Category Archives: Food Safety Certification

Preparing for Climate Change, The Overview

Richard Ha writes:

I was asked to talk this morning at the Hawai‘i State Association of Counties 2014 Annual Conference, which was held in Waikiki. I spoke on the panel called Preparing for Climate Change. Here’s what I said.

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Aloha everyone. Thanks for inviting me.

Food security has to do with farmers farming. If the farmers make money, the farmers will farm!

The Hawaiian side of our family is Kamahele, from lower Puna. All the Kamaheles are related. The Okinawa side of our family is Higa. The Korean side of our family is the Ha name. It’s about all of us in Hawaii. Not just a few of us!

I write an ag and energy blog Hahaha.hamakuasprings.com. It stands for three generations of us.

What is the difference between climate and weather? Neil DeGrasse Tyson, on Cosmos, describes it like the guy strolling down the beach with his dog. The dog running back and forth is the weather. The guy walking along the beach is climate.

Background: 35 years farming, more than 100 million pounds of fruits and vegetables. We farm 600 fee-simple acres which the family and 70 workers farm. Not having any money, we started out by trading chicken manure for banana keiki and went on to become the largest banana farm in the U.S. We were green farmers early. In 1992, we were first banana farm in the world certified Eco-OK by the Rainforest Alliance. In 2008, we were one of six national finalists for the Patrick Madden SARE award. We were one of the first farms in Hawai‘i to be food-safety certified.

When we needed to find a solution for a disease problem, we took a class in tissue culture and tried to culture the plants in our back bedroom. But there was too much contamination, from cat hair maybe. So we made our own tissue culture lab. We have our own hydroelectric plant, which provides all our electricity. Our trucks and tractors operate with fuel from Hawai‘i biodiesel.

My pop told me that, “Get a thousand reasons why no can.” I’m only looking for the one reason why CAN.

As we stroll along the climate change beach, there are two things that we notice.

The first is energy. Without energy, work stops. Petroleum products are finite and costs will rise. Farmers’ costs will rise and farmers’ customers’ costs will rise. How can we dodge the bullet?

I attended five Peak Oil conferences. The world has been using twice and three times as much oil as we have been finding. So the price is going to keep on going up. It will increase farmers’ costs and will increase the farmers’ customers’ costs. We need to do something that will help all of us, not just a few of us. Something that can help future generations cope.

That something is hydrogen. The geothermal plant can be curtailed at 70 MW per day. That’s throwing away 70 MW of electricity every night. The new eucalyptus chip plant Hu Honua can be curtailed by 10 MW for ten hours per night. The key to hydrogen is electricity cost. On the mainland it is made from natural gas. Here it can be made from running electricity through water. We are throwing away lots of electricity at night. We know that oil and gas prices will be steadily going up in the future. Hydrogen from our renewable resources will become more and more attractive as oil and gas prices rise. At some point we will have an advantage to the rest of the world. And as a bonus, hydrogen combined with nitrogen in the air will produce nitrogen fertilizer.

You may be interested to know the inside scoop about the lawsuit that Big Island farmers brought against the County.

Why? Clarity: Farmers are law-abiding citizens and we play by the rules. We thought that the Feds and the State had jurisdiction. We want clarity about the rules of the game.

Equal treatment: Only Big Island farmers are prohibited from using biotech solutions that all our competitors can use. How is that equal? It’s discriminatory against local farmers.

When the law was first proposed, they wanted to ban all GMOs. We asked what are papaya farmers supposed to do? They said, we can help them get new jobs, to transition. We were speechless. It was as if they were just another commodity. So farmers and ranchers got together and ran a convoy around the County building in protest. Then they said they would give the Rainbow papaya farmers a break. I was there when the papaya farmers had a vote to accept the grandfather clause for Rainbow papayas. There were a lot of young, second- and third-generation farmers there in the room.

In the end, the papaya farmers said, We are not going to abandon our friends who supported us when we needed help. That is not who we are. Then they voted unanimously to reject the offer. I was there and being a Vietnam vet, where the unspoken rule was we all come back or no one comes back, I could not have been prouder of the papaya farmers. That explains why the Big Island farmers are tight. Old-fashioned values. The rubbah slippah folks absolutely get all of this.

So who are these farmers? I am one. I don’t grow GMOs. It isn’t about me. I’ll make 70 this year and, like almost all the farmers, have never sued anyone. But there comes a time when you have to stand up for what is right.

The group we formed, Hawaii Farmers and Ranchers United, grows more than 90 percent of the farm value on the Big Island.

