- By Denise Mesa Mendiola
Wanted: More farmers on Guam
On a cool Saturday morning, I sat at my kitchen table and sipped organic fair trade coffee, nibbled on fresh sweet bananas and silky scrambled local eggs while I contemplated life in the Marianas. I thought about my recent trip to the Farmer’s market in Saipan where I almost fainted from excitement when I saw the meat display case full of Tinian beef and local pork. I returned to that market four times during my trip and went to three different stores to get supplies to send those gems to Guam.
It was totally worth it because once I put that first piece of pan-seared steak in my mouth, I was in flavor town. I looked down at my breakfast and thought, “I could sure go for some local bacon right now.”
My parents raise pigs and I am sure I have tried just about every kind of fresh pork dish my dad has conjured up, except bacon. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to go to a grocery store any day of the week and pick up steak, chicken, fish, and yes, bacon from locally raised livestock and fish caught in our waters?
I don’t know if it was the caffeine that kicked in, but I was suddenly filled with a burning desire to figure out how and when we could make my dream of local bacon happen. I remembered that there was an event scheduled, so drove to the Speaker Vicente “ben” Pangelinan Farmer’s Market in Dededo to attend the Farmer’s Cooperative Association of Guam membership drive and information meeting.
I drove up to the building and I smiled at the large sign donning his name, thinking about my former boss and mentor who spent most of his life working and fighting for a sustainable future for Guam and its people. It was a very intimate crowd but I wasn’t surprised by the low attendance. After all, there are about 800 registered farmers on Guam, however only about half are actively farming. I stood at the back and watched each of my friends, all respected experts in agriculture, speak to the crowd about assistance available to them from the UOG Cooperative Extension Program, Guam Department of Agriculture, the Farmer’s Cooperative Association of Guam, and Farm to Table. They also gave me an opportunity to talk about our training and business advisement services for farmers at the Guam Small Business Development Center.
Afterward, we chatted about the issue of farmers aging and the need to encourage and support the next generation. We set up a planning meeting, and I spent the rest of the day contemplating the possibilities and barriers of a thriving agriculture and aquaculture industry on Guam.
The next morning, I went back to the Farmer’s Market and arrived to a buzz of vendors setting up their tables and senior citizens visiting each one while pulling roller bags behind them. I wanted to know who these farmers were and why very few people were farming and fishing on this island. I was impressed by the number of vendors selling fresh produce, but I noticed only one fish vendor selling farmed tilapia.
Where are the rest of the fishermen? Sigh. Selling USDA-approved local meat will require more livestock producers and a licensed slaughterhouse. We have much work to do to make my dreams of local bacon on my breakfast plate a reality.
Denise Mesa Mendiola is senior business advisor at the University of Guam- Small Business Development Center, and program coordinator at the Bank of Guam Women in Business Program. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.