MA’O Organic Farms

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Community Builders

LONG STORY SHORT: Community Builders

 

Kukui and Gary Maunakea-Forth of O‘ahu, Stacy Sproat-Beck of Kaua‘i and Richard Ha of Hawai‘i Island have built ‘āina-based enterprises focused on building better communities. Hear how these visionaries behind MA‘O Organic Farms, Waipā Foundation and the former Hamakua Springs Country Farms have put their values to work for the greater good.

 

Program

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Dec. 23, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Community Builders Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Richard Ha

We always plan five, ten years out.  We’re always looking for where we need to be in the future.  And we already know that this is happening, it’s gonna get worse, so we’re already moving in that direction.

 

Stacy Sproat-Beck

I remember asking that question when I was in college.  You know; what about a nonprofit?  Because I knew it was there, and it was really an amazing opportunity, you know, to be able to grow this entity that is really for the community, and to take care of the land, and to teach people.

 

Kukui Maunakea-Forth

That’s what I love most about what we do, is that we’re providing this way for young people at an early age to build equity. You know, and it’s not just financial equity, but it’s also equity in terms of the relationships that we’re creating with other people in our community, and with the land.

 

Every entrepreneur seeks professional success.  An uncommon few also aim to build a better community.  Coming up on Long Story Short, our conversations with four individuals who are among a rare breed of business and community leaders.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  On this edition of Long Story Short, community builders.  It takes a remarkable type of person to look beyond their own family, business, and circumstances, maybe beyond their own lifetime, and work to make life better for the broader community over the long haul. To illustrate the impact these individuals can have, we revisit four entrepreneurs running distinctive businesses and nonprofits on three different islands.  We think it’s worth another look at what these innovators have accomplished, putting their vision and values to work, and how they empower people in their communities.

 

First up, Gary and Kukui Maunakea-Forth.  Though they come from different places—New Zealand and Nānākuli, this married couple came together through shared concerns about social conditions on the Wai‘anae Coast of O‘ahu.  And when it came time to start their enterprise in 2001, making money was far from the top priority.  Now the largest organic farm on O‘ahu, the nonprofit MA‘O Organic Farms is providing much more than food.  It’s creating a future for young people in West O‘ahu, and educating leaders for the next generation.

 

Gary Maunakea-Forth

I think the first place it came down to was the fact that we weren’t growing our own food.  We definitely worried about the kids in our community.  But I think because we saw all this land that was being wrongly used, we just kept asking ourselves: Why aren’t we feeding ourselves? And then, we dug a little bit deeper, and one of our friends who’s a soil scientist said it turns out that the soil in Lualualei Valley is one of the most unique and nutrient rich soils in the world.  And we didn’t know that, and kids in our community weren’t taught that.  The connection to the land had been severed. And we still to this day, those kids that come up to the farm, they’ve never been up in the valleys.  And so, I think that’s where it started.  And then, you know, definitely as our kids started to get a little bit older and go through the same problems that other kids were going through, our connection to what kids in Waianae, what kids in rural Hawai‘i are going through started to just, you know, really sort of slap us in the face; you know, the idea that a good public education is very difficult to get in Hawai‘i.

 

We didn’t want to just grow food and eat it ourselves.  We wanted it to be highly marketable.  Because, you know, when we analyzed our community, the state of poverty was multigenerational.  And we thought that if we sell our own food for a premium price, that money wouldn’t go back to our community.  And so, we looked at the kind of social service kinds of things that we had been doing ourselves and that others were doing, and we wanted to add this what at the time was called community-based economic development.  But we wanted to add this economic development layer that now has become social enterprise.  And so, that’s where it started.

 

Kukui Maunakea-Forth

I wanted it to be this great education program, and I wanted, you know, this element of culture and, you know, this element of vocational skills being taught, and this element of community work being done.  And it just didn’t happen like that at all.  It was whatever, you know, resources and people that were sort of there at the time. And it started off as a ten-month-long experience; you know, farm work experience.

 

So, who were you first enrollees?

 

 

 

Kukui Maunakea-Forth

Multi people that we had talked to their parents at Tamura’s.  Or we saw down at the beach park and said: Hey, you know, we’re starting a program; would you guys like to, you know, send your daughter?  Oh, yeah; my daughter’s graduating, and she doesn’t really have plans; sure, we’ll sign her up.

 

Those people that were meant to be there, ended up there.  And, you know, all of us, you know, growing up on the Coast, the fact that there’s only eleven percent that will go to college; that’s a small number.  So, what about the other eighty-eight, ninety percent that aren’t going to college; where are those guys?  And, you know, we thought long and hard about who we wanted to have this opportunity, and to have this experience.  And it was really those that were going to become the leaders. So, this eighteen to twenty-four-year-old Wai‘anae or Nānākuli graduate that had a desire to do something different, and to connect with not only the culture, but with a future in the community.

 

Gary Maunakea-Forth

Almost every young person that has been in touch with MA‘O—and this is pretty much the condition of the Wai‘anae Coast, you know, the federal government calls them at-risk.  And if you look deep at the statistics, you’ll find that Waianae has twice the teen pregnancy rate, twice the substance abuse rate.  All of these indicators are terrible, twice as bad as anywhere else.  And so, most of the kids that come have issues at home, or in their own lives that they’ve got to deal with.  On top of that, you know, we’re told in this society that if you go and get a college education, you can get ahead in life, you know, you can get your American Dream. Most of the kids coming out of the public schools in the State of Hawai‘i and in Wai‘anae are what’s termed remedial. And so, they have to be highly motivated.

 

When we started MA‘O, we wanted to start it with an associate degree program.  That took us three or four years to gain momentum, because when we went to Leeward Community College initially, they were like: Well, let’s do a noncredit program. And so, we started with this ten-month-long program.  And now, the various programs we have through MA‘O are sort of designed to be like a movement, to have this environment of entrepreneurship, of I want to get ahead, I want to work hard, I want to give to my community.

 

Kukui Maunakea-Forth

Over time, you know, we nurture trust, and respect, and love.

 

Gary Maunakea-Forth

And when kids first come to the farm, they generally come because we’re gonna help them pay for college and give them a stipend. The farming, they could live without some of them.

 

So, in 2003, I think, was our first real official ten-person youth leadership training of these young people just straight out of college.  And one of them went through the whole ten-months, and during that ten months he turned eighteen, and he was all over the place.

 

He was just growing up.  And anyway, he stuck it out, and now, he’s still with us, and he’s twenty-five years old.  And he’s now the assistant farm manager.  His name is Manny.  He represents what we believe is the untapped potential of young men in Waianae.  He can run the farm himself.  I’ve seen him talk story with Alan Wong about food, talk story with Ed Kenney about food.  At one of the fundraisers, he was talking about the farm to Pierre Omidyar, who’s a billionaire.  He represents, I believe, what a young farmer in the State of Hawai‘i should be.  Not just a person who’s able to toil in the fields, but he can talk about the vegetables, he can cook the vegetables.

 

You know, we’ve tried to take the farming part of it, and make it sexy, and make it interesting.  And the best and easiest way to do that is to allow the young people to do, firstly, a bit of everything.

 

M-hm.

 

So, they get typecast weeding a lot.

 

But they also get to do all the other jobs. You know, packing vegetables to go to Town Restaurant, or to go to Whole Foods is one of those things where they start to see the pride in doing it.

 

And the connection.

