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Maui Department of Agriculture provides funds for free Farmer Navigational Coaching : Maui Now


The Maui Farmer Network offers Farmer Navigational Coaching to small and beginning regenerative farmers across Maui County.

MFN was founded in 2021 to support small and beginning farmers in Maui County. Initial programming focused on farmer networking and education through one-on-one online coaching and webinars.

In 2022, MFN was funded by a grant from the County of Maui, Office of Economic Development. In 2023, with ongoing support from the County, a grant from Atherton Family Foundation supported the initial steps to create a Tool Library for Small and Beginning Regenerative Farmers on Maui.

In 2024, MFN will continue coaching and supporting about 45 farmers on a regular basis. Entering its 3rd year of programming, MFN is supported by funding from the County of Maui’s newly formed Department of Agriculture, and the Atherton Family Foundation.

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“We’re focused on helping small and beginning farmers overcome obstacles and achieve their ag production goals,” said MFN co-founder and coach Georgia Pinsky.

The Hawaiʻi Agricultural Census revealed in 2017 that the average age of Hawaiʻi’s farmers was 60.1. Over the past six years, beginning farmer programs across the islands boast over 500 graduates.

On Maui, a powerful new generation of family farmers are learning how to realize their goals of earning a living, increasing local food production, and honoring the ʻāina by using regenerative, climate smart farming practices.

Organization leaders say the COVID pandemic, and more recently, the disastrous wildfires have had a profound effect on the agricultural industry.

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“Many farmers suffered crop loss, as well as market loss. These kinds of impacts can be much more difficult for small and beginning farmers to overcome. In addition, many farmers donated thousands of pounds of food to hubs and food banks across the island to assist those in need. Programs like the Maui Farmer Network Farmer Coaching are critical in stabilizing and expanding the Agricultural Industry in Maui County, and across Hawaii Nei,” organization leaders said.

The Maui Farmer Network reports that farmers in the Hawaiian islands have always had trouble competing with mainland prices.  “With inflation putting pressure on family budgets, prices are prioritized when making a decision whether or not to buy local.  How then can all these bright and inspired new farmers possibly survive and prosper? Fortunately, there are many resources available to bolster farmers in our County,” organization leaders said.

The needs of Maui’s new farmers

As MFN surveyed Maui island farmer training program graduates in 2021, 2022 and early 2023, they found that 92.3% of the 40 farmers polled were socially disadvantaged and 77% were women.  In each of its yearly surveys, the farmers polled expressed a need for: 

  • Access to tools and equipment used infrequently, but necessary such as a chipper to create wood chips made from pruning trees on their own farms
  • Help with access to land as leases in 40% of cases had become untenable
  • Navigation of the USDA Farm Service Agency loan programs
  • Assistance in record keeping, marketing, processing and distribution. 
  • 95% expressed the value they reap from being a part of a farmer support network.  
  • 100% said they want to provide ongoing food security for their families and their community, but need help in how to grow more food on limited acreage using regenerative methods
  • 90% said they would participate in a food hub (aggregation and distribution facility)
  • 60% have or had a need for Hawaiʻi Department of Health required wash/pack facilities
  • Fencing to keep out invasive animals
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Profiles of MFN’S current coaching students

During 2022, MFN’s first year of grant funded programming, 27 farmers applied to be coached via Zoom for an average of 16 hours each, as goals were set, modified and accomplished: 

  • A bee farmer found and purchased her own farm in Haʻikū and built a web presence
  • A permaculture consultant to many other farms on Maui, decided to purchase his own farm with coaching help. 
  • An avocado farmer in Huelo looks to expand his orchards, feed Maui, and create an export facility for Sharwil Avocados. 
  • A lo’i farmer born in Molokaʻi wants to purchase family land in Waiehu, grow Kalo and process poi and other value-added products to sell to farmers markets and food trucks  
  • A Nāpili farmer and Kim Chee maker, is assisted to sell her property and prepare to expand her value added product line.  
  • A hemp farmer buys her own farm on Ōmaʻopio Road in Kula and plans for farm value added products and farm tours.  
  • A farmer who focuses on growing Canoe Crops, buys a farm with his wife and two small children, and are doing farm tours as they develop their value-added products. 
  • A Mākena family farmer learns the rules and regs about farm to table to have on-farm events
  • Several farmers explore their first time selling their product at a local farmers markets. 

Areas of coaching assistance

Having worked in Ag Support for many years now, Robinson and Pinsky have collective knowledge of the County, State and Federal system for agriculture. These two women have been able to save new farmers and even established farmers hours of arduous time navigating the complexities of:

  • Obtaining building permits for farm infrastructure
  • Purchasing or leasing farm land utilizing the USDA Farm Service Agency loan programs
  • Permitting systems for water access, plumbing and electrical codes and inspections
  • Off-grid rules and regs for catchment, gray water for irrigation 
  • Methods of improving soil health and increasing production
  • Discovering what you want to grow, if there is a niche, how to price the crop, and understanding the best markets for those products
  • Learning how to create a unique brand through support from resources such as the Maui Food Innovation Center, the Kohala Center for Cooperative Business Development, the Hawaiʻi Small Business Development Center, and GoFarm Hawaiʻi
  • Incorporating agro-tourism into farm business and site plans
  • Attending networking events on one another’s farms
  • Taking part, as dues paying MFN members, in a Farm Tool and Equipment Lending Library funded by the Atherton Family Foundation.

Farmer Navigational Coaching is available to all Maui County farmers.
“Overcoming Obstacles and Achieving Your Goals”
Application available at: www.mauifarmernetwork.com

Farmer Tool Lending Library “Got Trees? Need Wood Chips?”
Sign up for use of our 12” Chipper www.mauifarmernetwork.com/toollibrary
Usage Fee: $120/hour (3 hour minimum; includes operator, insurance, transport, and fuel)

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