Farmers share views on how NRCS opportunities can best serve them.
“Your voice matters,” is the message that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) of the Pacific Islands Area (PIA) recently delivered to O’ahu farmers interested in possible funding and technical assistance.
A team from the NRCS PIA Honolulu Field Office and O’ahu Resource Conservation and Development (ORC&D) met with about 15 local producers July 14 in a small, breezy room in Tommy Kakesako Hall on the Ke’ehi Lagoon Memorial Park grounds in Honolulu to hear their views on how NRCS funding opportunities can best serve them.
It also was an opportunity to connect local producers with NRCS PIA Honolulu Field Office team members and partner organizations, including the Forest Service Agency, O’ahu Soil and Water Conservation Districts and EcoLOGIC Hawai’i.
Due to a change of approach in recent years, input from these annual meetings now help drive and shape NRCS PIA programs, said Zachery Freeman, NRCS PIA Honolulu Field Office district conservationist. What hasn’t changed is the resolve for it to be an exchange of information and ideas, a forum for the community to share experiences and a grassroots approach to expand collaborations and partnerships across agencies.
“For the longest time, these NRCS programs have been in place, but we haven’t held these meetings where we get their voice out, and sit down to listen to them, rather than only bringing opportunities and funding to them,” said Freeman. “We now sit down and listen to their needs.
“We provide them a voice for us at NRCS, where traditionally they’ve seen it as, ‘This is a federal program. The funding for programs is there, and they cannot be changed. And they cannot be catered to us.’
Attendees like Riz Almagro, a grant manager for Keiki O Ka ‘Āina Family Learning Centers and Farms, welcomed the opportunity to be more than a passive part of the process.
“It’s been helpful, and I was able to connect to other people as well, also provide them with some information about our experiences with the application process,” said Almagro, who has tapped into NRCS programs to implement conservation practices at their Waimanalo farm site, using Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) funds, and has applied for Environmental Quality Incentive Program funding at their Waiawa farm site.
“The CSP allowed us to identify three practices under that five-year contract,” she said. “We just got certified for our first practice, which is mulching, so we got funding for that. And right now, we’re in the middle of our windbreak practice, and then we’ll be doing our cover crops.”
NRCS PIA recognizes that helping O’ahu-based farmers like Almagro calls for a tailored conservation approach that supports their unique challenges and needs, said Freeman.
“This targeted conservation plan is needed because it provides conservation delivery in a very specific manner to address specific resources that are unique to the island of O’ahu,” said Freeman, “and meeting with the producers on O’ahu annually to identify all those challenges and struggles and what’s working and what’s not is the biggest tool we use to adjust our programs and our funding and our outreach.”
Recommendations and insights gained from these open house sessions impact future NRCS PIA program implementation and assist planners in developing the best solutions to help local producers improve production, reduce costs and conserve natural resources.
“To me success would look like not only more producers signing up for programs,” said Freeman, “but more producers who really need them gaining awareness and knowledge of our programs and more local communities providing food to the people on the island.”
More information about NRCS PIA programs is at https://bit.ly/3QghcSR.
Zachery Freeman (left), NRCS PIA Honolulu Field Office district conservationist and Mandy Chen (right), NRCS PIA Honolulu Field Office conservation planner, speaks to a group of local O’ahu farmers July 14 in Tommy Kakesako Hall on the Ke’ehi Lagoon Memorial Park grounds in Honolulu.