 

And get connection; yeah.  And so, if they’re at KCC Farmers Market selling vegetables, that’s the ultimate job.  You know, we’re hoping now that the next step for us is that especially some of the young people who really all of a sudden like farming will be farmers, and will either farm larger spaces with us, or go off by themselves.

 

Kukui Maunakea-Forth

I think that’s what I love most about what we do, is that we’re providing this way for young people at an early age to build equity. You know, and it’s not just financial equity, but it’s also equity in terms of the relationships that we’re creating with other people in our community, and with the land that feeds them.

 

Since 2009 when this interview first aired, MAO Organic Farms has continued to do well.  In 2018, a record twenty-one students graduated from the program with high school and college degrees, including from a new four-year program in sustainable community food systems at UH West Oahu.  While we enjoy the vegetables, MAO is really growing the leaders of tomorrow.

 

Now, we head over to Kauai’s North Shore, where Stacy Sproat-Beck is pursuing some similar goals at the WaipāFoundation.  The Waipāeducational mission includes connecting people to the land, using natural resources responsibly, strengthening family, cultural, and community ties, and preserving a way of life.  In 2014, Stacy Sproat-Beck told us why she was a world away from the work her business school professors expected her to pursue.

 

You went to USC, a very fine business school.  What was the experience of going to college at USC like?  I mean, there are a lot of wealthy scions, you know, sons and daughters of magnates.

 

It was kind of a culture shock.  You know, not so much being in a city that size, or in a school that size, because you know, I’d lived here for six years in Honolulu, and gone to Kamehameha.  And this is a big city, too.  But definitely, USC was kind of a culture shock for me, and I didn’t fit in that well. And you know, I’d raise my hand and go: What about family business?  And they go: Oh, no, no, no; don’t talk about that.  You know, family business is really hard.  And I go: Oh, what about nonprofits? And they go: Nonprofits?  You know, maybe we’ll bring somebody in to talk about nonprofits, but nonprofits aren’t really where the money is.  And so, it was kind of a different thing for me. But I still feel like I gained a lot of knowledge and important skills from going there, definitely.  It was an amazing education.

 

When you came home, I think you were aware of what was going on, but weren’t there for a lot of the fireworks.  There was a lot of militance about the way land was going on the North Shore, the push for resort development, and the move away from a rural lifestyle.

 

On Kaua‘i?

 

M-hm.

 

Yeah.  It seems like that was happening.  Yeah; that was happening throughout our childhood and youth, and my parents were really active, and my family was really active and fighting development, and wanting to manage it, really, and not just let it get out of hand.

 

And in fact, they were fighting Kamehameha Schools, where you’d attended, owner of Waipa.

 

Yeah; in the early 80s then, yes, Kamehameha became one of the entities that wanted to develop their landholdings there on the North Shore.  They were in development mode, and so, their plans for Waipāand Lumahai were golf courses, resort communities. Back then, it was all about developing the land so they could make money to support the school at Kapālama and the Estate.  Eventually, after four years of activism and negotiation, and the default of the potential developer, they were able to obtain a lease from Kamehameha for the sixteen-hundred-acre ahupua‘a of Waipā, which is an intact watershed.  It’s amazing.

 

I moved home in ’92, and I really started helping at Waipāin ’94.  And it was really just difficult.  There were a lot of different challenges and issues.

 

And you were doing this as a volunteer?

 

Yeah.  Well, farming with my husband on the side, helping manage Waipāon a volunteer basis.  And then also, I think I was doing promotions for a boat company to actually make money to pay my bills.  When Kamehameha went through strategic planning in 2000-2001, they changed their whole viewpoint on land management and revenue-generating lands, versus lands for culture and education.  And also, kind of right around that same time, all of these other difficulties that we had just sort of went away.

 

What do you do on the sixteen-hundred-acre property?

 

My dad guys envisioned that the original founders, it was to be a land base for the practice and perpetuation of Hawaiian culture. And so, that was their vision. And so, we continue to perpetuate that today by doing programs for kids that connect them with the land, and also, you know, we do enrichment programs and leadership, and cultural programs. And they’re in the garden and harvesting, and also just swimming in the streams and maybe doing a lot of the things that I did as a kid, that we all did.  And I feel like what that does today is, it connects us back to the earth, when a lot of us are just busy living somewhat urban lives.  It’s helping them to make the connection.  So, we do programs for kids.  We do resource management.  You know, we manage learning sites, and sites that we’re restoring. We have a fishpond that we’re restoring along the coast, and then we’ve got lo‘i, taro fields, and gardens, and a native plants nursery.  And then, up in the valley, we’re doing reforestation.  And then, sort of teaching and learning through all of that. And even another thing that’s really amazing to us is that we’ve planted a lot of fruit trees lately, orchards of fruit trees, everything from longan and lychee, to mango, and oranges, and avocado, and ulu, star fruit.  And really to be able to create abundance, lots of food, because you know, we know the importance of having lots of food there, both to feed ourselves and you know, to share with community, and then to market too.  But also being able to take the kids out.  Oh, and mountain apples, too; that’s a big one.  Being able to take the kids out and let them pick their own snacks off the trees.  I mean, we grew up with that, but kids nowadays—

 

They look for a box.

 

It blows their mind when they go out and are able to pick mountain apples and eat them.  It’s just the most amazing experience for them.  And for us, I think, that should be so basic, you know.

 

What’s the goal for WaipāFoundation now in the ahupua‘a?

 

So, our vision is a thriving an abundant ahupua‘a, and a healthy community that’s connected to their resources.  And so, it’s both … yeah, exactly that.  Just thriving and abundant, with land and resources being healthy, and feeding us in many ways, both physically, spiritually, and then also community that is connected to the place that helps to take care of it, and is nourished by it, and also actively manages and takes care of the land.  And I think that’s our vision specifically for Waipā, but also, it’s a larger vision.  You know, Waipācould be just a microcosm of the State or the island, or the world, where everybody is directly connected to the resources that feed them and take care of them.

 

Our next guest may not have started out with quite the same intentions as Stacy Sproat-Beck or the Maunakea-Forths.  Richard Ha went into the family farming business, and the founded his own farm on the Hāmākua Coast of Hawai‘i Island.  Along the way, Ha found that his business expertise and entrepreneurial vision prepared him to make progress on challenging issues like sustainability, food security, and renewable energy.  Ha always tries to stay ahead of curve, anticipating the next big need. It all started with the can-do attitude he learned from his dad.

 

When you saw your dad farming, and you were playing with tomatoes, did you think: I want to grow up and be a farmer?

 

No.  Actually, what happened was, I ended up wanting to go into business or into having some kind of organization to be in charge of.  And the reason that happened was because Dad used tell stories when I was about ten years old.  We had this kitchen table that was like a picnic table, with a bench and everything. And he would tell stories about impossible situations.  You know, a business situation, or he had all kinds of different situations.  And it would come down to he came up against a stonewall, there was no way to figure it out, and he’d pound the table, and the dishes would all fly.  He would say—boom; Not no can; can!  I remember that pretty clearly.

 

Not no can; can.

 

Yeah.

 

It’s about problem-solving and the will to overcome the problem.

 

Yeah.  It was just a given that you just don’t come up to a problem and look at and say: Oh, that’s it.  You know, there was always a way around it.

 

What were you gonna do with your accounting degree?

 

You know, actually, I didn’t really know.  I just knew that I had an accounting degree, and if anything came up, I was gonna do it.  But it just so happened Pop asked me to come back and run his chicken farm. I said: Okay, well, I don’t have anything planned; I’ll do that.  So, I came back, helped him run the poultry farm, and in the course of that, met the supermarket people, learned how marketing and that kinda stuff worked.

