Puerto Rico – Arroz con Gandules


Part foodie, part travelogue, part genealogy, Family Ingredients follows acclaimed Hawai‘i restaurateur and sustainability hero Ed Kenney, as he meets with different individuals in the Islands, and follows each person’s cherished food memory to its origin around the globe. He takes off to explore Okinawa, Tahiti, California, Japan, Puerto Rico and the Hawaiian Islands, showcasing how cuisine can profoundly unite cultures, communities and families.


Puerto Rico – Arroz con Gandules
Puerto Rican pride thrives in Hawaiʻi. Ed Kenney meets up with entertainer Tiara Hernandez, whose family grew up in Waikiki showrooms. They follow a culinary path to a country she’s never seen to learn more about her heritage.



Japan – Miso Soup


Part foodie, part travelogue, part genealogy, Family Ingredients follows acclaimed Hawaiʻi restaurateur and sustainability hero Ed Kenney, as he meets with different individuals in the Islands, and follows each person’s cherished food memory to its origin around the globe. He takes off to explore Okinawa, Tahiti, California, Japan, Puerto Rico and the Hawaiian Islands, showcasing how cuisine can profoundly unite cultures, communities and families.


Japan – Miso Soup
In Japan, miso factories are like microbreweries in America. Host Ed Kenney and fellow Hawai‘i restaurateur Alan Wong dive into the origins of miso soup, Wong’s favorite childhood dish, and search for the finest ingredients.



California – Pipi Kaula


Part foodie, part travelogue, part genealogy, Family Ingredients follows acclaimed Hawai‘i restaurateur and sustainability hero Ed Kenney, as he meets with different individuals in the Islands, and follows each person’s cherished food memory to its origin around the globe. He takes off to explore Okinawa, Tahiti, California, Japan, Puerto Rico and the Hawaiian Islands, showcasing how cuisine can profoundly unite cultures, communities and families.


California – Pipi Kaula
At one time, the Hawaiian cowboys were considered some of the best cowboys in the world. They also made the most tender beef jerky called pipi kaula. We’ll trace the origins of the Hawaiian cowboy lifestyle to the adobes of California and discover how these traditions of music and food are still enjoyed today.


Tahiti – Poisson Cru


Part foodie, part travelogue, part genealogy, Family Ingredients follows acclaimed Hawaiʻi restaurateur and sustainability hero Ed Kenney, as he meets with different individuals in the Islands, and follows each person’s cherished food memory to its origin around the globe. He takes off to explore Okinawa, Tahiti, California, Japan, Puerto Rico and the Hawaiian Islands, showcasing how cuisine can profoundly unite cultures, communities and families.


Tahiti – Poisson Cru

It started because they said it couldn’t be done. Polynesians navigated their world on canoes following the stars. Modern seafarers proved it was true. Meet a crewmember on the Hokulea worldwide voyage traversing the planet with a stop at his ancestral home. A family moment to remember and a dish never to forget.



Okinawa – Soki Soba


Part foodie, part travelogue, part genealogy, Family Ingredients follows acclaimed Hawai‘i restaurateur and sustainability hero Ed Kenney, as he meets with different individuals in the Islands, and follows each person’s cherished food memory to its origin around the globe. He takes off to explore Okinawa, Tahiti, California, Japan, Puerto Rico and the Hawaiian Islands, showcasing how cuisine can profoundly unite cultures, communities and families.


Okinawa – Soki Soba
Okinawan soba is not to be confused with Japanese soba. The blend of noodles, soup and pork spare ribs embodies the spirit of the Okinawan people and the complex history that make up its islands.


Hawai‘i – Poi


Part foodie, part travelogue, part genealogy, Family Ingredients follows acclaimed Hawai‘i restaurateur and sustainability hero Ed Kenney, as he meets with different individuals in the islands, and follows each person’s cherished food memory to its origin around the globe. He takes off to explore Okinawa, Tahiti, California, Japan, Puerto Rico and the Hawaiian Islands, showcasing how cuisine can profoundly unite cultures, communities and families.


Hawai‘i – Poi
Hawaiian cuisine is blazing its way into kitchens across America with exciting flavors and ingredients, but the most famous Hawaiian dish is the one that is most misunderstood.


Tourism Boom – Do We Know When to Say When?


INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I explores the environmental and economic impacts of Hawai‘i’s ongoing tourism boom. Hawai‘i just made its eighth straight record-breaking year for tourism, topping 9 million visitor arrivals in 2017. What are the opportunities and threats this visitor boom presents – and is this kind of success sustainable for our island state?


Phone Lines:
462-5000 on Oahu or 800-238-4847 on the Neighbor Islands.




Visit the PBS Hawai‘i Facebook page.


Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights


Welcome to Our New Board Chair!

Welcome to Our New Board Chair, Jason Fujimoto

PBS Hawai‘i’s new Board Chair Jason Fujimoto


He’s the first Neighbor Islander to head the Board of Directors of statewide PBS Hawaiʻi; he is by far our youngest Board Chair; and he’s the fifth generation of a successful family company, founded by an immigrant.


Meet Jason Fujimoto of Hilo, 36, husband of Tobie and father of two children. This summer, he succeeded longtime PBS Hawai‘i Board Chair Robbie Alm.


In Jason’s “day job,” he serves as President and Chief Operating Officer of HPM Building Supply, overseeing company business on Hawai‘i Island, Maui and Kauaʻi. His role with nonprofit PBS Hawai‘i is unpaid, and he knows what he’s getting into, as he is our Board’s former Vice Chair.


