Fake Funny Farms – Maui County redefines agriculture to include vacation rentals.

By Glenn Teves

It seems like we’re constantly changing the definition to words to suit our lifestyle changes and our response to money.  Once upon a time, agriculture meant the production of food, fiber, and timber. All of a sudden, this definition is being turned on its head with the recent enactment of a law that allows transient vacation rentals on agricultural lands. Has the County gone over the edge or do they know something that we don’t? 

Just like the song of the late 60’s by Cat Stevens, “Where do the children play”, my question now is “where do the farmers farm if they farm at all”. With some farm land in Maui County exceeding $500,000 an acre, probably the highest in the nation, who in their right mind will want to farm when they’ll be spending the rest of their life paying for the land. Farm land has shifted from a resource, as envisioned in our state constitution, to a commodity sold to the highest bidder and the County is taking the lead in making this happen.

Fake and funny farms dot the island from east to west, along with a new generation of pseudo-farmers all trying to find a way to get out of farming, yet still benefit from the zoning and tax breaks. Now, there’s a new crutch to lean on and make big bucks with transient vacation rentals, and bed and breakfasts.

I attended a Sustainable Agriculture Conference in Kona last week and the first question asked of everyone was, “What will be needed to create stronger local and regional food systems that are less reliant on imports from elsewhere?” Expecting responses such as farmers market and community-supported agriculture, my response was ‘a catastrophe’. The only way we will change in Maui County is when a disaster forces us to change. By that time, we’ll be eating each other.

Still, the question begs to be answered, “Who will grow our food when the farms are surrounded by houses with residents screaming about the tractor noise, dust, and funny smells and the farmers give up. This is already happening. But who really cares anyway! I still remember a farmer in Colorado I visited who used to spread manure on his fields from nearby feedlots each spring, and would receive a barrage of calls from irate neighbors. When asked, “What is that smell? He replied, “It’s the smell of money.”

Well, not anymore. Now with the New Wave Maui farming, you don’t even have to add manure or fertilizer to your fields. You can create a farm without even farming. All you have to do is construct transient vacation rentals on your farm land, and paste farm pictures on all the windows so your visitors think they’re staying on a farm. You can change the pictures by the seasons, such as classic Tuscany in the spring, or Napa Valley in the late summer.

You can create the ultimate in local cuisine by heading down to Safeway or Costco, buying all kinds of fruits, vegetables, fish and shrimp from Chile, Mexico, China, and who knows where, head back home, and whip up a luscious brunch for your unknowing visitors. No one would be the wiser, and visitors would have a once in a lifetime experience as a result. If you want to get fancy, you can spice things up and add a little more ambiance at the same time by tying a Holstein cow near the entrance to your rental units.


I would never have come up with this great idea on my own, and have to thank the county council and the mayor for thinking ‘outside the box’ and being on the cusp of regional land use planning. I hope they keep their thinking caps on, because I know this is only the beginning of some great ideas to come. If they run out of more ideas, I have some smart pills on hand that I can donate to them, but they have to move fast because it’s only good until my rabbit gets the runs.


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