Shared from Honolulu Magazine
GOVERNOR IGE SET A GOAL OF DOUBLING LOCAL FOOD PRODUCTION BY 2020. SO HOW DO WE MEASURE UP?
Alternately fought over and forgotten, land in Lualualei Valley, once home to Wai‘anae Sugar Co., has served as a barometer for Hawai‘i’s appetite for agriculture. From the 1960s to ’80s, when the state grew much of its own food, the Araki family and then the Higas grew onions, watermelon, cantaloupe, lettuce, daikon and mustard cabbages there. In 1987, Japanese developer Sanjiro Nakade bought 236 acres in the valley to build a golf course. “No can eat golf balls,” protested the Higas, facing eviction, and the Wai‘anae community rallied in droves behind them. Nakade put the project on hold, only to bring it back four years later, this time offering an undisclosed payment to the Higas and a “community benefit package” to Wai‘anae. Nakade successfully rezoned the land from agricultural to preservation—the idea that a golf course could somehow preserve land against more concrete development.
But the golf course was never built, perhaps because of Japan’s recession. The land sat untouched for nine years until developers acquired it and tried to rezone, once again, this time to light industrial. During a 2011 planning commission hearing, where the audience was almost evenly divided among supporters and opponents of the project, Gary Maunakea-Forth, who started MA‘O Organic Farms nearby, said, “If you pass this, it’s missing an opportunity to plan for agriculture for not only this area, but for the whole state.” Patty Teruya, then-chair of the Nānākuli-Mā‘ili Neighborhood Board, said that Nānākuli had been rural for too long and “keeping the country country … did not bring jobs or economic development.” By the end of the year, the project was dead, one vote shy of approval by the state Land Use Commission. And for almost a decade after, it lay forgotten. Again.