“PBS Hawai‘i is really special because it’s not controlled by big media; it’s really Hawai‘i’s TV station, it’s our station,” Jason says.


“When you look at the opportunity we have here as an organization, and it goes beyond media, it’s… bringing people of all cultures and professions together and really looking toward the future and solving some of the key issues and problems that we have as a state,” he said.


Jason will tell you that he spent his childhood in Hilo, but that he really grew up on Sesame Street. Public television was on the screen in his family home. His parents, Mike and Thuy Fujimoto, and grandparents Robert and Alice Fujimoto, highly value education. They did everything they could to help Jason deepen his knowledge and broaden his horizons.


The horizons he chose included the renowned Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. After earning a degree in corporate finance and strategic management, Jason became an investment banker in New York City, working on mergers and acquisitions for J.P. Morgan.


Jason had grown wings but he hadn’t forgotten his roots. In 2004, he was ready to return to Hawai‘i, for the chance to do work that was more entrepreneurial and more fulfilling than what Wall Street offered. He found it at his family’s employee-owned company. HPM Building Supply may be best known for its “package home” program, which makes homeownership more affordable.


In 2013, Hawaii Business Magazine named Jason Fujimoto as a business person to watch over the years, one of the “20 for the Next 20.”


Earlier this year, Jason led our Board and Staff and other stakeholders in envisioning new strategic goals for PBS Hawai‘i. Everyone felt free to speak and share their different ideas. There was civility and humor and, later, a clear consensus. We’re making our video content more accessible, more quickly, in different forms, on different media platforms; and we’re
taking new steps to address financial sustainability in changing times.


As CEO, I look forward to working closely with Jason. He places a high value on lifelong learning and integrity, has that old-time Hilo knack for building relationships, and leads from the heart.


Leslie signature


Kū Kahakalau


Original air date: Tues., Nov. 16, 2010


Drawing from Hawaiian Traditions to Promote Hands-on Learning


Founder of one of the first public Hawaiian Charter Schools on Hawaii Island, educator Kū Kahakalau draws from ancient Hawaiian traditions to promote sustainability and hands-on learning at her school, Kanu O Ka ‘Aina.


Leslie Wilcox talks with Kū Kahakalau about how growing up with two cultures, German and Hawaiian, has helped shape her approach to life and work. Kū Kahakalau also discusses the challenges of finding funding for the school and the criticism she has faced concerning curriculum.


Kū Kahakalau Audio


Download the Transcript




Our kupuna had a totally different way of looking at learning. It was an exciting thing, it was a fun thing, it was just totally absorbing kind of activity. And so, we strongly feel that you can have fun, and that you can learn at the same time.


Our next Long Story Short guest has used this traditional Hawaiian approach to learning as the foundation for an innovative Charter School on Hawaii Island. But it has been the balance between her two cultural backgrounds, Hawaiian and German, that has shaped her life and her life’s work. Meet educator, Kū Kahakalau, next.


Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.


Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Her sister, Hoku Award winning singer, Robi Kahakalau, may be better known to the public, but in the world of Charter School education, Kū Kahakalau is a star. A resident of Waimea on Hawaii Island, she is the founder of the Kanu O Ka Aina Learning Ohana, a community, family, and cultural program for native Hawaiians of all ages, and a public Charter School of the same name. Because of Kū’s strong passion to promote and strengthen Hawaiian education, you might think she grew up in the islands.


So you were born in Hawaii.




But you have a German accent. How did that happen?


That happens mostly when I try to speak proper English, because I learned proper English in Europe. And so when I was young, my father is a Hawaiian jazz musician, and he just preferred to just strictly play music. But in Hawaii, most musicians have to play music, and have another job. And so in the early 60s, he decided to move us to Europe, because at that time, jazz was just starting in Europe, and American jazz musicians were, like, regarded as mini gods, and they—




And so—


And you were a little kid then, right?


Yeah; yes. And so, we spent several years in Europe, and my father really liked it there. He liked the part that they took good care of the environment there. He liked the part that a handshake and a promise really meant something. And he liked the part that when they did things, they did it the right way, or they did it at a level of sophistication and rigor, that our Hawaiian kupuna also did things. And so, he saw many things that were very similar, the way people acted in Europe, compared to how his Hawaiian kupuna taught him.


You went to Germany as a young kid who spoke Pidgin?


Yeah. Well, yeah.


Or standard English.


Yeah. Well, we were multilingual from the beginning. My mom is pure German, so we’ve always had the German part in there. My dad spoke relatively good English, even though he didn’t have any education beyond fourth grade, but he was self-taught; he loved to read. So we had multiple languages in our household. My grandfather spoke fluent Hawaiian, he was a native speaker. And we had lots of Hawaiian through our music as well. And then, in Europe, there’s the French people, and you learn how to speak French, and at least understand. And then, as you get a little older and become a teenager, if you really want to speak to this Italian boy, let’s say for an example, you’ll pick up Italian really quick, if you have to.


What language do you think in?


It depends on what I do. Hawaiian, when I do poetry, and when I try to go into deeper more aesthetical kind of language, I think then I would say Hawaiian. If it’s things that have to do with day-to-day things, most times in English.


You have so much cultural perspective. How do you see the differences in culture shaping who you’ve become?


