Bringing Maui’s idle farmland back to life

Many families live on agricultural land but do not farm it. Whether they inherited it or purchased it, they don’t have time or resources to bring it to fruition. Now Maui’s Common Ground Collective (CGC) aims to assist these families with its Foster Farms program. They hope to bring these farms back to life, harvesting produce that otherwise would be wasted, and farming land that otherwise would sit idle.

CGC executive director Jennifer Karaca says, “The Foster Farming Program gives owners options to decide what they would like to do with their produce. They can donate the produce to community organizations for use in their programs, or donate it to our organization to help us support our mission, or we can make the market connection for them so they can get paid for the fruit of their land. We understand for some people if they decide to sell it, they’re motivated to keep growing more and more food to meet Maui’s increasing local demand.”

Benefits for landowners and the community

Landowners residing on farm land are taxed at market value, but if they grow for more than just their subsistence needs and sell more than $1000 in produce per year, they may qualify for lower property taxes and water prices. Among its many services, CGC provides this information to families and can help them apply for different credits they may not be aware of.

“There are so many aspects we can help with,” Karaca says. “It’s all connected, but most people don’t realize it. This is why we offer so many services.”

Sustainable Science Management at UH Maui

Karaca and CGC president Terese Masters founded the non-profit organization shortly after graduating from the University of Hawai‘i Maui College’s Sustainable Science Management program. In fact, five members of CGC’s board earned SSM degrees from UH Maui.

“We were drawn to agriculture,” says Karaca. “We looked at issues within our community and how we could problem-solve with one solution. “Economic development for small farms means profits for local residents, which benefits the whole community. We’re stacking functions to address multiple issues. The SSM program at UH Maui expanded our knowledge about some of the issues in Hawai‘i and on Maui specifically, teaching us about systems thinking and how to convey that to different stakeholders.”

Three changes local businesses can make to promote sustainability

Karaca insists that making the transition to being a more sustainable community doesn’t have to be a huge, life-changing experience; there are ways to minimize our footprints with daily decisions and small changes.

  1. Switch to reusable products rather than single-use, disposable products.
    When you use reusable products, you’re not merely avoiding throwing more material into the trash. You’re preventing pollution caused by harvesting new raw materials, you’re saving the energy required to produce and ship disposable products, and you’re not producing by-products in their manufacture.
  2. Purchase local products instead of shipping products from elsewhere.
    In addition to saving on fuel costs, reducing packaging waste and cutting transportation-related pollution, local businesses are more likely to be one-of-a-kind establishments lending communities their singular identities. “Also, every dollar that stays in the local economy multiplies and helps everyone,” says Karaca. “A study by UH Mānoa’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources shows if we double our consumption of locally produced fruits and vegetables statewide, we would create more than 2,000 jobs, collect an additional $6 million in state taxes, and generate $45 million in earnings for residents.” Buying local creates jobs, which inject more money into local economies and increase the tax base for better services.
  3. Team up with a local nonprofit whose vision for the community lines up with yours.
    The money your business can donate to the nonprofit of your choice can earn your business tax credits and introduce more people to your business through collaborative projects or events. It also helps the nonprofit with unrestricted funds to fill in the gaps for their projects, which may be hard to fund through grants.
University of Hawai‘i Alumni