Safe, Fresh And Island-grown

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - April 08, 2009
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First it was spinach, then tomatoes and lettuce. When it affected peanut products, even the president had something to say. And last week a pistachio factory in Fresno, Calif., recalled 2 million pounds of a product previously considered a health food. Forty-six states have reported deaths and illness from salmonella-related illnesses since the recall of 13 million pounds of almonds in 2004, and even in Hawaii, reports of rat lung worm disease transported through food caused concern on the Big Island last month.

Watching what you eat has taken on a whole new meaning.

But if you’re seeking out organic produce because you think you’re eating healthier and are immune to contamination, you might be in for a shock.

“People think that organic means better or fresher,” says Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation president Dean Okimoto. “It doesn’t.”


Almost 98 percent of Hawaii’s organic food is imported. How can that be fresher - or safer - than locally grown food?

“To me, the issue here is about safe food,” says Okimoto. “Those people on the Big Island got sick after eating organically grown backyard greens - you simply cannot control slugs without some form of pesticide.”

At Nalo Farms, they’re so sure that the FDA is going to turn its attention to safe food and begin legislative measures to reduce the risks of mass contamination, they’ve invested in a multimillion-dollar processing plant to kill more than 99 percent of bacteria on their island-grown greens.

“I think it will be federally mandated really soon,” says Okimoto of his safer food practices. “We’re just staying ahead of the game.”

And here’s something else you might want to consider next time you’re choosing organic Mainland produce over locally grown.

“Anytime you’re bringing food into the Islands, there’s a potential to introduce pests,” says Okimoto. “With most of our organic food being imported from the Mainland, it’s a cause for concern.”

Okimoto is keen to see more organic foods grown in Hawaii to feed ever-growing consumer demands and a more-educated buying public, but he is adamant that safe food is the priority over anything else. “Our greens would be graded organic if we simply stopped using slug bait around the perimeter of the farm,” he says, “but we’re not prepared to do that. To me, safe food is more important than anything.”

So, how do you know what you’re eating? Get to know the people growing your food.

“Farmers who practice safe methods will tell you what they use and where they use it, ” says Okimoto. “There’s not a farm in Hawaii that’s not using some kind of pesticide, but if the farmer tells you what he’s using before harvesting the produce, then you should be reassured he’s taking your health concerns seriously.”

With the continuing growth of farmers markets around the Islands, it’s getting easier all the time to reach out to growers and farmers. Anew market opened this past weekend in Haleiwa, joining the Farm Bureau Federation markets in Mililani, Honolulu, Waianae and Kailua, as well as smaller community markets islandwide.

Ask your local supermarket to stock local produce. Safe, fresh food is a priority for us all.

As President Obama said, “No parent should have to worry that their child is going to get sick from their lunch.”

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