That’s a very tough one, because the cultures are so sometimes diagonally opposed. The very [CLEARS THROAT] carefree part of the Hawaiian culture, versus a very rigid, and everything only being a certain way in the German culture. Sometimes we’d spin what we call hukihuki, spinning and pulling back and forth. But I think I’ve always tried to find what works best for me. And sometimes, I can just go with the flow, and just take it easy, and then other times, I can just really buckle down and just be one-minded, single-minded in terms of getting something done, and just pushing, pushing, until I get it there. So it’s not always easy. And especially, I think when we were growing up, trying to figure out what side to play when it came to your parents. Should you just kind of go the safe route with your German mother, or the totally unsafe route with your Hawaiian father?


How was that unsafe?


[CLEARS THROAT] Well, in a way that you never knew what could happen. You could go anywhere, and it would be fine, or not, but you never knew.


But your mother, you knew what would happen?


We knew exactly what to expect, and how to behave. Whereas, with my dad, I think with him, between being Hawaiian, but also between being a jazz musician and really growing up during an era when they experimented with everything, and anything that, came across their path, it was one of those things that you just never really knew where things were gonna end up.


You know, as it just occurs to me that you must have been around people who didn’t realize you’re Native Hawaiian.


Definitely. That would be something that not everybody figures out right away. [CHUCKLE] And that’s perfectly fine. Because I know who I am, and the way we grew up, I mean, people never really knew who we were in the first place. And I think people just have to—I always felt people have to accept you for who you are, no matter what nationality or what ethnic background, or what your IQ is. And so, I haven’t had a big problem with that, actually. I’m proud of my German heritage, I still practice some of those pieces or at least don’t deny that, or don’t want to have anything to do with it. But my world has been a Hawaiian world since 1978, since I first came back. I have personally, all my interests, as far as learning things, and doing things, have centered around Hawaiian language, culture, tradition, Hawaiian causes. I’ve been very involved in many, many Hawaiian causes over the years. And so, it doesn’t matter to me what I look like. I would like to be more beautiful; that would be just as fine as me looking more Hawaiian. It’s just how the cookie crumbles. Mahalo i ka mea loaa, be thankful for what you have, is the fourth of our behavior expectations.


Although always comfortable in her own skin, Kū Kahakalau didn’t feel completely at home in Europe. She made it a goal to return to her Hawaiian roots.


We tried to adapt as good as we could, but I know for myself, I never really fit in. And also, there were, at that time still, all kinds of discrimination and just treatment that maybe today wouldn’t be as much anymore, because you have so many more nationalities and ethnicities living in Germany, for example, that you didn’t have at that time. But my dad was the only brown person in town when we first got there, and it was not easy even though we physically would fit in. But when your last name is Kahakalau, no matter what, you can’t hide that.


And that was the reason you didn’t fit in; it was the name and the brown father?


It was the color of it, but then, also my father’s very unconventional lifestyle certainly didn’t help either. When all the other fathers worked every day from whatever it was, eight ‘til five, kind of a thing, and my father had never had a regular work schedule in his entire life. So I think those things certainly didn’t help, either. And so we just always felt a little bit a odd. And then, as we got older, we met so many military people that were stationed in Germany, and I worked for the military for one year after high school to make money to come home. And the more we sang the songs, and the more we tried to eat the food, and the more it became like, What am I doing here?


So when you hit high school graduation, at that point, you were making money to get home?




No question?


No question. That was a single—[CHUCKLE] one of those single-minded decisions. And without any real concrete plans as to where to go from there, there was no doubt in my mind. As soon as I had enough money for an airplane ticket and a couple more thousand dollars that could hold me over for a little while, I was gonna come home, and I did.


Once back in the islands, Kū Kuhakalau entered Kapiolani Community College at Diamond Head, then transferred to the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She earned a bachelor’s degree in education and Hawaiian language, and a master’s in European language and literature. Then, a teaching job led her to Hawaii Island.


So you were a public schoolteacher, but then you founded a school. How did that happen?


So I started as a Hawaiian language teacher, and I would have my students for one hour every day, and you would probably almost have to re-teach, and re-teach, and re-teach, and really within the first ten years, for sure, it became clear that this one period per day wasn’t gonna teach them how to speak a language. Especially not the way I had been learning language, which was immersed in the environment, and being around people where you could speak it and use it, rather than just trying to do a grammatical approach. And so I tried really hard to try a new approach with Hawaiian language, and that worked very well. But my students were failing in all the other subjects, except for Hawaiian. And so I knew that these students could learn, but that the way that we were teaching them wasn’t working. And so, in 1997, we started a school within a school. At that time, I had just begun my PhD in indigenous education, and I used the school within a school as my research project. And so, thanks to the Charter School movement, we were able to establish a school that is Hawaiian focused, that believes in the things that we believe in and from the way that—how we teach, what we teach, where we teach, when we teach, all of those things are determined by our Hawaiian way of looking at education, rather than some Western construct that hasn’t worked for our kids.


At the time you started the school, how many Charter Schools were there in Hawaii?


Actually, we were the first of four Charter Schools to open up, and we were the only Hawaiian-focused charter school at that time.


And the curriculum was driven by Hawaiian sensibilities?


Yes. Basically, we felt very strong. For myself, it was [CLEARS THROAT] always a long-term goal to create this. But when my children were born, it became a very personal goal also. And so when my youngest daughter started kindergarten, we started the school, and it was basically to allow our children to walk successfully in multiple worlds. So they would learn everything that they needed to function as Hawaiians in the 21st century, but they would also be able to function as 21st century citizens, and go anywhere in the world, and be able to participate in the global conversation, and be able to take care of the world, the way that we’re all supposed to be taking care of the world.


That sounds like an awfully tall order. How do you do that?


