I came to Kauai around 16 years ago and somehow managed to get myself involved with the Kauai County Farm Bureau. I had an extensive marketing background and had this idea about creating a program called “Grow Kauai.”
I ended up writing a monthly column in the precursor to For Kauai, called “Grower of the Month.” For over a year, I got to talk story with some of the old timers, like Mamo Kaneshiro, a true gentleman. I began to develop an incredible respect for our island farmers and felt privileged to be able to meet many of them.
During my years at the farm bureau, I befriended Jerry Ornellas. I found him to be very articulate and someone with a profound sense of agriculture’s history on Kauai. He was also incapable of turning down any request to speak on behalf of the significance of agriculture, the true fabric of this island.
He was born a farmer and will die a farmer, because that’s who he is. I was surprised to read his story about the looming water crisis on the Eastside (forum, Other Voices, TGI, Nov. 12). He has never been one to seek the limelight and heaven for him is being out on his land, doing what he has always done.
I know we have a very serious water problem for our farmers, because Jerry would simply never do anything like this. While this might seem naive on my part, you don’t know him the way I do and there is no one anywhere on Kauai more credible in these matters, period.
As a result of my history here, I probably know more than I ought to be about how small farmers all over this state are continually pushed aside and taken advantage of. Frankly, they are lousy politicians and joy for them is preparing their soil, planting their crops and working their hearts out for a good harvest. They are a special kind of angel and they are a dying breed.
Agribusiness has been pushing them to the brink of extinction and their loss will do irreparable harm to every one of us. We rely on water for life, because it is our life blood. It is exactly the same for small farmers. Water brings their crops to life and, without it, they die.
Talk of sustainability has become very fashionable these days. It is a wonderful concept that makes so many people feel good about themselves. Politicians and power brokers are particularly in love with the idea.
When you mix in the looming threat of climate change it becomes even sexier for those people to bandy it about. We are a small island in the middle of nowhere, and if you think we will be top of mind on anyone’s agenda on the mainland, you are seriously delusional.
In the years ahead, we are going to need our farmers and we will need more of them. I believe with all my heart the survival of Kauai is going to be based on our ability to feed ourselves.
The reservoirs and ditch systems throughout the island were brilliantly designed and done so by the incredibly hard work of people who lived with the land and understood its ways, just like Jerry.
Farmers are much happier talking to the land than writing articles or lobbying politicians. We are the ones who need them desperately, and they are the ones who need the water.
Please read Jerry Ornellas’ article, “East Kauai irrigation system reverting to DLNR,” and know he is speaking truth to power.
Larry Feinstein, a self-described “Kauai lover,” is a resident of Lihue.