 

And you learned from the ground, up on that end; right?

 

Yeah; yeah.  I mean, we raised chickens when we were little, but the business end of it was different, you know.  And with an accounting degree, it helped me to analyze stuff.  And so, what happened was, we had forty acres, and twenty-five of it was in the chicken farm, so we had some extra land.  And so, we needed to find out what could we do with no more money.  ‘Cause I only had a three hundred dollar credit card.  Back then it was hard to get a three hundred dollar credit card. So, we started doing some research, and found out that there was about six million pounds of Chiquita Bananas being imported into Hawai‘i.  So, I said: Oh, man, if we could get into that, we should be able to do okay.  So, we started trading chicken manure for banana keiki, and started two acres.

 

At what point did you have your own farm?

 

Well, yeah; that was my dad’s farm, and we made it into a four-way corporation with my brothers.  And then, from there, I went to Kapoho to lease some land over there. And that’s when it started, maybe two years after we started the first banana farm.  And then, when the sugar plantations started closing down, we were able to move closer in to Hilo, at Kea‘au.  So, we moved the farm there.  At Kea‘au, we expanded to three hundred acres, and by then, we became the largest banana farm in the State.

 

Are you confident that local people will buy local produce, even if it’s more expensive?

 

Well, you know, it’s really what we need to do to support our local farmers, because to be food-secure, farmers gotta make money. And come the time when we feel like this is really a serious situation, it’ll happen.  And everybody’s talking about food security.  Now, how do we do that?  And the answer is, if the farmer can make money, the farmer will farm. So, it doesn’t get much more complex than that.  So, in an effort to figure out ways to help farmers make money, you know, with the help of the Department of Ag and the legislators, and a bunch of people, we pushed through legislation so that farmers could get cheap loans, low interest, long-term loans for renewable energy projects.  And how we look at it is how it affects our workers, our community, and the environment.  Every Thursday, our workers can come and just pick up all the different things we grow—bananas and tomatoes, and whatever, you know, as much as they need for their family.  And we have profit sharing, although it’s been tough the last few years.  We have profit sharing, and we want to look, you know, toward whatever we can do to help them with the food side of it. Because it’s hard for us to raise our workers’ salaries, because we can’t raise the price.  Everybody’s having hard time.  So, we have to figure out other ways to help our workers.

 

Keaukaha Elementary School, a Hawaiian Homelands community, and a school that was in the academic basement for twenty years; you adopted a class there.

 

Yeah.  What happened was, I volunteered to be on this thirty meter telescope subcommittee on the Hawaii Island Economic Development Board.  And so, when you talk about telescopes, you automatically talk about the culture.  Maua Kea, you need to talk about the culture.  If you talk about the culture, you end up at Keaukaha.  It’s a seventy-five-year-old Hawaiian Homes community.  And so, that’s where I ended up.  Yeah; so I went over there, talked to Kumu Lehua about telescopes, and had to learn a lot the culture.  I didn’t know as much as I do now.  I was mostly worried about farming.  But you know, the more I got into it, the more I needed to learn.  And then, what was ironic was, here I am on the thirty meter telescope subcommittee, and you’re standing in Keaukaha, you look at the mountain; there’s hundreds of millions of dollars of investment up there.  You look back at the school and the community. So, you know, there’s nothing here of tangible relationship to that.  But whatever the case, we decided this no can; we had to do something.

 

What do you see yourself doing in ten years?

 

You know, it’s hard to say what it’ll be, but I’m pretty sure it’ll be something that I can’t imagine now.  Because we always end up doing something that’s new and different.  Yeah; so I expect that it’ll be something new and different, but it’ll be something, for sure.

 

And it’ll be in farming?

 

I can’t even say that.  I don’t want to just say one particular thing.  But it really has to do with where our society is going, what our circumstance will be.

 

Since this interview first aired in 2008, we can now tell you what Richard Ha is doing.  In 2016, he closed Hāmākua Springs Country Farms and was awarded one of the first Hawaii licenses to grow and sell medical marijuana with a company called Lau Ola.  In the fall of 2018, he left Lau Ola after steering the company through its startup phase.  He said he’ll continue in the agriculture and energy industries.

 

Richard Ha, Stacy Sproat-Beck, and Gary and Kukui Maunakea-Forth all continue to grow their own enterprises, while building better communities across our state. We thank them for their vision and can-do attitude, and for sharing their stories with us.  We hope they’ve inspired you.  Mahalo for watching.  For Long Story Short and PBS Hawai‘i, I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org.  To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

Kukui Maunakea-Forth

There’s no one right way.  And we’ve all sort of figured out this thing that we bring everything to the table, you put it down, if your idea is better than ours, then hey, we’re gonna go with your idea.  And that’s how it even happened with that very first class.

 

Stacy Sproat-Beck

Things have really just grown like crazy since then, and gone in an amazing direction.  I feel like the lessons learned from those really hard times are kind of what maybe grounds me and the organization in sort of humility and remembering that things don’t always come easy.

 

Richard Ha

Pop taught us a lot of lessons, and it had to do with survival.  Just do what you gotta do, and plan for the future, and you know, make decisions. You gotta do it, do it now, kinda thing like that.

 

And not no can; can.

 

Yeah; absolutely.

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Kamuela Enos

 

Kamuela Enos’ vision for his community of Waiʻanae on West O‘ahu considers his deep regard for ancestral values, as well as an appreciation for contemporary innovation. He serves as director of social enterprise at MAʻO Organic Farms, a non-profit that aims to connect Waiʻanae youth to the land, while fostering in them workforce and life skills.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Oct. 7, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Kamuela Enos Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

The poverty we see in our community—and I say this a lot, was recent and learned behavior.  Our ancestors weren’t poor, we were taught to be poor.  Like anything that you’re taught, you can unlearn too. So, it became like, well, how do I unlearn this, how do I find a way to restore, you know, that sense of purpose, that sense of connection.

 

He comes from an ohana of cultural practitioners who turned to the wisdom of the past to create a better future for their struggling communities. Kamuela Enos, next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kakou.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Kamuela Enos is the director of social enterprise at Mao Organic Farms in Waianae, Oahu, a low-income area where he offers internships to teenagers and young adults.  They work on the farms in exchange for a stipend and college tuition assistance. After a few stumbles of his own, Enos found his path to his calling in life: serving others, while perpetuating Hawaiian ancestral responsibilities.  Kamuela was born into the Enos ohana of Waianae.  His father, Eric Enos, is a cultural practitioner and activist who co-founded Kaala Farms years before Mao with a similar mission to heal at-risk youth by having them connect with their roots.

 

I knew it was special.  I think part of what I think the reality was, is to be raised in a family that was doing something that was in front of a curve.

 

Meaning?

 

My father was Eric Enos, one of the founders of Kaala Farms, was doing aina work, restoring traditional practices, what is now an actual industry.  It’s a thing; aina-based education, right?  It was borne out of this idea reclaiming land and identity as a response to the Hawaiian renaissance, of having had that part of our identity kind of been told explicitly to step away from.  You know, it’s important for you to assimilate into contemporary American society, and to, you know, be a good American, and to take all the vestiges of your ancestry, your language, your practices, and put that behind you.

 

When did your father start reclaiming the land?

