Since its inception in 2012, GoFarm Hawaii has offered a non-traditional path to a career in agriculture.
GoFarm Hawaii is a statewide program that aims to improve Hawaii’s food security and economy by increasing the number of sustainable agricultural producers.
The Beginner Farmer Training Program allows people of all ages to learn about the various aspects of farming to become a commercial farmer.
GoFarm Hawaii began in 2003 as a program accessible to working farmers through the University of Hawaii at the Manoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, or CTAHR.
The program was originally intended to support farmers by providing them with commercial and technical assistance. In 2012, management recognized the need to expand the program to include training for beginning farmers to teach people how to farm.
âWe have started receiving inquiries from people interested in transitioning to farming and starting their own business ventures,â said Janel Yamamoto, director of GoFarm Hawaii. âAt university, we talked more about the research and science behind agriculture. Many people still needed an education focused on agriculture.
GoFarm Hawaii introduced its first cohort on Oahu in 2012 and has since grown to have five entry-level farmer sites, with agricultural technician training on Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the Island of Hawaii.
The goal of the GoFarm Hawaii program is to help people develop the skills necessary to start a farm business or work in the agriculture industry to the next level.
âIn order for us to increase the local food supply and better position ourselves for food security, we really need more food producers,â Yamamoto said. âWe hope to have an impact on our food system by teaching everyone skills in business and agricultural production. “
GoFarm Hawaii has a wide reach, with attendees coming straight from college as well as adults looking to start new businesses or wanting to work after retirement.
âWe have a huge demographic of people applying to this program, the average age being around 40,â Yamamoto said. âIt’s a lifelong process, so you need to be dedicated and make sure your family members are all ready to participate. “
In the past three years, 46% of GoFarm students have started an agriculture-related business, 19% have found employment in agriculture, and 19% intend to start a farm in the future.
The Island of Hawaii program began in 2017 and was initially located on land in Honokaa. In 2020, the program moved to an area just north of Hilo to give students more opportunities to get their hands dirty and grow their own crops.
âWe have high hopes for the island of Hawaii as more people have access to more land here,â Yamamoto said. “We believe there is a future for people to build sustainability and have more commercial farms, because the land is so accessible.”
The intensive program is divided into four phases. Participants must progress sequentially and complete each phase before applying for the next.
The first phase is called “AgCurious”, which is free and open to anyone interested in learning more about the program. After the two to three hour course, participants will be given instructions on how to apply to ‘AgXposure’.
“AgXposure” requires an application and a fee of $ 50. The phase, which lasts four to five weekend days, will allow students to complete theoretical and practical courses related to the fundamentals of agriculture.
Participants in this phase also have the opportunity to visit commercial farms and learn what life might be like if an agricultural career was pursued.
After âAgXposureâ, participants are invited to apply for the âAgXcelâ phase of the program.
âAgXcelâ is a more competitive phase and costs $ 500. The phase consists of six months of classes, which take place on a weekday evening and a weekend day each week.
The third phase gives participants the opportunity to practice on-farm techniques related to small-scale commercial production and apply lessons learned in the classroom to establish, plant and maintain a 5,000 square foot plot.
Participants must grow produce for a community-supported agriculture program, or CSA, and meet a sales target to be successful in this phase.
Those who complete the phase will be invited to apply to the âAgIncubatorâ phase.
This phase allows participants to start their own independent businesses by cultivating crops on a quarter acre of land provided by the program for a period of up to three years.
Participants must meet specific requirements and follow site rules to continue in the phase, but will have access to shared equipment, infrastructure and ongoing coaching.
Each phase introduces students to a different aspect of commercial farming, such as business planning, marketing, and product development, while allowing them to actively practice farming.
Partnership with Ho’ola Farms
Along with the move to the new location in 2020, GoFarm Hawaii has decided to partner with Ho’ola Farms, which offers agricultural training, hands-on education opportunities, and therapy options for veterans and their families.
âWe’ve always had veteran participants, but we had a situation in Oahu involving a veteran in our program a few years ago and we felt we needed a way to better serve them,â said Yamamoto. âWe realized that working with Ho’ola Farms would be beneficial as they offer workshops specifically for veterans. “
In light of this partnership, GoFarm Hawaii decided to open its fourth cohort on the island of Hawaii to military veterans only last year.
The partnership, unique to Hawaii County, has worked well, with four veterans graduating from the program last year. Cohorts are now open to anyone, but veterans are still encouraged to apply.
Learn to grow
Maricar Souza was one of four veterans who graduated from the 7 month program and is now in the âAgIncubatorâ phase.
Souza is currently growing food on the Ho’ola Farms demonstration farm and is able to use GoFarm Hawaii resources as a way to start a business involving her homemade food products, which includes a popular pesto.
âI have learned so much about the freshness and taste of vegetables when you grow them organically from our aina,â Souza said. âWhen I first grew basil, the aroma was amazing and I made the most amazing pesto I have ever made with it. “
Souza has always loved to cook and was a cook for most of her 26 years in the United States Army and in the Army Reserves.
Souza spent six years in active service for the military, with two one-year combat missions in Iraq in 2003 and in Kuwait in 2006. She then joined the U.S. Army Reserves for 20 years and took up her post. retirement in 2016.
âI think this program is really great for everyone, but especially for the veterans. I really benefited from it in so many ways, âsaid Souza. âPhysically, farming has helped me lose weight and allowed me to work more with my hands. I also get so much satisfaction when I finally grow something so tasty from a seed.
Souza spent her time on the farm learning which materials help produce the most growth from the produce and enjoyed seeing the fruits of her labor.
As she joined the program to improve her recipes and learn how to grow fresh ingredients, Souza is also excited to share her new education with family, friends and other veterans.
âNow that I’ve graduated, I still share advice with my mom and other family members when they grow food in their backyard,â Souza said. âI also tell veterans how the program encouraged me and helped me find a life outside of work.
Souza hopes to start a business and make a living from growing and selling food products.
âI love doing this, and if I can retire in three to five years and make it my full-time job, that would be great,â said Souza. âNow I’m going to focus on getting my hands dirty with Ho’ola Farms and keep growing as much as possible. “
Although Souza always had a desire to learn how to farm, she was inspired to take the plunge when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the island.
âWhen COVID hit, I just thought – what if the barge doesn’t come? What are we going to do? “Said Souza.” It made me want to start this process, because I never want to have to ask this in an emergency. For our island, it is important that we all know how to do it. pushing things and using the aina to give back to ourselves.
Souza was concerned that the island could not be sustained without help from the mainland, which is part of the reason why Ho’ola Farms founder and manager Emily Emmons decided to partner with GoFarm Hawaii.
âDuring this pandemic, there has been a lot of talk about sustainability and how being on an island makes us more vulnerable to challenges like food insecurity,â Emmons said. “People are looking to us, to our island, for sustainability efforts, and that is exactly what this program is doing right before our eyes.”
After attending the County’s Sustainability Summit this year, Emmons realized how many problems could be solved by teaching people the importance of knowing where food comes from.
âThe sustainability conference really showed me that it all comes down to aana,â Emmons said. âIt’s so important to know where our food comes from. And knowing that veterans are growing your food in your backyard is even more special. “
Scholarships for the GoFarm Hawaii program are available for veterans at each beginner farm location through Ho’ola Farms.
The Island of Hawaii Fifth Cohort is currently in session and will run through September 7.
You can find more information about GoFarm Hawaii and Ho’ola Farms at https://gofarmhawaii.org/ and https://www.hoolafarms.org/.
Email Kelsey Walling at [email protected]