Growing and eating our own food
Buenas yan Hafa Adai,
For thousands of years, our island provided our people with all that we needed to survive. It has only been since World War II that we have stopped living off the land and sea, and have become dependent on ships for our food.
When the United States returned to the island at the end of the war, soldiers brought rations of processed meat and other imported foods that were high in preservatives, sodium and sugar. Also, a lot of the farms that existed before the war were on lands that were condemned by the United States after the war. This contributed to a shift from subsistence farming to a wage-based economy. As a result, a majority of families on Guam today eat mostly imported and processed foods high in sugar and sodium.
Imagine what would happen if a natural disaster or other unforeseen threat damaged the port and the ships could not come. We would run out of food in seven-to-ten days. Just a few months ago there was a shipping delay and the produce shelves in our grocery stores were empty. We need greater food security.
We must return to growing and eating our own food if we are to sustain ourselves as a healthy and thriving community. About 60 percent of the deaths on Guam are caused by diseases that could have been prevented with better dietary and lifestyle choices. The top four leading causes of death on Guam are heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes. All of these diseases were not prevalent on our island before the War, and are the negative consequences of the shift away from subsistence farming to a reliance on imported, processed foods. In fact, the World Health Organization declared a crisis in our region because of the high rates of death due to Non Communicable Diseases.
In particular, our children are becoming more and more unhealthy and obese. According to an article published by the magazine Scientific American, a study was carried out in a middle school and high school and found that, alarmingly, 26% of middle school children in Guam eat fast food at least three times a week, 53.3% of students drink at least two cans of soda a day, and the most shocking: 75.3% of students consumed less than one fruit or vegetable serving per day. None of the high school students surveyed had eaten the FDA recommended amount of five servings of fruits and vegetables a day and only 24.7% of students consumed any type of produce at all.
This is a problem we must solve collectively with commitment and purposeful vision. If our island is in a crisis, we must come together as a community to solve it.
One initiative that former Speaker Ben Pangelinan was passionate about was the revival of the Farmer’s Cooperative Association of Guam. He pushed to get funding for the Co-op, and as a result, our community will have greater access to fresh, sustainable produce by this summer. This is a great example of what we can do to support agriculture toward sustenance.
In the past month, interested stakeholders have approached me on this and I plan to meet with farmers and other key experts in the weeks ahead.
I recently met with the director of the Guam Housing and Urban Renewal Authority about the possibility of implementing community gardens in GHURA properties that will be maintained and harvested by GHURA tenants. I also intend to work with the Guam Department of Education and other community partners to expand community gardens in our schools. And, as we explore ways to improve rehabilitation efforts at the Department of Corrections, I am hoping to work with the prison to expand their farming program. They have 18 acres of land that could easily be farmed.
Last week, I met with Roland Quitugua of the University of Guam’s Cooperative Extension Service, which supports Guam’s farming community in many ways including providing technical assistance for community gardens and agriculture projects. He expressed the need for coordination and a master plan to move forward with this initiative. With farmers, our island’s agriculture experts, other key stakeholders, and my colleagues who chair the legislative committees with oversight of agriculture and the government entities that I have mentioned, I intend to spend this year developing a master plan for advancing agriculture and food production on our island. I will continue to update the community.
Farming is an integral part of our culture that we must keep alive, because it will keep us alive. We are blessed with all the land and resources we need to sustain ourselves into the future. We simply have to use them.