 

You know, I remember that, ‘cause I was really young. And he, you know, was from Waianae, he went to Kamehameha Schools, and then actually, he went to college.  And going to college at UH in the late 60s, early 70s, you can only imagine, like, colleges across the campus, you know, that was the heart of the civil rights movement, and the birthplace of the Hawaiian renaissance too, when you started actually learning your history and realizing that we weren’t allowed to understand our ancestry from a place of strength.  He was coming of age, and he was heavily radicalized, and he got a job teaching at Waianae High School, where he got a chance to really see it, from how I understand it, his stories.  He’s one of a few men who was of Hawaiian ancestry from the community actually teaching, and he was able to hear how teachers were talking about kids from Waianae. So, he often tells me like, he had to quit, or he would have been arrested.  [CHUCKLE]

 

He was so angry at the messaging.

 

And just like, the disregard and the blatant racism that he saw behind the scenes.  And then, he took up work with an organization that worked directly with at-risk youth.  And it was from that point that … it was called The Rap Center, where he began to take students—young adults, actually, not students, that were kind of out of the system, hanging out at the beach parks, walking in the mountains, to kinda get them away from where they would just hang out and associate, and do all the things that were leading to their delinquency, back up into the mountains to kinda understand, take them out of their environment and put them in a new environment.  And there, he started seeing all the remnants of the taro patches.

 

How did he come to acquire the land?

 

That’s a really interesting question.  I think back in the 70s, it was just like: You know what?  We’re just gonna clear this place out, bring water down, and reclaim it.  And if people don’t like it, then they can come and talk to us.

Was it abandoned land?  Who owned it?

 

It was in the back of the valley, and …

 

Probably State-owned?

 

State-owned land.  And they just decided to have these youth repurpose their time at this—[CHUCKLE] I don’t know what they were supposed to be doing, but what they ended up doing was cutting, clearing out haole koa, and putting in PVC pipes and bringing water back down.  And then, learning from people on the east side of Oahu who were still doing traditional taro farming, like, how do we grow this.  And I think that was a really important thing for me to understand.  Like, he wasn’t just trying to reclaim ability to grow food, but he was trying to reclaim the ability to grow people, and therefore, the ability to regrow community.  You know, I was raised in the context of growing up with an activist parent, where I think the things he was doing, none of my peers that I grew up with, their parents did.  My mother was always very much a fan of reading, and a big fan of education.  So, she would just make us read, so we had our noses buried in Tolkien when we were like, fourth grade, and then we were just reading Albert Camus in seventh grade.  And she just said: Read, read, read.  So, kind of like embracing like, intellectualism, if you will.

 

So, body and mind.

 

But then, also growing up as a Waianae boy. [CHUCKLE]  And just going to all the public schools, Makaha Elementary, Waianae Intermediate, Waianae High School, where I eventually dropped out. And like, I call it the blessed schizophrenia of trying to reconcile these three separate, completely different worlds; right?

 

Okay; the three worlds were?

 

Like, I mean, being part of restoring our ancestral practices and being immersed in not just taro farming, but community organizing.

 

Okay; that’s one.

 

The other was like, just having a love of reading, and especially like, not just reading to escape, but authors that like, more philosophical bent; right?

 

People who really provoked your thought.

 

Provocative thinking.

 

And the third?

 

The third was having the people I grew up with, and like, who were my best friends, who I love to this day, really living in the realities of poverty.  As good, as wonderful people they are, like, their daily lives was really bounded by struggling to make ends meet and all of the things that happen when you live in that context, with the violence, the drug use, the alcohol.  You know, and like, those three realities kind of didn’t sit well with each other, especially as I got older and my peers became more and more who I identified with, and I started to reject the other two a little bit more.  That kind of took a while to weave those three strands back together into something. [CHUCKLE]

 

Is that why you dropped out of high school?

 

Basically.  I think part of it was the school wasn’t challenging enough for me, and second, I had a pretty poor attitude about things, so I won’t put it all on the system. I don’t know, I just felt disconnected. And non-air-conditioned Waianae room and learn about something, and have them fit into the system.  Versus, how do we flex the system to meet them where they’re strong, and take those strengths and have them from a strengths perspective then move into like, okay, now I gotta sit in a classroom because I’m passionate about this.  Versus, you’re stupid, you don’t know how to sit in a classroom.

 

She also brought air conditioning to her media classes.

 

Ho, man.  [CHUCKLE]

 

At what age did you drop out?

 

I dropped out when I was sixteen.  I started drinking when I was like, a freshman.  But we really started in earnest when I was sixteen, and dropping out, and just hanging out with all my friends.  And it’s all people that I love to this day, and I just realized … you know, we were all doing that together as a way to lift each other up.  It was a fun that was really volatile, and it became un-fun really quickly.

 

Did it get bad, sometimes result in people getting hurt?

 

It’s always the case in Waianae.  But to me, it became something to reflect on, ‘cause it’s not just the thing that happens in our communities, it happens in communities all over; right?

 

Right.

 

How people respond to historical traumas, and what vehicles or mediums are there for them to medicate.

 

So, do you think you and your friends didn’t know it, but you were feeling the effects of historical trauma?

 

Oh, yeah.

 

Of feeling dislocated.

 

Absolutely.

 

And unseen.

 

Right.  Yeah; and you know, if you’re not given a platform, you make one.

 

And you can make a bad platform, as well as a good one.

 

Oh, a heck of a bad platform.

 

Kamuela Enos’ parents did not insist that he return to high school after dropping out during his senior year.  However, they required two things: he had to earn a general education diploma or GED, and he needed to get a job.  Kamuela did so, working minimum wage jobs after picking up his GED from Waipahu High School.

 

There was this older Japanese guy who was handing out the GED diplomas kinda just looked at me and he’s like: What are you doing? I was like: What?  He was like: What are you doing; you shouldn’t be in this line.  He was just like, staring at me.  And I was like …

 

Did he know you?

 

He didn’t know me from Adam.  But he could see the test scores, and he was like: Everyone here is struggling; you shouldn’t be in this line.  I was like, okay.  Then I went from like, I’m going to celebrate getting my GED, to it was a long and reflective drive home to Waianae.  I was like: What am I doing?  I’m in this line; right?  And then, that was further reinforced [CHUCKLE] when the only jobs that I could get was like, working you know, at the fast food restaurants and different places where, you know, people hardly bother to remember your name as staff.  And you’re not there as a calling, you’re there because you have to be.  And what that really lifted up for me was the time I spent in Kaala with my dad.  And that’s when everything made sense.  Like, we’re working in a place where we’re caring for land.  We weren’t making a lot of money, but we had a sense of purpose, I had a sense of love for what I did.  And it was at that point that I realized the value.  Then things came back around.  I was like, you know, not only was I unhappy in the jobs that I was doing, but more important, I felt a lot of people I was working with was unhappy, and I felt like I want to do something about this dynamic.

 

And then, what do you do about it?

 

You go to college, and you drop out of college, [CHUCKLE] ‘cause you realize that you’re unprepared to go to college.  And then, you know, I was lucky enough to have a partner at the time where she basically gave me an ultimatum: You’re gonna go to college, or we’re not gonna be a couple.  And I was like, okay.  [CHUCKLE] So, she had a degree, so I went to college and I was supported.  And when I went to college, I took a Hawaiian studies class.  It was from Glen Kila; he was teaching Hawaiian studies at Leeward Community College Waianae.  Then my brain just broke open.  I was actually learning things I was really interested in, I was learning from a person who respected me as a learner, and I was learning in a space where I could see myself doing this for the rest of my life.

 

Doing what; learning or what?