That is definitely a tall order, in that we have to teach double what everybody else is teaching. But the thing is, first of all, you have very strong relations between your teaching staff or all of the adults and the children. That is a really important piece. And in our school, everybody is Uncle and Auntie, so nobody calls me Dr. Kahakalau, just Auntie Kū. And we really treat each other as ohana. So I know your maddah, I know your grandmaddah, I know all about your ohana. That kind of a relationship is really, really important, that the kids know that we care about them. And then, what we provide is curriculum that is relevant. Everything starts in Hawaii, and then goes out in concentric circles. So then, when education makes sense to the kids, then they want to learn.


In the year 2000, Kū Kahakalau founded the Kanu O Ka Aina New Century Public Charter School in Waimea, on Hawaii Island. Kahakalau says the school’s main building, Halau Hoolako, is Hawaii Island’s first green educational facility. Studies also take place in remote Waipio Valley.


So Waipio Valley; the valley of kings.


Yes. It’s a very, very special, and very beautiful place, and we really are honored that we have the opportunity to be there. And I feel so blessed that, as I said, my children and my students are able to experience the valley, not just go there one day kinda thing, check it out, but actually reside in that valley for long periods of time. They go down from Monday to Thursday every other week. So half of their educational experience, from middle school all the way through high school, is pretty much being in the valley.


And what do they do in the valley?


They have several major projects. We’re a project-based school, so it’s an entire project that goes down there. And one of the big projects is a stream restoration project. When the sugarcane companies needed water, they diverted, as you know, everywhere else in Hawaii, lots—millions and millions of gallons out of the valley. When the sugar company closed down, a taro farmer in Waipio demanded that that water would come back into the valley. So this is the first time that a hundred percent of a stream has been restored in a native environment.   So for the last seven years, my students have been—and my husband is the lead teacher there, they have been studying the impact of that hundred percent stream restoration on the native fauna and flora. So they work with Bishop Museum scientists, they work with DLNR people, and with international scientists, actually, to look at the life of the stream and the health of the stream. So that’s a major part of the scientific research. And then, they grow taro, and they grow vegetables, and they learn about the history, they learn about the culture of the valley. They learn the songs and the chants, and all of the things that are part of survival in the valley, and part of practicing our traditions and our cultures.


I once heard your architect, or one of your architects, Francis Oda—


Yes; oh, yes.


—talking about designing the building.




The first building you did. And he said it was a problem-solving effort, in the sense that, for example, it needed to be open and inclusive, and yet, there needed to be security too.




How did you work that out?


Well, one thing in Waimea is beyond security, it also needs to keep the wind and the cold out. When I get to work, in the morning, it can be as cold as forty-something. So while we would have loved to have just an open building, with no doors and everything, because of the weather in Waimea, we needed to also take care of that. So we have a very much indoor/outdoor atmosphere in that we have lots of glass. And right outside the glass are the plants that our students take care of. They’re the ones who are deciding what is planted there, why is it planted there, and they will take care of those things, and they will harvest that. And we use those plants, actually, as part of our living in this kauhale that we’re creating.


When you say kauhale, what does that mean?


In traditional Hawaii, at kauhale was a group of—a cluster of houses that were inhabited by an extended family. And we don’t look at ourselves as a school; we look at ourselves as a family of learners, or a learning ohana. Um [COUGH], our nonprofit is actually called the Kanu O Ka Aina Learning Ohana, but we as a group, everybody that’s part of the various programs—we have a preschool program, we have a K-12, we have an indigenous center for higher learning, and we have lots of community education programs going on. We are all part of this extended ohana, and we are creating the first community-based Hawaiian learning destination on these thirty acres of Hawaiian homes that we have in Waimea. So the first building is up so far. It’s called Halau Hoolako. And the second and third building, hopefully, we’re breaking ground very soon to continue the expansion, so that right now, our elementary school is still on another campus, so that we can bring everybody together.


Critics of Hawaiian charter schools talk about performance on standardized tests. How are you doing in that area?


Considering where we started, we are off the charts. We are dealing with a population that has underperformed on all educational performance indicators. And yet, within a very short time, less than ten years, we are at least where the rest of Hawaii is, if not in some cases, higher. So our test scores have risen steadily from year, to year, to year. And we are definitely at least equal with the rest of Hawaii, with the hope in the next ten years, to even outperform other ethnic groups in Hawaii. We just got a six-year accreditation, so definitely, our curriculum, even though it has room for improvement, everything always does, is a very strong, academically focused, rigorous curriculum.


It’s hard for me to get my head around that, because in the Hawaiian culture, there’s so much group and team achievement. It’s not a matter of, I know the answer, me-me-me, whereas Western is a solo achievement model.


Only the education model. Because if you go into the business world, it’s not true. In the business world, you’re looking for collaborators. You’re looking for team people, yeah, that are used to working together.


Especially in the 21st century.


Especially in the 21st century. So what we have been very blessed to slide into is this concept of ancient is modern. Many things that our kupuna value, such as team spirit and team collaboration, and working together for the common good, taking care of the environment, all of these things, are very much also 21st century educational paradigms. And so, the more we do this, the more we’re realizing that the traditional things are very much also contemporary ways of doing uh, business and surviving in Hawaii today.


What about Kenneth Conklin, who’s criticized the school, and in fact, Charter Schools—Hawaiian Charter Schools in particular, saying that in having the Hawaiian culture driving the school, you also have a politically driven agenda, leading all kids to Hawaiian sovereignty?


