As a mother of 3 children, I’ve really changed as a person over the years. I went from being a carefree career woman working some 60 hours (or more!) each week in health care, to wanting to spend more time with my children and watch them grow up. I wanted to raise my children and give them the same memories that I cherished as a child.
I remember, as a kid of a farmer, how tough I thought life was. When, on Monday mornings, my first grade classmates talked about the latest Saturday morning cartoons they’d watched, I felt left out. I didn’t watch any TV on the weekends. I was woken up early to go down to the farm. My grandparents would also come down to the farm and help out. My mom would wake up super early and cook lunches and breakfasts for that day. There was no such thing as "sleeping in" for us. Children of farmers have a whole different routine in their households for sure.
I now look at my children who don’t have to do what I did as a kid. I’m kind of envious that they get to sleep in and take it easy. There’s no getting dressed in your boroboro (junkie) clothes to go down to the farm. There’s no one waking up super early to prepare for a day in the fields. Life is easy. It’s almost too easy.
I want my children to know and appreciate what they have in this day and age.
My dad didn’t have much as a child, yet he has the most wonderful memories of growing up. His dad was in a similar situation, and used to spend his time after work walking the dump looking for nails or other hardware that could be reused to make something. Nothing went to waste in their household. My grandfather would come back with all sorts of boards and scraps, and, bit by bit, he’d put it together to make something of it. That lesson is one that he taught my dad - that you could make anything and fix anything if you take time to figure it out. With a little hard work and some thinking, you could turn nothing into something. It was from those experiences that the family farm came about.
In Okinawa, farming was a way of life. These people were not afraid to put in the effort needed to grow their own crops of food, as it was a necessity. My great-grandparents left the comforts of their homeland in search of opportunities in Hawaii. They were not afraid to work and started their lives on the sugar cane plantations of the Big Island. The example they set on the plantations provided the foundation for my grandparents, who also followed their foot steps on the cane fields.
Before long, the cane fields had provided enough training, work know-how, and the money needed to venture off to other opportunities. The Kamiya family moved to Oahu to work in dairy and finally starting their own dairy business. When adverse events shuttered the dairy, my grandfather decided to go back into farming to support the family. He grew taro and other vegetables and eventually began growing papayas. My dad followed in his father's footsteps and continued the papayas.
The papaya crop was ideal for Hawaii since it provided a steady stream of income for a farmer because it grew all year round. My dad believed that he would be best served by growing high quality fruit to market his product and, sure enough, it paid off. He had created a dedicated following of customers wanting his fruits through Times Supermarket. However, when the ringspot virus started to hit the islands, there was no escaping it like before and many farmers lost their livelihoods. This is where biotechnology helped small farmers, including my dad, across the state of Hawaii.
Through perseverance, biotechnology did find a solution to the devastating ringspot virus here in Hawaii. I was lucky to have had some experience seeing the initial workings of it early on in the process. I learned about the GMO papaya long before it came to existence.
My dad is still farming to this day, thanks to genetic engineering. My brother is ready to take on the reins of the farm. However, in the midst of all of this, there is a manufactured controversy unfolding about this technology. This controversy, which alleges corporate conspiracies, has been spreading among the masses like wildfire, largely through social media. This controversy is the biggest threat affecting the small farmers’ ability to sustain their livelihoods. I can choose to sit back and watch this happen, or I can do something about it.
I choose to fight for what is right, and to speak up for my family’s legacy. My grandfather would not let someone dictate his life’s narrative and nor will I let others do that for my dad and brother. The story of our farm belongs to us and no one else. I took 3 months of my life to learn more about other’s stories through the Cornell Alliance for Science. It has been a privilege to be able to meet other allies that have been witness to the potential of biotechnology to help others. While there are critics attempting to discredit the university and all of it’s great work, I will continue to stand for what is right and true. I will stand for my family, and am proud to be a part of the Alliance for Science and it’s efforts to bring tools and hope to the world farmers and their families.
Many years ago as a college student, I had been one of the speakers at a church to help spread the word about a group I belonged to called the Wesley Foundation. At the end of the talk, I was greeted by an elderly Filipino man who startled me when he grabbed my hand rather suddenly. He unzipped his jacket and showed me some dozen crosses that he wore around his neck. He proceeded to tell me that my name started with “j” for a reason because people with those names helped others. I never thought much about it, but shook his hand thankfully before he wandered off. I now know that he was right. I am here to help others in this world through educating others about our family’s story and legacy.
My grandpa is looking down from heaven along with my other ancestors who wanted a better life. I have that "better life" thanks to their sacrifices, and I want to share our blessings with others. The wealth I get from this is worth way more than any money in the world can buy.