 

Being part of … making a living, getting a living wage, being engaged with understanding how our heritage, how our ancestry is being deployed in a contemporary way that helps others.

 

Did that mean you wanted to be a teacher, or did you see another way to do that?

 

I still didn’t know, but I knew like, I loved learning about my culture, but I also loved trying to apply it.  And not just learning about it as a museum piece, but then watching my father and the work that he was doing with Auntie Puanani Burgess of trying to create jobs out of ancestral thinking.

 

So, you’re going step-by-step, not really having a direction, but kind of following the clues as you go along.

 

Yeah.

 

And responding.

 

The ancestors leave you clues that you have to pick up.

 

Nuggets along the way?

 

Sometimes it’s a hug, sometimes it’s a swift kick in the butt.  But I think that when … you follow the work, you’ll know when you’re in the right.  I believe your ancestors live in your intuition. And like, there’s something that is telling you, this is what you’re supposed to be doing.  You know, in those moments, you have to listen to that.

 

Like his father before him, Kamuela Enos went on to earn his bachelor’s degree in Hawaiian studies from the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa.  After contemplating several career paths, he decided to focus on a master’s degree in urban and regional planning.  It led him to his true calling, and eventually, back to Waianae.

 

Well, you know, I was really lucky when I was getting my master’s program, that like as I mentioned, I took a class from Bob Agres, who was then the executive director of HACBED, the Hawai‘i Alliance for Community-Based Economic Development.  And that nonprofit was a network organization that was basically created out of this idea that Auntie Puanani Burgess and others like my dad had pushed on.  Like, how do communities develop their own economic engines.  Like, how are we not dependent on outside jobs that quite often don’t pay as well, and aren’t maybe the best fit for our environment.  How instead of fighting those types of development, how do we be developers of our own jobs.  And HACBED had asked Bob Agres; they had asked him to help create this organization that helped practitioners across the State wrestle with that question.  And I was lucky enough to be in classes where I really found my love and I was interned at HACBED for a while.  And I began to see that I really want to be at the intersect of how we create jobs in using our ancestral thinking so that we’re creating powerful opportunities for employment.

 

Did you know what that looked like at the time?

 

I’d watched my dad try to do that.  I mean, that’s what Kaala was trying to do.  They had backyard aquaculture programs where they would have families raise tilapia in their backyards.

 

I remember there was a time, was it in the 80s, when practically everybody had a tarp and a …

 

Tilapia, yeah, and aquaculture.  And like, that was an attempt to kind of look at the ancestral practice of fishponds or opelu fisheries, and to have people do it in their backyard as a way to generate revenue.  And I was really fascinated by the idea, and I was able to work at HACBED. And, you know, my younger brother Solomon is one of the founders of Mao.  He was the first intern.  So, I was always tracking what they were doing.  So, right around the time I was finishing up my class, a position opened up. I was working at this other organization called Empower Oahu with Richard Pezzulo and it came out of the EZ Economic Zone initiatives that under, I guess the Clinton administration, where they gave money to communities to be able to start up economic empowerment zones. So, me and Richard was working there, but then a position opened up in Mao as education specialist.  And I was like, I really feel that this is the time to come back to my community.  ‘Cause I had been living in town for ten years while I got my bachelor’s and my master’s.  And as much as I love Manoa, I was getting homesick.  I really felt like I wanted to be back where I could be directly engaged in like, working with my own community, and it’s an opportunity to grow our ability, to be strong again.  So, I took it, and I was working there for ten years.  And while I was doing that, I’d continue to be helping Bob Agres every once in a while in the class that he was teaching at Department of Urban and Regional Planning.  I love both the Hawaiian Studies Department and the Urban and Regional Planning Department, and Leeward Community College as an institution, ‘cause those three places really allowed me to learn who I was and how I serve best.

 

And it’s so interesting that it’s not like you suddenly see your future open up. I mean, you are following, you know, clues along the way, listening for the sounds in the forest, kind of.

 

And getting slaps in the head when I step out of line.  [CHUCKLE] You know, I think it’s never about us; I think it’s always about how people guide us.  And like, you know, we have to learn how to humble ourselves to the fact that we’re put on paths, and kicking and screaming, and resenting it is part of it at times.  [CHUCKLE]

 

Or taking the wrong path.

 

Taking the wrong path.

 

Taking the wrong path.

 

You know, I think there is no straight path.  My dad used to always tell me: You gotta walk the crooked path straight.  It’s like, it’s not a clearly laid out path for you.

 

Kamuela Enos walked the crooked path straight back to Waianae, where he felt he could best serve the community through his work at Mao Organic Farms, an organization that provides college tuition assistance to area students in exchange for their work on the farms.

 

When people hear your title, I think many people, including me, are not quite sure of what it means.  You’re the director of social enterprise at Mao Farms.

 

I know; right?  That’s the cool thing about running your own business; you can make whatever titles you want.  [CHUCKLE] But I think to me, the idea of social enterprise is, we measure two things on a daily basis on our farm. There’s the sales of our product and the GPAs of our students.  And all the revenue from the farm doesn’t go to staff; it goes back into the mission of the program.  And the mission is to make sure that our land is productive again, and the people who are working in the land are empowered.  And that’s, to me, a really important narrative.  When people talk about what does it mean to be a Native Hawaiian business, to me, it doesn’t mean that people have Hawaiian DNA running a business.  To me, it means that to create a product or a service for society without externalizing the cost on people or land.  ‘Cause our ancestors did that.  That was how they ran an ahupuaa.  They were the first social entrepreneurs.  They were able to create tons and tons of kalo, tons and tons of fish without exploiting people or diminishing the land’s carrying capacity.  That’s how ahupuaas work.  So, I feel that’s why it’s really important to root our practices in ancestral thinking.  And that’s why the two things we track on a daily basis is sales and GPAs.  That’s what our ancestors tracked.  And I believe our makahiki ceremony where the chiefs would come and look at abundance of land and fitness of people, those two measures, those two metrics are the same metrics that we’ve translated into sales and GPAs.  The sales of our product is our land is abundant again, GPAs is our people are fit. I mean, it’s not a full measure, of course.  There’s other things we’re trying to add into it.

 

But grade point average is the recognized college standard.

 

You’re reporting to your chief.  Like, that’s what our ancestors did when the chief came and checked on his or her people.  They say: Are my people fit, is the land productive?  My responsibility is to have that happen.  So, if we create our businesses that emanate from that same idea, then I can say the programs that we’re running is ensuring that not only is food being grown, but it’s being grown organically.  And the difference in organic production is that you care about the soil’s regenerative health over annual yields.  What’s more important is that the future generations have the right to grow from that soil.  So, that means that we’re generating revenue in ways that’s caring for the soil specifically, and that the farmer is not someone that’s getting a minimum wage with no upward mobility.  Like, they’re using this opportunity to pay for their college. Which for some people is a pathway out of their community, but I want to focus that as a pathway back into your community as a person who has a degree now, that can advocate.  You know, if you’re given a gift, you better make sure that you are using it to help others.  And to me, as a parent now, like, I wrestle with like, with doing the work that I do now, knowing all the challenges environmentally, economically, socially, politically that we’re facing.  Like, you know, what kind of things am I asked to set up for my grandchildren, so that they can thrive in climate change, thrive in all these different things that are happening, and then be a part of changing it and recalibrating it.  So, I did want to acknowledge that, you know, we do what do ‘cause people invest in us, and invest like at their own expense and provide incredible sacrifice so that we can thrive.  Right? When you work with youth and land, then you’re kind of creating a breaking point in generations of poverty, and you’re with them authentically, working alongside them.  Then, they actually begin a chance to clear that space to actually see their worth.

