organic when I’m out eating) and in order to afford that AND save for my RTW I had to cut way back on meat. Fortunately I like beans and love to cook. I know it’s not as easy for others.

  18. Really interesting post! It’s great to hear that they’re taking an active approach to educating people about the value of eating and buying local.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Once you put a face behind a farm I think it’s easy to spend 50 cents more for an apple because you know where the money is going.

  19. Wanderplex says:

    Great post! Sustainable agriculture is so important, and will only become more critical as our planet gets more populated, yet few people really stop to think about where their food comes from. This festival sounds wonderful!

  20. I really love some of those t-shirts! So cute.

    I always love being able to support local farmers. Really hope the younger generation can take up the cause.

  21. Meg | One Love Meg says:

    I would love to go to ta festival like that. How awesome and eye opening.

  22. Alexandra says:

    I am so glad you touched on this subject. Maui has a few lessons to learn and growing more of our own food is one of the big ones! Please don’t even get me started on how the islands need have better recycling programs! Anywhoo back on subject. Maui has such a diverse range of climate it seems like anything is able to grow here. We have world famous onions, delicious strawberries, some of the best tomatoes I’ve ever had have come out of my back yard, coffee and even cocao grows on Maui! It is such a unique place! I hope more families start buying local and even more families learn about Monsanto and kick them off of our island!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I noticed a Monsanto sign on Moloka’i apparently there is some talk that the water supply on that end of the island is bad and they are blaming Monsanto – when will they use all their energy and get rid of them!

  23. It’s the Slow Food Movement baby. Some great stuff! Here is a link about it. http://www.slowfood.com/

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      There is a Slow Food group in Maui too, they are really active in the community, it’s such a great movement.

  24. I think the average age of farmers in the continental US is 58, so Hawaii’s average farmer age is a bit higher.
    I would highly encourage people to continue buying from the local farmer’s market, even with a Costco there. So many times, a Costco or Wal-Mart or other big-chain store moves in, sells for lower prices, often so low that there’s now way smaller businesses can compete, and the smaller business go out of business. And then the big chain store raises their prices, being the only one left.
    It’s so important to keep it local!

  25. Ayngelina, i agree with you on the answer not being Costco, but cutting down on beef to me isn’t the answer either.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Interesting Karl, what do you think is the answer?

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