Rebuilding a Local Food Economy: Oahu, Hawai'i
Architect: University of Arkansas Community Design Center
Owner: Hawaii Department of Agriculture, Agribusiness Development Corporation
Location: Oahu Island, Hawai'i
Despite being the most inhabited remote landmass in the world, Hawaii imports more than 93% of its food. This plan aims to rebuild the local food systems on Oahu, the third largest of the Hawaiian Islands and home to nearly one million people. Working closely with the state's department of agriculture, a diverse team of architects, urban designers, farmers, landscape architects, and food scientists embraced the idea of "thinking like an island" to create an innovative platform for developing value-added short food supply chains on Oahu.
While food planning is often viewed as a rural issue and is conspicuously absent in American planning and policy, food access is intrinsically linked to problems and health issues found in urban settings. Before the rise of industrial agriculture, local food processing and distribution centers were plentiful in American cities, ensuring both essential nutrition and farm prosperity. With food hubs, markets, and processors now absent, our cities have become less resilient and prone to significant nutritional deficits.
To address these challenges, the team developed a new regional food production system, conducted foodshed analyses, and shaped a portfolio of production facilities for the island. The plan's key components include a regional hub that can handle the wholesale processing of products from small growers, a food makerspace at the University of Hawaii, and post-harvest processing prototypes on remote farms.
Before the rise of industrial agriculture, local food processing and distribution centers were plentiful in American cities, ensuring both essential nutrition and farm prosperity.
The average age of a Hawaiian farmer is 61, so to incentivize younger, small-grower startup operations, the state is providing land and irrigation infrastructure reclaimed from corporate plantations. The plan also seeks to address relevant food business incubation issues, ecotourism, equitable distribution, and neighborhood redevelopment to demonstrate that urban agriculture can support a wide range of community needs.
The team’s vision for Oahu's food production landscape is expressed in several fundamental principles that support a healthy and resilient island. The primary aim is to reduce food insecurity by boosting the availability of local products in place of those shipped from more than 3,000 miles away. By incubating the island's legacy food ecosystem—coffee, tropical juices, kimchee, taro, and breadfruit—economic development would be nurtured and a workforce once responsible for Hawaiian prosperity would be rekindled.
Much more than just a plan, this model for rebuilding short food supply chains demonstrates concrete methods for reclaiming the middle agricultural infrastructure that has disappeared in America. Even more importantly, it clearly articulates how such chains can provide vital support to our communities.