 

To see things differently.

 

Yeah.  And to apply the things that they learn, and see a future for themselves.  That for me, the big thing I always think about is, I had a really rare childhood.  And that what I just stay awake at night thinking about is, how do I make the childhood I had available to as many students as possible. where you are able to have a deep sense of what your ancestors did in a place from a strengths perspective.

 

And you have your own children now, too.

 

I have two children.  I have an eight-year-old and a five-year-old, who I love dearly.  And like, to me, the fact that I can kind of replicate that experience for them, but also give them more agency in helping to—they can say what they like about it too, and they can give input is really exciting.  One of the joys I get in the work that I do now in Mao which really drives me is the same joy I think my father had when he was doing Kaala, is I get to show up and go to work every day in what people would have considered impossible.  I get to go to a job where young adults from Waianae are running the largest organic farm on the island, while getting a 2.0 in college.  If you would have asked people fifteen years ago we were gonna do that, they would have told you: You are crazy, there’s no way that the largest organic farm on Oahu is gonna be in Waianae.  Much less that kids from Waianae are gonna work there, much less kids from Waianae are gonna work there as college students maintaining a 2.0; that is impossible. So, the fact that I get to work every day in a space of what the other people consider impossible really helps me think that things that people are saying are impossible now, can be possible.

 

In 2010, President Obama recognized the work of Kamuela Enos, and appointed him as a member of his advisory commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Kamuela says he’ll continue to live by the examples of his ancestors, while keeping a focus on modern day problems like climate upheaval and the health and wealth disparities of his community. Mahalo to Kamuela Enos of Waipio and Waianae, Oahu.  And thank you for joining us for this edition of Long Story Short on PBS Hawai‘i.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org.  To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

When you work with youth and land, then you’re kind of creating a breaking point in generations of poverty, and you’re with them authentically, working alongside them.  Then, they actually begin a chance to clear that space to actually see their worth.

 

To see things differently.

 

Yeah.  And to apply the things that they learn, and see a future for themselves.

 

[END]

 

 

ASK THIS OLD HOUSE
Hawai‘i Makes 50

 

That makes 50! A visit to O‘ahu completes the show’s run of every U.S. state. Tom learns how to create a unique keepsake box from island materials in Build It. Richard looks at a new way to store solar energy. Roger helps a Wai‘anae family grow an organic garden with the help of MA‘O Organic Farms.

 

SIMPLY MING
Hawai‘i – Ed Kenney

SIMPLY MING: Hawai‘i - Ed Kenney

 

Coconuts, opah and plantains are featured in this episode’s dishes. Ming catches up with restaurateur Ed Kenney at MA‘O Organic Farms in Wai‘anae, O‘ahu, to harvest ingredients and coconuts for dishes and drinks.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
The Maunakea-Forths

 

Original air date: Tues., Oct. 6, 2009

 

Farming for Self-Sufficiency

 

Kukui and Gary Maunakea-Forth created MA’O Organic Farms with the belief that developing self-sufficiency would not only stimulate economic development, but provide opportunities for Waianae youth through reinforcing the value of aloha ‘aina. They talk to Leslie about how it all began, their successes, and how farming can help heal a community by reconnecting it to its culture.

 

The Maunakea-Forths Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

GARY: I think the first place it came down to was the fact that we weren’t growing our own food. We definitely worried about the kids in our community, but I think because we saw all this land that was being wrongly used. And so we just kept asking ourselves, Why aren’t we feeding ourselves?

 

Kukui and Gary Maunakea-Forth, a married couple of common purpose and ideals that led to the formation of the largest organic farm in Hawaii…next on LONG STORY SHORT.

 

Aloha and welcome to LONG STORY SHORT, I’m Leslie Wilcox. The Waianae Coast is home to Mala ‘Ai ‘Opio, or youth organic farm, MA‘O for short. It’s the creation of KUKUI and GARY MAUNKEA-FORTH. Today, nonprofit MA‘O Organic Farms grows more than 25 types of certified organic fruits and vegetables in Waianae’s Lualualei Valley and it supplies some of Hawaii’s most celebrated restaurants and natural food stores. MA‘O Farms’ innovative internship program also nurtures and \ supports the training and college education of young adults as future farmers and leaders in the community. A love of sport and travel set in motion the union of Kukui, a native Hawaiian raised in Nanakuli, and Gary, a former banking industry employee from New Zealand. He first came to Hawaii to play rugby in the late 1980s. The couple forged a partnership to help rejuvenate the Waianae Coast community. Each partner was moved by a longtime passion for social justice.

 

GARY: I guess growing up, New Zealanders are sort of an alternative lot. A little bit feisty, and a little bit like the underdog; and so as a kid growing up, New Zealand went nuclear free probably thirty years ago. So I grew up there as a kid. And then New Zealand plays a lot of rugby against South Africa, so during the end of the apartheid years, there was a lot of politics going on in New Zealand. So that stuff sort of sobered me to the realities of the world, they were used as teaching things when we were in secondary school, we were in high school. So coming to Hawaii, I thought I was coming to paradise. And I did. I mean, it is paradise. But there’s obviously a few social issues going on here that I didn’t know about, and I think the rest of the world doesn’t know about. And so when I got here, I started to get to twenty-three, twenty-four, and I thought I would go back to university. And so I had some friends on the rugby team here, and I ended up going back to the University of Hawaii for both undergraduate and grad school, and that was probably the best thing I ever did.

 

What did you major in?

 

Environmental studies and political science. And I think this was back in the early 90s; this was when people started to talk about sustainability and about the carrying capacity of Hawaii and whether very popular things like tourism, were really having a diver—having an adverse impact on Hawaii.

 

Was your interest in social justice, is that what took you out to Waianae? Is that how you find your way out there?

 

Yeah. I think I was in grad school, and I got a job working in Waianae, it was not a social activist type of job. It was like an ecotourism type of job. But I’d been going to Waianae before that, because I liked to surf, and I was surfing Makaha. I got to know Eric Enos fairly well, and I went to the taro farm quite a lot. And then a couple of guys on the rugby team used to box, and Waianae has got a great boxing club. So we used to go and watch them box in Waianae.

 

And where did yours and Kukui’s paths cross?

 

GARY: I was working for an organization that did community development projects. And I remember knowing her fairly well, but really getting to know her through some community visioning sessions where she kinda called me out of the meeting, and—

 

KUKUI: I did?

 

GARY: Uh, yeah.

 

KUKUI: No…

 

GARY: I remember sort of clearly that—

 

KUKUI: That wasn’t me.

 

GARY: —that I was part of a group that was advocating ecotourism on the Waianae coast.   I think she asked me a question like, What is this gonna do for our coral reefs?

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Do you remember that?

 

KUKUI: Yeah. [CHUCKLE] I did.

 

You called him out.

 

KUKUI: I did; many, many times. May—

 

GARY: Yeah; and it was a good question.

 

KUKUI: But definitely, what we connected on were some of the things that was going on in the community at the time. And I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around some of the issues. We were going through this momentous growth as a community, we were struggling a lot with educational attainment for youth. We were going through a lot of things, around the aina, about the exploitation, and sort of coming from that history of sort of anti-development on the Waianae coast, it just seemed like we had a lot in common in terms of how we were speaking about how people and place needed to be reconnected. And, the experiences that he talked about early on, it sparked my imagination.