This is about food security. The GMO portion of food security is small. This is not about large corporations. It is about local farmers. It is not about organics; we need everybody. But organics only supply 4 percent of the national food supply and maybe 1 percent of Hawai‘i’s. Our organic farmers are not threatened by modern farming. Hawaii organic farmers are threatened by mainland, industrial-scale organic farms. That is why there are hardly any locally grown organics in the retail stores. It’s about cost of production. Also, on the mainland winter kills off the bad bugs and weeds and the organic farmers can outrun the bugs through the early part of summer. Hawai‘i farmers don’t have winter to help us.

Most importantly, this is about pro-science and anti-science. That is why farmers are stepping up. We know that science is self-correcting. It gives us a solid frame of reference. You don’t end up fooling yourself. In all of Hawai‘i’s history, now is no time to be fooling ourselves.

My pop told me that there were a thousand reasons why No Can. He said, look for the one reason why Can! He said to look for two solutions to every problem and one more, just in case.

He would pound the dinner table and dishes would bounce in the air and he would point in the air and say, “Not no can. CAN!”

We can have a better world for future generations. It’s all common sense and attitude.

***

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Watch Richard & Tracy on KITV-News Tonight; & Some Photos

Richard's segment on KHON news last night was interesting! Always something new.

If you didn't catch the piece, titled, "Local farmer turns to natural cleaner to kill bacteria," you can watch it here:

Richard Ha on KHON-2 News

Lara Yamada of KITV came by and she interviewed us there, as well. Here she is with Tracy. This segment will run on tonight's KITV News.

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Here's Richard speaking to Olena Heu. This was at Alan Wong's Pineapple Room at Ala Moana.

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Olena Heu interviewing Alan Wong.

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With Vincent Kimura, of the Innovi Group.

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Olena tested her cell phone, and then some tomatoes, for bacteria, and then again after treating them with ozone. Watch the segment to see what she discovered! Really interesting.

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– Leslie Lang
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Watch Richard on KHON Tonight (Wed) at 5 & 6 p.m.

Richard and his daughter Tracy were interviewed today by Olena Heu at KHON in Honolulu. The segment will be on the KHON News tonight at 5 p.m., with a shorter version of the interview at 6 tonight.

They were interviewed about food safety, which has been in the news lately. Tune in and hear about current food safety practices at Hamakua Springs, and how they are experimenting with ozone for food safety right now.

A transcript of the interview is here.

KHON streams its newscasts live here, if you want to watch live at 5pm HST.

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Anaheim, the Wonderful World of Produce

Richard Ha writes:

My daughter Tracy and I went to the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) trade show recently. Tracy is in charge of the farm’s Food Safety and Marketing program.

There were 21,000 people at this event, in Anaheim for the trade show from 60 countries.

It’s a great place to meet people and keep up with new trends in the produce business.

Ca tomato farmers

Are you familiar with the new FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)? It’s the most sweeping reform of our food safety laws in more than 70 years, and was signed into law by President Obama on January 4, 2011. It aims to ensure that our U.S. food supply is safe by shifting the focus from responding to contamination to, instead, preventing it.

Ca tomato farmers

We have always taken food safety very seriously. We scored the highest Food Safety inspection scores ever this year – 100 percent for banana and tomato field operations, and 98 percent for our banana and tomato packing operations. But still, we are always looking for ways to learn more and improve. So PMA 2012 was timely.

Ca tomato farmers

Tracy commented on how fast technology is moving. QR (Quick Reader) codes are something with great marketing potential. They can hold thousands of times more data than traditional barcodes. Any customer with a cell phone camera and a QR app can instantly visit your website, hear an audio or see videos. Download a QR code app and you can get right down to the farm level. We are intrigued by the possibilities.

QR reader

At PMA we saw there is a marketing push toward children, in order to get them eating more healthfully. There were hundreds of different combinations of products and packaging that were kid-oriented.

For kids

We came away with all kinds of ideas. It’s very exciting.

Ca tomato farmers

And a short video of the action:

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Master Gardeners Visit Hamakua Springs

Richard Ha writes:

The master gardeners came to visit Hamakua Springs yesterday. I told them their entry fee was that they had to listen to my pitch about the Big Island Community Coalition, through which we advocate for lowest electricity rates in the state.

We all laughed, and then I handed them flyers to post everywhere they can.

The Master Gardeners, solely as volunteers, help staff the University Extension Service. Somone pointed out that when they are not there, the Extension Service office is empty.

It was great to talk with people who grow things and have hands-on experience with insect and disease issues. They peered under leaves and asked lots of questions. Many of them grow tomatoes, so we had a lot in common. We feel a special closeness to them.

Mastergardener

Master Gardeners decided to do their vegetable shopping while on their tour.

My daughter Tracy
explained our Food Safety program, which involves nearly 60 line items for the field operation and 60 more for the packing operation. Everything is documented.

I pointed out that
smaller growers have a very difficult time both farming and maintaining the
detailed paperwork necessary to become Food Safety-certified. The Food Safety program evolved as large retailers pushed the liability down the chain. It is neither good nor bad – It just is.

