Farmers are the Musicians of the Land


Farmers are the musicians of the land.

This thought struck me as our family celebrated the 100th birthday of one of my great uncles. During the gathering last year, we listened to an Okinawan taiko performance—an ensemble of percussionists who dressed in yellow shirts with red sashes and pounded away on wooden drums.

A taiko performance includes no melody or lyrics, but each piece requires incredible amounts of practice, precision, and choreography. The musicians have their own drums and their own times to play. The best performances are masterpieces of coordination. They’re wonderful to hear.

As I watched the drummers and listened to their beats, I thought about how much this is like my family’s papaya farming in Hawaii—or, indeed, farmers who grow just about anything, no matter where they live.

Everyone enjoys music, but only a few people have the special talent and dedication to play for the masses. Those who possess these qualities bring beauty and happiness to the rest of us.

A single musician can play a few songs, but audiences enjoy variety. That’s why musicians come together in bands and groups, making bigger and richer sounds. Expertise takes passion and practice, and tastes are always changing. In Hawaii, we enjoy a true blend of musical styles, both old and new, from traditional chanting to the familiar ukulele, introduced by the Portuguese.

Farming is the same way. Everyone eats, but in modern economies, only a handful of people devote themselves to agriculture. This is a good thing: The amazing efficiency of modern farming gives people more time to chase other pursuits, such as music. While you strum your guitar, my family will grow your papayas.

Farmers don’t farm by themselves. Like the musicians in an orchestra, they’re part of a much bigger team. They start by focusing on their own skills and the separate roles they must play, but they also strive to collaborate with others, learning how to work together. They depend on people who build and maintain machinery, provide basic supplies, and sell insurance.

Farmers also look to conductors—people in organizations and places of leadership who provide guidance and direction on stage. Off stage, they recruit members, launch careers, and sustain businesses.

Just as musicians need audiences, farmers need consumers. They enjoy feedback, provided as applause or comments—but they also don’t want crowds to direct the show. Imagine a performance in which listeners rise up from their seats and tell musicians how to play their instruments. It would be terribly disruptive. Those people should start their own bands, rather than lecture the rest of us. Then they can have their own performances, in their own venues and with their own audiences.

We make beautiful music here in Hawaii—and on our farms we grow everything imaginable, from the pineapple plantations that so many associate with our islands to the sugar and seed operations that aren’t as well known. My family produces papayas, and they’re genetically modified to resist the disease that nearly wiped out all the papaya trees in our state a few years ago.

Unfortunately, some people haven’t learned to appreciate Hawaii’s unique blend of music. They don’t know much about our traditional ways and they refuse to take up the new sounds that we’re introducing all the time. Too many people in our audiences want to tell us how to make our music. They go on the Internet, spreading false information in their crass attempts to draw a crowd. Some politicians have even sided with these hecklers.

I want to hear Hawaii’s harmony, listening to all of our musicians and supporting what they do. We can grow GMO papayas, as my father does. We can also produce taro for traditional poi dishes plus macadamia nuts and coffee in every flavor. As Hawaiians, we should support them all. That way, we can enjoy the music now and ensure that it continues for others in the future.

The alternative is almost too ugly to contemplate: the sound of silence.

Joni Kamiya-Rose

Joni Kamiya-Rose

Passionate advocate for agriculture and technology use, daughter of a papaya farmer.

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