Learning To Be A Farmer At KCC

“Hawaii is deeply embedded in a global food system that relies heavily on cheap energy and oil for transportation. This won’t last. We need to start focusing on community food systems for long-term sustainability,” says Kathryn O’Brien, a sustainable agriculture instructor at Kauai Community College. “The state government knows this and is supporting a local food and agriculture movement.

“There is not a shortage of land on Kauai; there is a shortage of farmers.”

O’Brien and KCC aim to grow new farmers with their Farmer Training program, which is modeled after the GoFarm Hawaii Initiative at

Windward Community College on Oahu. The non-credit, tuition-free, grant-funded program offers 124 hours for just $35. That’s right! The entire 22-week course costs just $35 and consists of three phases.

Phase One: AgCurious. On Feb. 4 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., KCC will host a three-hour seminar called “Farm Dreams.” The seminar, which is free and open to the public (regardless if you sign up for the class), will include discussions about agriculture in Hawaii, services that are available to farmers and the GoFarm Hawaii program. The discussion will conclude with a handful of farmers talking about the reality of farming on Kauai.

“Farming is hard work,” says O’Brien, who’s been an organic farmer for 22 years. “But if you love being close to the land and making your own schedule, farming could be the career for you. Depending on soil quality, beginning farmers can make at least $2,000 a month on a quarter-acre selling to retail outlets. One experienced organic farmer growing intensively on Kauai’s North Shore claims to make up to $7,000 a month on a quarter-acre.”

Phase Two: AgXposure.

For six weeks in February and March (either Saturday mornings or Sunday evenings), students will spend four hours visiting farms, getting hands-on experience. At six farms, students will learn about different crops, methods and styles of farming. Crops include fruit trees, sweet potatoes and taro as well as organic vegetable farms and Westside seed company tours.

Phase Three: AgSchool. From April 17 to Aug. 2, Thursdays from 6 to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon, a four-hour classes will teach hands-on topics such as soil nutrients and plant health management, propagation, variety selection, farm equipment, irrigation, pest control (pathogens, insects, nematodes and weeds), post-harvest storage and handling, food safety, cost of production, crop and business planning, marketing, social and environmental issues in agriculture, as well as research skills and literacy.

When training is completed, students can grow a variety of short-term vegetable crops; install a basic drip irrigation system; operate small farming equipment; calculate farm inputs (fertilizer, pH adjustments, spray rates); develop and follow a business/crop plan; manage soil fertility using sustainable practices; oversee harvest and selling of produce; understand food-safety standards and laws; explain concepts, issues and ideals that support regional food systems and sustainable farming practices; locate and access professional and government resources both regionally and nationally.

“Farming is a lifestyle choice,” says O’Brien. “You’re choosing to make your own hours, work with the land, be outside. Several farmers have told me, ‘When the surf’s up, I’m gone!’ It’s a wholesome lifestyle and you always have food!”

For more information, visit GoFarmHawaii.org, call O’Brien at 245-0129 or email her at kfobrien@hawaii.edu. To register for any of the three classes, call 245-8318.

Marta Lane is a Kauai-based food writer. For more information, visit TastingKauai.com.

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