Someone asked how long we have been at Pepe‘ekeo and why we chose this location, and I explained that we started looking at different possible locations 20 years ago. Plantations were closing down, the market was on O‘ahu – there were many factors in play.

What it came down to were the physical resources. At Pepe‘ekeo, which is located close to a deep water port, there is deep soil, and most of all, there is an abundance of water. Our average annual rainfall here is close to 140 inches per year. More than 1/4 of the volume of water that goes to the Ewa plains on O‘ahu flows downhill through our farm alone. And there is a 150-foot elevation difference in the water flow.

That water was free, and would be free for as long as we could imagine. We made our decision based on free water.

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Hamakua Springs is Food Safety Certified

The farm had its external food safety audit yesterday.

“We don’t hear officially for a week or so, but I know we did pass,” said Tracy Pa, Richard’s daughter, who – among other responsibilities – handles the farm’s food safety certification process.

I asked her how she knows.

“Because the auditor couldn’t believe how clean our place was,” she said, “and how orderly the records are.”

There are two different audits – one for the farm, and another for the packing house. “It’s all about worker protection, safety and cleanliness,” said Tracy.

For the farm audit, she said, you even have to show documentation about what the land was used for before you got there.

“Everything has to be documented,” she said. “We are on land that was previously sugar cane land for 90-100 years.

“There’s a cleaning schedule for when to clean your harvest bins, you have to sanitize your knives every day before you use them, we wear disposable gloves when we’re working, and they’re discarded once they touch some surface other than the food itself. They take water samples and test the water quality.”

“These days pretty much everyone requires it,” she said, “like Costco requires it to sell anything to then, and more and more supermarkets, too.”

But back when the farm first received “Food Safety Certification,” in 2003, it was not the norm. “We were ahead of the game,” she said. “It was very unusual then, and everyone looked at us as if we were crazy because we were spending a few thousand every year to get audited. And it’s a lot of paperwork on top of whatever else we’re doing.”

It was primarily as protection for their workers that they started pursuing Food Safety Certification, which they received every year.

These days, “the employees are proud when we pass,” she said. “When it’s over and you tell them we did a good job, they give a sigh of relief.”

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What’s Wrong With This Picture?

What is wrong with this picture?

Hamakua Springs bananas are Food Safety Certified.

Screen shot 2011-06-10 at 9.52.15 PM

We were also the first banana farm in the world to be certified ECO-OK by the Rainforest Alliance.

We, and other local banana growers, refuse to use insecticide-impregnated bags because we cannot stand the thought of our workers having to carry those bags in close contact with their skin.

Yet our bananas can only be sold in Chinatown, because they are not blemish-free enough.

I write this because a friend of mine from O‘ahu asked me yesterday: “Where can I find local bananas?” He told me his family prefers local bananas – because they taste better, not because they look better.

What is wrong with this picture?

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We Are Confident In Our Food Safety Procedures

Someone reports finding a slug on lettuce he bought that had our label on it. He says he bought it on Sunday at the Pahoa Farmers Market.

But we do not sell our lettuce at the Pahoa Farmers Market, and do not have vendors selling our product at any Farmers Markets. Apparently, and unknown to us, someone must have bought our lettuce and resold it. We did not have control over that lettuce. It could have been contaminated when out of our control. It’s also possible someone packed other lettuce into our container/label. There’s no way to know.

We only sell our products at Farmers Markets ourselves. If you see our product at a Farmers Market, come up and say hi. We’ll say hi and introduce ourselves, and you’ll be talking to me and/or members of my family.

For many years now we have been very proactive about slugs and slug-borne diseases. I have written about this here before.

We do not grow our lettuce in dirt. Instead, we grow our lettuce on floating rafts. The lettuce roots gets their nutrients straight from the water. This helps us to maintain a barrier from slugs.

We were the first company in the state to be third-party Food Safety Certified. We could have been satisfied with that, and just relied on our food safety certification (which is voluntary, and adds a lot of labor and cost to our operation, but is important to us). But we are serious about doing everything we can to protect our customers, so we took it one step further.

Although there haven’t been any cases of the slug-borne “rat lungworm disease” reported in Pepe‘ekeo, where our farm is located, we voluntarily instituted a program to cut the potential lifecycle of the rat lungworm (the carrier of the rat lungworm disease).

Because the disease lifecycle requires the rat lungworm to live part of its life in a slug and part in a rat, we developed a program of slug baiting and rat baiting/trapping to make sure that the cycle was cut. So on our farm, even if a slug got by us, the chance of it being infested with the disease is unlikely.

We sympathize with the person who found a slug, but we have carefully doublechecked our procedures and are confident they are working as planned.

