The state of Hawaii is among the 10 smallest in the nation, with a total area of 10,931 sq. miles. Despite its small size, Hawaii supports rich natural ecosystems, large cities, high tourist traffic, and a diversified agriculture of local consumption and export crops. But how much land is really available for agriculture? The abundant greenery of some areas, and the mild climate may give a false sense of how much land is suitable for farm use in Hawaii. An in depth evaluation of the suitability of the Hawaiian revealed that only approximately 1,200 sq. miles (760,000 acres) have the right combination of soil and climate for food production.

The reduced acreage of ecologically suitable farmland in Hawaii, combined with the high cost of land tenure, creates a difficult scenario for beginning farmers and small-scale growers. Understandably, over 60 % of growers in Hawaii work small plots that range in size between 1 to 9 acres. In comparison, in the mainland USA farms tend to be much larger, with an average farm size of 150 -200 acres, and a great majority of farms over several thousand acres.

One of the strongest reasons for the increase in farm size in the USA is the use of machinery and technology. For example, the large-scale equipment for planting and harvesting corn is only more profitable to acquire if the grower has a large farm. Tillage, fertilization, and synthetic pesticides application, are chores that can be mechanized when a farm in large and focuses on producing a single crop. Consequently, large farms tend to be less diversified than medium or small-scale farms.

Small-scale producers exemplify a dramatically different path in agricultural production. These growers rely less on mass planting of a single crop, and concentrate on diversifying their land to produce a great number of products. Some of these farmers may chose to produce crops with less chemical and/or mechanical input, sometimes due to personal belief on more natural food production techniques. Some of the growers may also be aware of the importance of reducing the impact of agriculture to the environment, and some simply lack the funds to introduce other techniques.

Nevertheless, small-farms in Hawaii are likely to play a large role on food sustainability by supplying local markets with fresh produce and specialty crops such as bitter melon, winter melon, kabocha pumpkin, and mountain apple, to name a few. Small-farms can also tap into the large national and international market by selling their products directly online, especially if they can adhere to organic production.

There are also a number of local organizations that combine learning about farming and Hawaiian culture, in particular the MA'O (Mala Ai Opio of "Youth Garden") program in Waianae, Oahu. The staff and interns at MA'O farms grow a large number of fruits and vegetables and distribute their crops among some of the most prominent restaurants and food markets in town.

It is clear that small farms can succeed economically, and that diversified agriculture can be both attractive to investors and relatively begin to the environment. Local farmers however, are faced with a diversity of challenges including, high costs of equipment, land leases, and limited space. In addition, the warm climate of Hawaii allows for pests to grow all year round, suitable soils are difficult to find, and need care to avoid erosion or nutrient depletion.

If you are interested in an introduction to water and soil issues in Hawaii please use these links to access basic information on these topics:

Water

Soil

For a detailed technical map and description of Hawaii's soil types please see this document.


The soil quality of your farm or garden will have a great impact on your success as a grower. The University of Hawaii offers a low cost soil analysis service at the Agricultural Diagnostic Service Center (ADSC), for more information on the kind of chemical analysis available and price please visit ADSC's website.

If you are new to agriculture but are interested in farming, and especially, if you are interested in incorporating bees into your farm, please consider taking a couple classes. There are a number of beginning farmer programs in Hawaii that can provide a hands-on introduction to farming, a comprehensive list is available in the Sustainable and Organic Agriculture Program from CTAHR.

If you are interested in learning in farming and marketing your agricultural products it is beneficial to become familiar with the local markets. The Hawaii Department of Agriculture has a list of farmer markets available online here.

If gardening or backyard farming is your main interest, the University of Hawaii's Master Gardener Program provides ample opportunity to participate, learn, and contribute. The program is state wide and you can check their website for more specific information.

The Master Gardener Program has a phone help-line open to the public, and you can call in with questions about your garden plants, from pests to diseases, to growing tips. In addition, the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources recently developed a phone application to help you ID plant diseases (caused usually by fungus, virus, or bacteria). For more information on the phone app please check here.

If you would rather bring in a plant or insect sample for ID please refer to this document.

Beekeeping workshops (1 to 2 days in duration), are currently offered by the State Apiary Program, please check their website (www.hawaiibee.com) for more details on these events. Please note that some of their workshops are introductory, and others are designed to focus on particular advanced beekeeping skills (such as queen breeding).

Local beekeepers and beekeepers clubs offer occasional training, but this varies from island to island. The University of Hilo also offers a beekeeping class for credit, and the UH Honeybee Project at Manoa offers training for Master Gardeners and will soon be offering a beekeeping class through the Outreach College on Oahu. Please check this website for more news and class schedules.