That is something that we neither confirm, nor deny. No. I [CLEARS THROAT]—we feel we are Hawaiians in the 21st century, and as a native people, we have indigenous rights. And those rights are very clear, they’re at the UN level, they’re also within our state constitution. It’s very clear, according to our state constitution, that not only have Hawaiians the right, but the State is supposed to provide a system of education that allows us to learn our culture, our language, and our traditions, and that is not only for Hawaiians, but that is for all students. Now, what I would say is, that the State has failed in that mandate, and that because they have failed, and as a result of it, Hawaiians now are the most underperforming ethnic population, and just in the recent race to the top application, they used Hawaiians to get the $75 million. Now, we need to make sure that this Hawaiian question is answered. And if the State, after thirty years, has not been able to do that, then maybe they should look at us and other Hawaiian focused charter schools, because we have the answer to how to successfully change these students so that they can become productive citizens, so that they can succeed in life, so that they can feel like there’s hope for them. And hope was taken away from us, and we feel we’re bringing that hope back. And if people don’t want us to have hope, if people don’t want us to succeed, then you can keep everything the way it is.


I think you’re a born teacher. And I know your heart is in the teaching, but it seems as though the difference you can make most is exterior. Getting the resources to run the school, and then reflecting the school to the statewide community, lobbying for things that matter.


Well, I think what we’re teaching there is that it’s not always what you want to do, that gets things done. Sometimes you have to do things that, A, you may not even feel that qualified for, but, B, that it’s not your first love kinda thing. And I do agree with you; my first love is teaching. And whenever I can, I’m in Waipio, teaching people whatever I can teach them. And that is really what—what fulfills me. But we’ve had to do, what we’ve had to do to move forward, and I try my best to do that as well. Even though I’m also help cultivating and growing others that can take over those pieces, because there’s still, like for example, research and doing more Hawaiian language. This values based self instructional Hawaiian language model that we’re developing; I’m so excited about it, just thinking that people that are, again, like me—I was in Germany, they’re on the US continent, children that are there not because they want to be there, but because their parents had to move there, and now they’re there. For them to be able to learn the language in a fun way, in an exciting way, and in a just very easy kind of a non-threatening way, and non-punitive way, is something that, if I could right now, I would just take three months off, and just do nothing but making sure that that program goes online as soon as possible.


Educator Kū Kahakalau also serves on the Hawaii Island Burial Council, and the Board of the Center for World Indigenous Studies. She’s involved in many native Hawaiian causes. As one who is always ready to stand up for her beliefs, it’s no accident that she is known as Kū.


I was gonna ask you about Kū. That’s based on your middle name.




And what is your middle name?




Which means?


It’s … hinahina is gray, and kū to stand, ikahakai at the beach. So it’s gray standing at the beach, but it’s the name of a flower. It’s a little grayish flower that grows on the beach.


But it’s no coincidence that your nickname is—or your name is not Hinahina.




The nickname of your long Hawaiian name. It’s Kū, which means stand up.


To stand up. Well, it’s actually kind of a funny story. When I started to get into Hawaiian things, and we all kind of—in the 50s and 60s, people didn’t use their Hawaiian names. It just started in the 70s with the Hawaiian renaissance, the 80s, more and more people had—we all had Hawaiian names, but nobody was using them, except maybe in the very small family circle kind of a thing. When more and more people started to use their Hawaiian names, we discussed this also. And the Hina, which is a beautiful female name, would have been a very good name. But when I lived on Molokai, we had this super old, mangy dog who had, like, thousands of puppies, and the nene’s was sagging on the ground. And all I could picture of Hina was this old, mangy dog, and I just said, No, no; we’re not going to Hina, no matter what happens. And so then, talked to Tutu, and then she said, Well, then how’s about going with the Kū part of it? Because Hinahinakuikahakai is obviously way too long. And like so many things in my life, it’s made a huge difference, going down the road. And in retrospect, obviously, it was meant to be. However, at that time, who would have known.


Does the name reflect who you are, or do you live up to your name?


I think it goes both ways. Many of my former students, particularly, always call me up when they’re having their babies, asking me to help name their child. And I always tell them it’s gonna be a two-way thing. You’re gonna pick the name, and the child’s gonna live up to that name. But at the same time, the other way around, that name is gonna shape that child. So it’s always gonna be reciprocal. That’s the wonderful thing about anything Hawaiian, is there is an aku, and there’s a mai. It’s always reciprocal, and things go both ways. And so I think in this case, for my name as well, it’s been a blessing, and I have to be grateful for it, even though on the other side, sometimes I would just say, Kū, sit down, shut up, and don’t say anything else, instead of standing up, again, and trying to make a difference.


Continuing to fund and maintain the school is a challenge. But Kū Kahakalau and her staff always look to the future. At the time of this conversation, in 2010, they’re constructing two more green buildings. The school has two hundred fifty students, eighty percent of whom are of Hawaiian ancestry. Mahalo, Kū Kahakalau, for sharing your life experiences of dual cultures, and for standing up for native Hawaiian education. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou; ‘til next time, aloha.


For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit


We’ve always sung, and we’ve always performed. It’s just been part of our life, sort of. My sister definitely decided to make that her life’s work, and so when she moved home to Hawaii, she started playing music in the hotels, and the songs that we all grew up with, and then also recording. And that’s when I said, Oh, I have something, if you’re interested, check it out. So some of my songs have been recorded by my sister, some have been recorded by other people as well.