 

While Gary was growing up in New Zealand, what about your upbringing?

 

KUKUI: I grew up on Hawaiian homestead land. Our growing up was wonderful. We were one of the first homesteaders in Nanakuli. I think my grandmother moved there in 1931. And so many of the things that she had gone through, in growing her own family and her own household was within the context of growing a brand new community. And because of her manao and mana as a kupuna, she was a native speaker, she was well acquainted with laau lapaau, with Hawaiian medicine, all the practical things too of how to plant, how harvest and cook, how to really live off of the land, and live with very little. Growing up with her, I was able to capture some of that in my learnings and in the way that I developed. I think it’s a very different place. But I think some of the elements are definitely there, that it wouldn’t take that much to really reconnect the community. And I think it starts with the aina. I think that’s what sort of the forces that brought us together was that idea of appreciation. And I know Gary hasn’t sort of mentioned it yet, but he comes from a rural town where farming and growing food is a wonderful occupation. And I sort of had that similar experience of being very close to the food, and close to the land.

 

As the family started to be less close knit, the same thing happened to communities, and especially in our schools. And so our school was the same thing. I couldn’t believe that in my last year there, we didn’t have Hawaiian language, because they would not allocate budgetary funds. And here you were with a whole school full of native Hawaiian students, and—

 

A Hawaiian homestead community.

 

KUKUI: And a Hawaiian homestead community, and no Hawaiian language. And that was very hurtful. Having had that in my own family, and with my own grandma. And if she had been alive at the time, she would have been the first to be there, going, This is not pono, this is not … right. And so when the opportunity came to sort of question what had happened in the Hawaiian experience, we sort of came out and started to say, Hey, you know, we have to do something as community people. I had just started having my children then, and so that was definitely burning, and I had a lot of questions. And right around the same time, I discovered this wonderful link that I had with some wahine at UH. Mililani Trask, and Haunani Trask, and Lilikala Kame’eleihiwa; and I was lucky enough to pass right around the same time that they were organizing community around saving loi kalo making sure the olelo was taken care of. It was an exciting time. And I think people came into my life that helped me to mold … this person that’s sitting here with you today.

 

Kukui and Gary Maunakea Forth spent more than 3 years, in collaboration with friends and community members, formulating the essential touchstones that would become MA‘O Organic Farms. In the face of Waianae’s generational poverty, two main objectives emerged: growing food for self-sufficiency and empowering the area’s at-risk-youth. Both of these goals were to be achieved through the perpetuation of the Hawaiian culture.  

 

GARY: I think the first place it came down to was the fact that we weren’t growing our own food. We definitely worried about the kids in our community, but I think because we saw all this land that was being wrongly used—Lualualei Naval Base, seven and a half thousand acres are still used by the military, and the base is really closed. And so we just kept asking ourselves, Why, why aren’t we feeding ourselves? And then we dug a little bit deeper, and one of our friends who’s a soil scientist, and it turns out that the soil in Lualualei Valley is one of the most unique and nutrient rich soils in the world. And we didn’t know that, and kids in our community weren’t taught that. They’d been taught that, you know, Makaha is a great beach, and we have beautiful oceans, and we should be proud of our water, and we should be proud of our culture and heritage. But the connection to the land had been severed. And still to this day, there’s kids that come up to the farm who have never been up into the valleys. And that’s because some of the valleys are off limits. And so I think that’s where it started. And then definitely as our kids started to get a little bit older and go through the same problems that other kids were going through, our connection to what kids in Waianae, what kids in rural Hawaii are going through started to just really sort of slap us in the face. The idea that a good public education is very difficult to get in Hawaii.

 

Is that where you thought about fusing the two needs?

 

GARY: M-hm. Yeah. M-hm. We looked at the community, and Kukui at the time, in 1990, was working for the census, and then in 2000 she worked for the census after ten years. And you can tell that story a bit. But I remember her coming home and going like, Wow, things have got definitely worse in ten years.

 

And telling stories like a family in a cul de sac all sharing the same power with extension cords going from house to house.

 

That’s right; you go to door-to-door, and you really see people, and look at how they live.

 

KUKUI: M-hm.

 

Well, what were the differences?

 

And they were friends that I had grown up with, when we were children they were very poor, but you would never have known that. And because they were super smart. And I believe that one of them went on and got a masters degree, but they were very poor. And then to see the next generation so disconnected, and poorer than poor. The porch leading up to where the doorway was, when in the old home, had been demolished. And they were basically just using like a little stepstool to climb up into the house. And then no icebox. They had coolers all outside full of food, and the children were going in there to go get their food. And just dozens of electrical cords coming from another neighbor’s home, and I guess for emergency or whatever. And still ‘til today, we see people living in garages, multiple families, being told to leave, told to come. It’s just crazy.

 

Kukui and Gary Maunakea-Forth talked with young people about the ‘aina and its importance culturally, historically, spiritually. The couple drew upon the assistance of elders such as Uncle William Aila Senior and other community collaborators to help run the MA‘O Organic Farms.

 

GARY: We didn’t want to just grow food, and eat it ourselves. We wanted it to be highly marketable. Because when we analyzed our community, the state of poverty was multigenerational. And we thought that if we sell our own food for a premium price, that money wouldn’t go back into our community. And so we looked at the kind of social service kinds of things that we had been doing ourselves and that others were doing, and we wanted to add this … what at the time was called community based economic development. But we wanted to add this economic development layer that now has become social enterprise. And so that’s where it started. And we were fortunate to get a lease from the Community of Christ Church for five acres, kind of almost immediately as we started. And we wrote a business plan, and we got friends and family together, and we got a board of directors together, and we did all those things. I think the product of three years of talking and researching, and having meetings was the first two grants that we received were the first, we got a local grant from the Bank of Hawaii. And then the first two large grants were federal grants, and we got them very quickly.

 

KUKUI: There’s no one right way. And we’ve all sort of figured out this thing, that we bring everything to the table, you put it down. If your idea is better than ours, then hey, we’re gonna go with your idea. And that’s how it even happened with that very first class. And I wanted it to be this great education program, and I wanted this element of culture and this element of vocational skills being taught, and this element of community work being done. And it just didn’t happen like that at all. It was whatever, you know, resources and people that were sort of there at the time. And it started off as a ten-month-long experience, farmwork experience.

 

So who were you first enrollees?

 

KUKUI: Mostly people that we had talked to their parents at Tamura’s. Or we saw down at the beach park, and said, Hey, we’re starting a program, would you guys like to send your daughter? Oh, yeah, my daughter is graduating, and she doesn’t really have plans; sure, we’ll sign her up. Those people that were meant to be there, ended up there. And all of us growing up on the coast, the fact that there’s only eleven percent that will go on to college, that’s a small number. So what about the other eighty-eight, ninety percent that aren’t going to college? Where are those guys? We thought long and hard about who we wanted to have this opportunity and to have this experience. And it was really those that were going to become the leaders. So this eighteen to twenty-four-year-old, Waianae or Nanakuli graduate that had a desire to do something different, and to connect with not only the culture, but with a future in the community.

