GoFarm Hawai’i Adapts Beginning Farmer Training Program in Wake of Economic and Social Challenges

For more than eight years, GoFarm Hawai’i has offered a successful beginning farmer training program at the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. The hands-on, science-based curriculum is open to any adult in the state who is interested in gaining the knowledge, experience and confidence needed to contribute to Hawaii’s food security and economy through production agriculture.

While the program has seen impressive growth and progress, the need to develop the next generation of Hawaii’s farmers is greater than ever. The state currently imports up to 90% of its food, creating significant concern about food insecurity and the consequences for the islands’ 1.4 million residents and estimated 250,000 (pre-pandemic) daily visitors if food supplies were disrupted. These concerns have only grown in the wake of economic and social challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic crisis has reinforced how crucial it is to develop a more sustainable local food system,” said Janel Yamamoto, director, GoFarm Hawai’i. “That awareness has created greater interest in farming and a higher demand for training, but it has also forced us to adapt our programming. Currently, all classroom, consulting and business training for GoFarm Hawai’i is conducted virtually and we have extremely strict guidelines in place for any field-related classes. We’ve also experienced funding challenges as our partners and collaborators have seen a reduction in their own resources as well as competing priorities for their philanthropic dollars.”

In response to these challenges, CoBank partnered with American AgCredit (AAC), one of its affiliated Farm Credit associations, to support GoFarm Hawai’i with a five-year grant totaling $2 million.

“As members of the Farm Credit System, the largest single provider of credit to American agriculture, AAC and CoBank are committed to the vibrancy of agriculture throughout the territories that we serve—including Hawaii,” said Curt Hudnutt, president and CEO of AAC. “The mission of GoFarm Hawai’i aligns strongly with that of Farm Credit and we are thrilled to support their efforts to further expand their programming.”

“Everyone in American agriculture understands the need to grow and develop the next generation of farmers and ranchers,” added Bill Davis, executive vice president of CoBank’s Farm Credit Banking Group. “It is absolutely critical for the industry and for the country as a whole. But for those who don’t come from a farming background, it can be difficult to get started. GoFarm Hawai’i has a proven and successful model for engaging beginning farmers and, together with our partners at AAC, we are delighted to be a part of their continued success.”

With support from the CoBank and AAC grant, GoFarm Hawai’i will continue providing its successful consulting and technical assistance services, as well as educational workshops. In addition, the organization plans to promote economic opportunity by increasing its efforts to educate new and prospective farmers about access to capital, revenue opportunities and business viability. It will also support the development of collaborative efforts that strengthen the state’s entire agricultural community, including food hubs, cooperative models, access to health insurance and services for veterans in agriculture.

“The potential for small, local farmers in Hawaii is absolutely tremendous,” said Yamamoto. “And helping new farmers to realize that potential creates value and opportunity for us all. Building a stronger, more resilient local food system will help to prepare us for future challenges, ensure better access to healthy, nutritious food for the vulnerable and strengthen our communities. We are tremendously grateful for the vision of CoBank and AAC and their willingness to partner with us to invest in the future of agriculture in Hawaii.”