Derek Kurisu


Original air date: Tues., July 24, 2012


Championing Food Sustainability in Hawai‘i


Leslie Wilcox talks story with Derek Kurisu, executive vice president of KTA Super Stores on Hawai‘i Island. Before “buy local, eat local” became a rallying cry, Derek championed food sustainability in Hawai‘i, while preserving the best traditions and values of the plantation culture he was raised in. Derek, who’s been with KTA for over 40 years, is also a champion in fostering Hawai‘i Island’s community. In his words, “Everybody gotta work together.”


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Growing up in the plantation and seeing how the lifestyle was, I started realizing that the success of any business or any organization, it’s people. It’s nothing else, except people. And if you treat them good, you treat them with dignity and respect, you’ll get treated as such too. They’ll always be there for you.


Collaborative businessman and advocate for locally grown products, Derek Kurisu, next on Long Story Short.


Aloha mai kākou, and welcome to Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox. For more than a century, sugar production drove Hawai‘i’s economy, and Derek Kurisu, who grew up in plantation communities on the Big Island, never imagined that sugar cultivation would become a fading memory during his lifetime. As the sugar industry was folding during the early 1990s, Kurisu was encouraged by his employer, the Taniguchi family of KTA Superstores, to assist the community being left adrift as sugar jobs disappeared. Before Buy Local, Eat Local became a rallying cry, Kurisu worked for food sustainability, while also preserving the best traditions and values of plantation culture. In case you’re wondering if Derek Kurisu is related to Honolulu businessman and investor Duane Kurisu, that’s his younger brother. Derek was the middle son, with two brothers and two sisters, raised in the plantation villages of Hakalau and Pepeekeo on Hawai‘i Island. His father, Yasushi, was a machinist in the sugar mill, and his mother, Janet, a housewife. Derek is grateful for his parents’ strength of character, as well as the close knit community which taught him so much about how to live life. Since he was a kid, he’s found uncommon sense around him, even in the pau hana grumbling of his father’s drinking buddies.


Every day, they used to come home and drink beer, him and his friends, and everything else. And I used to always listen to their conversations and said, Wow, they have the answers to all the problems of the sugar mill. ‘Cause I guess when they have their few drinks and all that, everything became, Ah, we going solve everything. So then I told myself, You know when I grow up, I want to be the plantation manager.


Now, were there Japanese plantation managers back then?




[CHUCKLE] You would be the first.


I was there. I want to be the plantation manager, because I would go and see all of the laborers, ‘cause they have the answer to all of the problems. And you know what? I went to get an agriculture degree, and when I graduated, the mills were all gone. They were starting to close, they were starting to consolidate, so that whole dream went away. I always felt the need to make sure that the plantation workers had some kinda say. And you know my brother, my kid brother, Duane.


Duane, the Oahu developer and businessman.


Yeah; so we worked on this project for Governor Ariyoshi. It’s called Hawaiʻi Next Fifty Years. And we did the opening in the C. Brewer Building. And my brother bought the building. So when we went in there I tell you, I had this unbelievable feeling. ‘Cause, right on the balcony of the C. Brewer Building I could feel my father. They used to call him Scotch. All these guys, they had nicknames. Scotch, Bust Up …


[CHUCKLE] Bust Up.


Wimpy. Yeah, they had all these names.


Wimpy? [CHUCKLE]


Wimpy, Lefty, Groan, a Buddha. And I could see them all standing around on the top of the railing, looking down, drinking their beer and telling us, Eh, you see? We not opala. ‘Cause they used to call opala, the cane rubbish. They said,   They used to call it opala. Right? Eh, we not opala anymore. Right? And we’re drinking a beer inside this big, nice C. Brewer Building. Gave me a fantastic feeling, thinking that like all these laborers that worked really hard, they came such a long way. And lot of them are gone today, but I think some of their values and stuff are still ingrained in lot of us. And I think it’s our turn to go and make sure that it carries on through generation and generation.


Do you think your father imagined that you and Duane would do what you’re doing?


I don’t think so. But my dad was an amazing guy. Before he passed away, he wrote one book called Sugar Town, and in that book, I mean, it contained a lot of the values of the plantation life. So I felt that was very, very important. But the great thing about living on a plantation, there were so many great people; right? And everybody had some kind of strength. And the key, too, is that people in their different strength area would help each other. For instance, your car break down, a mechanic would come and fix it; right?


And he wouldn’t charge you?


Oh, he wouldn’t charge you.


But what would you do for him?


Oh, no, and if you went fishing, you had fish, you’ll bring fish over to the home. So a plantation family wasn’t just made of five or ten people; it was thousand, it was family of families. And that’s what made it so great living on the sugar plantation. I have a older brother; his name is Hervy.




And for him, I mean, when I look at him [CHUCKLE], he reminds me of these plantation men. They’re so kind, sincere inside, and if they’re your friend, they’ll just do whatever it is to make something happen. Lot of these plantation guys, they wouldn’t tell you anything. But you learn a lot from them just by looking at them, by observing, by watching. ‘Cause they don’t say stuff. Let me give you one story. Okay. I used to enjoy going bodysurfing, swimming, and all that as a youngster. We used to make our own body board, right? And I never had one, so I used to go bodysurfing. And one of these plantation men told me, Eh, Derek, tomorrow after work, I’ll come and I’ll get you something. So, I went down to his house, and there, I saw this big table. I looked at the table, I go, Ho! And it was like those ply board, a thick one like that. And I can still remember being under that house. Then he told me, Oh, Derek, draw your surfboard on this thing. So I drew my surfboard his nice table. Then he grabbed a saw, he cut it. He made for me one board. I went, That’s the plantation kinda thing.




