This week, our talk story series expands to include stakeholders in the local agriculture industry to explore the crucial role of ag producers in sustaining our communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Oahu-based nonprofit provides technical assistance to ag producers
A conversation with
Michelle Gorham, Executive Director of Oahu Agriculture and Conservation Association
By Dani Douglass
It’s a time of information overload – enough to leave heads spinning and farmers, ranchers and other small businesses overwhelmed with questions about where to turn for help. Thankfully, there is a centralized resource with information on grants and other assistance for weathering the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as proactive planning to grow and thrive for the future even as realities continue to evolve.
The Oahu Agriculture and Conservation Association (OACA) aims to bring help within reach. Farmer and rancher education and training, economic development, and community outreach are the organizations’ three main program focus areas. OACA also manages the West Oahu Soil and Water Conversation District.
“As we move through this pandemic physically alone, we want you to know you don’t have to work alone and we’re here to help,” said Michelle Gorham, OACA executive director. “You can send me a text, an email, or give us a call. Our team of three is available to work at no cost to support farmers, ranchers, and agriculture sector organizations. We do our best to research solutions and answer questions you may have.”
In response to the present crisis, OACA has tailored operations to meet the needs of its stakeholders. One development is the “Weekly Ag Funding Update” email, which is packed with useful information. With a single click, subscribers can get information on valuable resources to help them stay afloat and further develop their business. OACA has helped secure more than $1 million in government COVID-19 relief funding since the pandemic began.
“You may not realize how many grants, loans and technical resources are available for you as a farmer or a small business owner,” Gorham said, she but added that it was important for OACA to avoid adding to the information overload. “We wanted to make sure we didn’t send out too many (email) blasts on what’s new or available because that can create anxiety and people start to tune out. We hope we’ve created some consistency within all the noise and chaos of COVID to make sure that people are getting quick access to the resources they need.”
After years of talking to farmers, ranchers and land owner partners, Gorham said it became apparent that, in addition to training, identifying targeted capital assistance and technical assistance was a primary need. The OACA economic development program grew out of looking at what others were doing across the state, like The Kohala Center on Hawaii Island, who partners with OACA.
“Oahu has the largest producer base, and our clients requested local farmer-focused grant and loan support” Gorham said. “At OACA, we aim to help fill that need.”
Aided by a grant from Ulupono Initiative, OACA started offering economic development workshops last year to help those in the industry to apply for grants and loans, adding to OACA’s other programs that have been around for years. The workshop was in both Thai and English and hosted more than 70 participants. Following the success of the first workshop, interest has grown tremendously. In 2020,, in addition to providing workshops and grant and loan support, the organization now hosts a comprehensive, searchable grant and loan website and the weekly email update. OACA also offers multilingual resources, training and technical assistance – mostly in Chinese and Thai.
Gorham said those who are not in the agricultural industry can also have a direct impact on those who are.
“We, the community, are each other’s greatest assets – especially in this trying time,” she explained. “Residents can independently advocate for local agriculture while supporting the local economy by creating demand. In all your efforts, Try Buy local – it truly matters!”
Want to receive OACA monthly news updates and weekly grant updates? Register at the bottom of the OACA homepage.
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