Do tourists ever get the full story? At best, we dip a toe in. My family stumbled upon several do-gooders (it takes one to know one?) while in Hawaii this winter, who raised issues I had not previously thought much about in “paradise”. Now that I know this is where it gets real for those living in the Hawaiian islands, I’d like to learn more, and how best to respond. I’ll add resources in the comments as I find them, and would be glad if you, Dear Reader, would do the same.
Sustainable Food Sourcing:
We had dinner at Kahumana Farm Cafe while we were near Wai’anae on the west coast of O’ahu. We talked about the same concerns on the Big Island too, staying at Kulaniapia Farm. We were told that only 10% of the food consumed in the islands is grown there. Almost all the restaurants get their produce from Costco, according to one local. It is not the climate that hinders farming, so what is it? Their theory was economic: the power of the dock worker unions and the sheer value of the import business means a lot of powerful, wealthy people are invested in importing food, rather than raising it on island. Kahumana Farm is not only raising local food, but supplying meals for those who are food insecure and creating a resource hub for smaller farmers, for example, whose mango trees might become a renewable source of income. The goal of Kulaniapia Farm to live off the grid, and maybe raise enough food to sustain their own small operation is not only a present challenge, but has layers from the past since the soil’s nutrients were stripped by generations of mono-cropping (sugar cane).
What is the effect of all of us who visit and vacation in Hawaii, on the cost of living? Multiple people “joked” about Las Vegas as the “9th island” because apparently so many people born in Hawai’i have moved there to be able to afford to live. Hmmm… so for vacationers that do not want to make this problem worse, is it better to embed in a community through an airbnb situation (giving residents an additional source of income), or keep the vacation prices on the resorts and away from residential areas? There’s regulation on rental properties that is partially enforced or enforced when reported, and pressures to introduce more, but whose interest is it in? Tourism is a huge source of income and jobs, but are there choices tourists can be making to help rather than hurt those who are simply trying to live in Hawai’i?
There are people experiencing homelessness in the urban areas on all the islands, but camping along the road and beaches as well. In fact, along with New York, Hawaii has the highest per capita incidence of homelessness in the United States. While camping in the sunshine might seem swell, those rains and wind are no joke. The police sweeps of known encampments around Christmas doesn’t end homelessness, just its visibility.
I left beautiful Hawaii with more questions about the challenges of living there than when I arrived. But that means we’re getting to the meaningful conversations, right?