Then he put on the skegs for me, and he said, Come back tomorrow, I’m gonna go and waterproof the thing. But that is what it was all about. I think why I was real fortunate, that I had a great-grandmother. And she used to live up close to the forest line of Hakalau. All of our families, my aunties, uncles, and my grandparents used to gather at my great-grandmother’s house every week, at least once. Used to get about forty or fifty of us. And I think for myself and my brothers, we have learned a lot of the values, the culture things and also, traditions from that. And we have also learned, and always used to remind us, to make sure not to bring shame to the family. [CHUCKLE] And I think that ingrained in each one of us. They really took care of us, they gave us everything, met all our needs, our life was very simple. And I still tell myself, Wow, you know, I better make sure I’m on the right path. I guess for me, that was like the foundation of my life.


Seeing yourself as part of something larger.


Oh, larger. So whatever I do now, I know if I do something bad, it’s a reflection not only me. All my families, all my ancestors, all my friends that helped me out, KTA Superstores where I work, all of the employees, gets affected. And you know what? To me, that is very, very important. I try to make sure that I don’t go and upset anybody or make any enemies, and I guess this whole thing about an obligation to the family or to the organization or whatever you belong to, helped me keep a straight life, and motivated me to move ahead. There was other people in my life that actually really influenced me. Actually, when I got married to my wife.


Is she a Hilo girl?


Yeah; she’s the Hilo girl. She was an educator, and I guess she kept me focused, grounded, and she kinda motivated me and helped me to be whatever the best I wanted to be. And that became very important, ‘cause I was kinda free, whatever. But that kept me focused and grounded. Then having a child is another whole story, right? He actually motivated me to become like a role model, and I had to make sure that what was real important was to be very supportive of him.


The owners of the locally owned KTA Grocery Stores urged Derek Kurisu to attend college. He’ll never forget the supportive role of owner, Yukio Taniguchi, and his son, Tony. In 1974, Derek earned a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. For some forty years, Kurisu has taken on various positions at KTA Superstores, and at the time of this conversation in 2012, serves as the company’s executive vice president.


A lot of my friends are very motivated, and they’re very intelligent. And they all decided, Okay, we’re all going college.


And you weren’t one of them? You were kind of bringing up the rear?


I was, yeah, whatever. So then, I said, Okay, I better go college too, ‘cause it’s the thing everybody’s doing. So in order for me to get to college, that’s when I started working at KTA Superstores. Yeah; ‘cause I used that to support myself. And the Taniguchi family, Tony and Yukio, they gave me the opportunity to go to college, so could get that college education. Tony would tell me, You know what Derek, you gotta get one college education, and you can work whenever you can work. So work between your classes, and all that. And then, I needed to finish up my degree up in Honolulu. So he would come up here, he found me a job.




Yeah, they would find a me a job. And so, I came up here, and I worked up here. And what was really amazing, he would come to visit me. And the people in the supermarket would get all excited to see an owner of a supermarket come to visit one worker, ‘cause I was working up there. And from there, I told myself, Wow, KTA must be someplace real great. I mean, where I’m able to just talk to the owners, and be real close to them. Whereas in the other markets up here probably didn’t have that kinda relationships. So I felt, Wow, that is home for me.


And your boss had his own kids, right?


Oh, yeah.



It wasn’t like he didn’t have any kids.


They had all their own children and everything else. They treated me like one. Incredible. I made a lot of new friends along the way, and ‘til today, they still care, they support me and help me in whatever I undertake. I mean, I got friends like one dairyman, this guy David Wong, Jr. I mean, he would force me to get into this total quality management thing, so I started to learn something different, so I could progress ahead of everybody else. Whenever I think about, I always tell myself that it becomes my obligation to do well because I’m representing all of them that helped me. And [CHUCKLE] maybe it’s because they feel sorry for me. [CHUCKLE] I don’t know.


Was there a sense of measuring at all? Like, Okay, he did this for me, so I should do this much for him?


No. All of them, they taught me a lot, and it’s not by what they told me. It’s about what they did. And for me, having friends and having associations all over the place that is willing to step up, I mean, it kinda motivates me to just get better, and to make a difference.


In tough economic times, how do locally owned businesses survive the competition of the big box retailers? Derek Kurisu and KTA Superstores found an answer by building upon the Taniguchi family’s near century-long relationship with the Big Island community. The family had the foresight to establish sustainable community partnerships that became part of the Buy Local, Eat Local movement. Derek Kurisu’s creation, the Mountain Apple Brand private label was launched in 1992, and now consists of hundreds of Hawaiʻi-made food products sold at KTA Stores.


I look at the founders of the company, Koichi Taniguchi, I look at his sons, Yukio, Hide, and Tony, and the whole Taniguchi culture. I think they prepared us for this. They made us realize the importance of the customer, the importance of the employees, the importance of the supplier, the importance of relationship. Growing up in the plantation and seeing how the lifestyle was, I started realizing that, the success of any business or any organization, it’s people. It’s nothing else, except people. And if you treat them good, you treat them with dignity and respect, you’ll get treated as such too. They’ll always be there for you.


But in a time when the economy’s been weak, people are driven by price; right?




So how do you keep your market share when things cost more for you?


