While most stories about farmland on Oahu center around development plans, news was released this week of another approach: preserving it for agriculture in perpetuity.
The Galbraith Estate has agreed to sell the state 1,743 acres in Central Oahu for $25 million, according to an article originally published in the Wall Street Journal. The parcel is one of the largest undeveloped tracts of privately owned land on the island.
About 1,200 acres will eventually be deeded over to the state Agricultural Development Corp., which has committed to leasing about 200 acres to small farmers, said Lea Hong, Hawaii director for the Trust for Public Land, which is brokering the transaction. The rest would be leased to one or more larger agricultural tenants. Another 500 acres would go to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
The land was nearly developed into homes, but that plan was derailed during last year’s economic downturn, prompting negotiations with the state to buy the parcel instead.
The state Legislature approved $13 million in general obligation bonds, and TPL helped raise the rest. Some $4.5 million came from the U.S. Army, which supports a farming use for the land to buffer Schofield Barracks from development. Another $4 million came from the City and County of Honolulu’s Clean Water and Natural Lands Program, Hong said, while OHA put up $3 million and a private donor contributed $500,000.
The preservation plan garnered the support of Congresswoman Mazie Hirono, who issued this statement: “At a time when we need to find ways to be more sustainable, the announcement that the state is in the process of purchasing the Galbraith Estate land exclusively for agricultural use moves us in the right direction toward growing more of the food we eat.”
The Galbraith acquisition will also protect access to the Kukaniloko birthstones, a significant cultural site where famous Hawaiian chiefs were born. It is owned by State Parks.
Hong said the purchase reflects one local strategic focus of the TPL, which is “to conserve lands that can contribute to Hawaii’s self-sufficiency and food.” TPL has previously supported other agricultural endeavors on Oahu, including securing 18.5 acres to expand the Ma`o Organic Farm in Lualualei Valley, making it the largest organic farm in Hawaii. TPL also worked with Sunset Ranch owner Greg Pietsch, who dedicated his family’s land to agricultural and ranch purposes in perpetuity.