 

GARY: Almost every young person that has been in touch with MA‘O are—and this is pretty much the condition of the Waianae coast, the federal government calls them at risk. And if you look deep at the statistics, you’ll find that Waianae has twice the teen pregnancy rate, twice the substance abuse rate. All of these indicators are terrible, twice as bad as anywhere else. And so most of the kids that come have issues at home or in their own lives that they’ve got to deal with. On top of that, we’re told in this society that if you go and get a college education, you can get ahead in life, you can get your American dream. Most of the kids coming out of the school, public schools in the State of Hawaii, in Waianae are what’s termed remedial. So in the first year of college, they generally can’t take one hundred level classes. So what it does is add a whole year to their college experience and so they have to pay for their college, they have to somehow find the resources to get through college. And so they have to be highly motivated ‘cause when we started Ma‘o, we wanted to start it with a college program, an associate degree program. That took us three or four years to gain momentum, because when we went to Leeward Community College, initially, they were like, Well, you know, let’s do a non-credit program. And so we started with this ten-month-long program. And now the various programs we have through Ma‘o are sort of designed to be like a movement, to have this environment of entrepreneurship, of I want to get ahead, of I want to work hard, I want to give to my community.

 

KUKUI: Over time, we nurture, trust and respect, and love. And for Kainoa, who came into the program… he was a wonderful digital media specialist, and so straight out of high school from Sea Rider Productions, he was sent out into the world to unleash himself onto the college scene. And he didn’t do that well. Because William, worked at the farm, he said, Well, you know, Kainoa’s not doing anything. Why don’t you guys come and then be a part of this college program? You still want to go to college, right, Kainoa? And, Yeah, Papa, I do. And so he did. And over the time that he was at the farm, he learned along with his peers not only how to handle college, but also how to manage work and family life. Because he still lived at home. And then he went through this physical transformation. About a year ago he really started to appreciate the stuff that he was learning on the farm, and so he would take home food to cook at home. And then on Sundays, when everybody else is sleeping or having fun, he and another boy would come to the farm and help water the farm for Uncle William. And because we have wireless access, they would do their homework out on the picnic table outside of the offices. They would cook for themselves. They would go harvest some food, cook, and I think over the last year, he lost about a hundred and forty pounds. And he’ll be graduating next semester, and his plan is to go to UH and get his four-year degree. So very proud of him.

 

GARY: The cool thing is, we’ve got a ton of these stories. And we’ve got the stories of the kids that are still in the program, or have graduated, but also the kids who’ve left early. There’s a lot of kids who leave early, because mainly they find that farming is not part of what they want to do. Because the farm is set up, the work is three to four days a week, and it’s tough. And you go to college. And when kids first come to the farm, they generally come because we’re gonna help them pay for college and give them a stipend. And the farming … they could live without, some of them. And that’s part of the stereotype of working on a farm in Hawaii and the US that we had to deal with. So in 2003, I think, was our first real official ten-person youth leadership training of these young people straight out of college. And one of them went through the whole ten months, and during that ten months, he turned eighteen, and he was all over the place. He would argue with the young women. He was just growing up. And he graduated, and he did what a lot of young guys in Waianae, when they have family resources, he went to work for his uncle. And that’s what happens a lot, you know. I’m gonna work for my uncle—he’s a contractor, and he was gonna go get a plumbing apprenticeship. And anyway, it fell through, and so he came back, and he came back up to the farm and he said, Uncle Gary, I know the farm’s growing, can you give me a job? And I said, Okay, I’ll give you a job if you make your salary. We’ve gotta make more money, and that’s what you’re gonna get paid. And anyway, he stuck it out, and now he’s still with us, and he’s twenty-five years old, and he’s now the assistant farm manager … His name is Manny. He represents what we believe is the untapped potential of young men in Waianae. He could run the farm himself. I’ve seen him, talk story with Alan Wong about food, talk story with Ed Kenney about food. At one of the fundraisers, he was talking about the farm to Pierre Omidyar who’s a billionaire. He represents, I believe, what a young farmer in the State of Hawaii should be. Not just a person who’s able to toil in the fields, but he can talk about the vegetables, he can cook the vegetables, he can inspire other young people to want to do the job he’s doing.

 

Well, farming has become remarkably complex. You’ve got to be a weather person, and a scientist, and a marketer. It’s a very—

 

That—lots of fun too.

 

—tough way to make a living.

 

Gary: Well, I think, we’ve tried to take the farming and make it sexy, and make it interesting. And the best and easiest way to do that is to allow the young people do, firstly, a bit of everything. So that they a typecast, weeding a lot.

 

But they also get to do all the other jobs. And you know, packing vegetables to go to Town Restaurant or to Whole Foods is one of those things where they start to see the pride in doing it.

 

And the connections.

 

GARY: And the connection. The KCC Farmers’ Market selling vegetables, that’s the ultimate job. And we’re hoping now that the next step for us is that especially some of the young people who really have all of a sudden like farming will be farmers, and will either farm larger spaces with us, or go on by themselves. And Manny and his now wife, Summer are talking about buying a piece of property or they’ve saved a deposit to buy a house.

 

KUKUI: And I think that’s what I love most about what we do, that we’re providing this way for young people, at an early age, to build equity. It’s not just equity, financial equity, and also equity in terms of the relationships that we’re creating with other people in our community, and with the land that feeds them. So you know, it’s so nice.

 

Despite the ongoing success of MA‘O Organic Farms, there are still many challenges for the Waianae community—particularly for its young people. But for those who work the land, the farm gives them a chance to work through their frustrations.  

 

GARY: I get angry every single day at the farm when we’re sitting on … you know, we had five acres, now we have a eleven more, and I look south and I see Lualualei Naval Base with antennas everywhere. And it was tough to be angry at that, eight or nine years ago when the base was operating. But now, it’s closed. We drive past seven and a half thousand acres of land that and we have everyday normal people saying, Why aren’t we feeding ourselves. What makes it even more ridiculous is we drive past the beach parks, and we see family, friends—kids, you know, in the farm, their families and friends, our families and friends homeless.

 

KUKUI: Young people are coming from those places where there is a lot of injustice being felt. Dad losing a job because he’s too low, or he didn’t have the right educational attainment, or Sister is gonna be kicked off of welfare because she no longer qualifies; or I gotta continue to go work three jobs just to keep the lights on. We know too that some of them are the only wage earners in their homes right now. They’re going to school to make sure that they have some sort of future to get a better job, but at the same time, they’re at a very low wage sort of job. And sometimes those issues all sort of bubble up, and they come to the surface. And I think Ma‘o provides that wonderful opportunity to help them deal with it, so that it doesn’t become anger, so that there’s some constructive way to talk about how that happened to their family, to themselves. We give them an opportunity and a way to sort of come to terms with that anger. And we’ve been lucky enough to work through a lot of those issues and understand that it’s so complex that we really do need to build those times in our families, build that capacity in our youth and ourselves to take care of that.

 

In 2009, after almost a decade of hard work, MA‘O Organic Farms is expanding its acreage and its packing facilities. Kukui and Gary Maunakea–Forths’ social enterprise is not only enriching the lives of young people, it is setting a standard for sustainability in Hawaii’s future. Thank you for joining us. For LONG STORY SHORT and PBS Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Until next time Aloha A hui hou kakou.

 

 

GARY: I think that rootedness is the first step for the young adults to really understand where they situate themselves in the world. We call it the context that they come with yeah?

 

KUKUI: We’re still learning about what is the best way to convey that, and to teach that, and to make our youth and our community comfortable with the images that both they perceive of themselves as having or being, and what outside of Waianae is looking in and seeing, or acceptance of who you are, and being okay with that, its really critical for our youth to develop well. And, you know, sometimes it’s just a matter of creating time and space for them to be able to discuss that very question. And taking us out of the decision making, and putting them into the place where they decide, and empower them to have that conversation.