I don’t blame him for feeling frustrated. But the world is changing and we need to be thinking of how we will help each other face the uncertain future together. We need to make strornger communities, we need to make more friends and we need to stay closer to our families. In an uncertain future, it will be the aloha spirit that will help us cope with an uncertain tomorrow.

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Nominated to the Board of Agriculture

Richard Ha
Re: Nomination to the Board of Agriculture

Dear Mr. Ha:

Congratulations on being nominated by Governor Linda Lingle to the Board of Agriculture. To assist the Senate with its confirmation process, I am requesting that the following information be submitted to my office:

A written statement that addresses the following questions:

Why do you wish to be a member of the Board of Agriculture?

I am very interested in food security for Hawaii and I hope to be able to make a contribution toward that goal.

How do you perceive the role and responsibilities of a member of the Board of Agriculture?

I see the role of a member of the Board of Agriculture as making responsible decisions on agriculture matters, taking a broad societal view of things. I specifically see the role as an opportunity to help make Hawaii more food secure.

I am an advocate for all kinds of farmers–large and small, organic and conventional, on all islands, all elevations, wet side and dry. Although we may be considered large farmers, I think it is very dangerous for food security to depend on a few very large farms.

Given your understanding of the role and responsibilities of a member of the Board of Agriculture, why do you believe that you are qualified for the position? Please include a brief statement of your skills, expertise, or knowledge that would aid in your decision-making ability as a member of the Board of Agriculture.

After getting a degree in accounting at the UH, I started growing bananas nearly 30 years ago. We had no money so we traded chicken manure for banana pulapula. Eventually, we became the largest banana grower in the state and bought 600 acres of fee simple land. The things that failed along the way could fill a museum. This experience was very valuable. I have a very high respect for wise old small farmers. And, like them, I try not to talk too much.

What do you hope to accomplish during your term of service?

I hope to bring awareness that Food Security involves farmers farming. And that if farmers make money, then farmers will farm. This is not complicated.

Name three qualities that best describe you and that would make you stand out. How would these qualities benefit the Board of Agriculture?

  1. I see myself as a bridge between the “shiny shoe” folks and the “rubbah slippah” folks.
  2. I have the ability to see a desired goal in the future and can stay focused on that goal.
  3. There are a thousand reasons why no can. I try to look for the one reason why CAN!! Keep it simple, keep it focused and no give up.

Name one previous experience that would make you stand out. How would this benefit the Board of Agriculture?

I helped with the Thirty Meter Telescope decision to site the telescope on Mauna Kea. I was able to talk to folks on all sides of the issue. I learned from Patrick Kahawaiola‘a that the process was most important. I thought that, that being the case, then everyone contributing to the process made for a better final product. That means we need to aloha everyone who contributed input, whether or not we agree with the position.

Two or three years ago, I told Kumu Lehua Veincent, Principal of Keaukaha Elementary School, that the Thirty Meter Telescopes wanted to come to the Big Island. I suggested that as a start we ask them for a good faith offer. I told Kumu, “How about we ask them for five full ride scholarships for Keaukaha kids, to the best schools in the nation?” Kumu looked up at me and simply said: “And what about the rest?” I could feel my ears getting hot. I felt pretty stupid. Indeed, what about the rest.

These two lessons, “the process” and “what about the rest?” are principles I hold very close to me. And I think that this approach will benefit the Board of Agriculture.

Can you foresee any possible conflicts of interests that could arise during your service on the Board of Agriculture? How would you overcome any possible conflicts of interest?

I do not see conflicts of interest at this point. However, I will quickly recuse myself if I do.

Your prompt response in providing the above information will ensure that the Senate confirmation process can proceed in a timely manner. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Senator Clayton Hee
Chair, Senate Committee on Water, Land, Agriculture, and Hawaiian Affairs

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The Tomato Pickle

My uncle in California reads this blog, and he sent over a link to a newsweek.com article with this tagline: As the salmonella-tainted tomato outbreak continues to spread, small and local farm advocates say their produce is a safer bet. But experts aren’t so sure.

The gist of the article is that with the recent salmonella and tomatoes scare on the mainland (but not here in Hawai‘i), people are confused. They don’t know which tomatoes are safe.

Some think smaller farms, and local farms, are safer, and consequently sales at farmers markets are skyrocketing, but is produce from small and local farms actually safer? In the article, experts weigh in saying that mistakes and contamination issues can happen at any farm of any size.

“The real key,” says a microbiologist at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences – who is also a safety adviser to the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange and the Center for Produce Safety at the University of California – “is for everyone to follow good safety practices.”

My uncle wrote, “This article sounds like it is based on what I have read on the Ha Ha Ha blog over the last year or two!”

It really does.

Richard agreed: “Your uncle is right. It’s not rocket science. People want to know who grew the product and if it’s safe.”

“Everything under the Hamakua Springs label is grown by us and is food safety certified,” he said.

“It’s not complicated at all.”

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