Well, it’s a matter of partnerships, right? So everybody kinda work together. ‘Cause the wholesaler knows that for us, if we don’t survive, they won’t survive, that we’re connected, all over the place. So we’re all working together. And it becomes real important for KTA to survive, because when we survive, we’re able to give back, and there’s so many other companies, thousands of employees is depending on our survival. When the plantation went under, that was a big part of my life. It just tore me apart, because I never thought it would ever go under. And Tony Taniguchi at that time told me, Eh, Derek, when the plantation goes under, we have a major obligation to make sure that we take of the people, because they’ve been coming to our stores and shopping. And even for our family, once a month, my dad used to get his paycheck, he would come to KTA and have it cashed, and we would do all our grocery shopping and go home, once a month. So that’s the only time actually we came to Hilo. I told Tony, Okay, I’ll do something. And so, so that’s how I came up with this Mountain Apple brand, creating products or selling products that was locally grown or locally manufactured. This was back in probably 1990, around there. So it’s been a long journey. You look at me now, you can tell. It’s been a journey.


This is what a lot of people have discovered only lately.


Yeah; yeah. But you know what makes me feel real good? I think this whole movement of creating Buy Local, this whole impact had created somewhat of a ripple effect within our companies and within the whole State of the importance of supporting local.


How many partnerships are there? How many products in your store are results of partnerships you’ve created through ag or manufacturing?


There are about sixty different partnerships, and there’s about two hundred forty items. And, again, it fluctuates, depends on the season and everything else. And it’s real unique. ‘Cause when we started the thing, is that like, the jams and jellies. Because I understood [CHUCKLE], worked in a supermarket, I understood agriculture, instead of putting the product with the jams and jellies in the grocery store, I would put it in the bakery. So it gave my manufacturer or my supplier, or my partners a better chance to make it happen.


Did you have a model for that? Did you see that done anywhere else?


No. [CHUCKLE] You had to be different. Tony, Yukio, and everybody … what I am today is what they allowed me to be. And what KTA is today, is what they allowed us to make it happen. And I’m so grateful for that.


‘Cause you’re unpredictable.


[CHUCKLE] Well I try to do anything that people don’t want to do. I remember all these fruits. They said, Oh, make a local product, we’re gonna buy ‘em. So as long as you can supply us, we’ll buy whatever. So I went back, I started to think about it. Then, all of a sudden, I went out to the store, I saw all these papayas being thrown away, or fed to the pigs, and the farmers were getting like penny or two cents a pound for it. So the farmer would just grab it and feed it to the pigs. So, I told myself, Wow, I gotta invent or I gotta create a product that uses papaya. Yeah? And I see guavas falling from the trees, so I gotta create a product that using guava. So all of a sudden I went up to the University, and the students create this product that had a papaya and guava, and have traces of pineapple and local sugar inside. So, oh, it tastes so good. And so, I was thinking, Okay, what I’m gonna call it? So I was driving up and down Saddle Road, and I saw all this lava. I said, There you go, PAVA. I’m gonna call the thing PAVA, papaya and guava. So today, Meadow Gold process the thing, so everything’s local. I had this guy Eddie Wai design the carton, so all the signs, everything is local. And I have the drink out now.


Who owns the drink?


I own the name, and Meadow Gold is the one processing, so he’s the one that’s gonna go out and sell it. And the reason why that’s important, because by creating a drink that comes out of a plant that we process milk from, it helps bring the cost down on the milk, the local milk, so I’m able to be competitive. ‘Cause I’m one of the only stores on the Big Island has local milk.


So, you’re in the intersection of ag and consumer, and manufacturing and retail.


Yeah. So I really believe in value added. In order for agriculture to grow, we need to have value added using the Grade B surplus and what have you. I’ve been real fortunate.


Are there other things that you think we’re not using, that could be put to use and bring costs down like that?


Here’s a good one. The wild boars been coming into people’s yards and stuff on the island. Right? So today, we have wild boar sausage, Portuguese sausage that we sell in our store. You see, one of the things about it is that when you really look at it, the hotels and restaurants will want to use all the loins and the good cuts. Because wild boar has a fantastic taste ‘cause they feed on macadamia nuts and stuff.


Oh, wow; high end. [CHUCKLE]


Yeah; high end. So for them to use the other parts, it doesn’t work, so we use that in Portuguese sausage, so we create value added stuff with that. We started to really market local beef about twenty, thirty years ago. And we never brought one drop of beef or grinding from the mainland; it was all local. Today, our local beef sales is forty percent of all our beef sales. And it’s big. I feel real good about it, because whatever the restaurants cannot use, the loins and all that, we’ll use that so that we can balance the whole carcass, so everybody gets. [CHUCKLE]. The milk industry was interesting. Because I remember them telling me that our competitors were bringing in mainland milk. So I got all our ranchers together. At that time, we had five different ranchers, and I told them that I’m gonna—in fact, that was my first Mountain Apple brand product. I told them I’m gonna create a Mountain Apple brand milk, our own private label. Instead of having the missing children on the side, we put the whole literature of why you should support local and what is Mountain Apple brand. And so, the five farmers agreed, first of all, that we’re gonna work together to bring a fresher product, and we’re gonna improve the quality of the milk. And I think the third thing, we eventually took out all the RSBT, you know, those synthetic growth hormones. So we were the only milk without that. So we removed all that, so everything was natural. And the thing just took off.


It sounds like that might be hard to agreement on that from those farmers. I mean, they’re in competition with each other, one might want a better price.


It’s kinda interesting, but in time of crisis, everybody gotta realize we gotta work together. And what makes me feel real good about it is that all of the ranchers, the dairies all over the State all closed up, and the only dairy we have is on the Island of Hawaiʻi.


So, the answer was depending on each other.


Exactly; and realizing that the competitor is not each other, the competitor is the products that’s brought in from the mainland, outside sources.


And that’s a recurring theme in everything you do.


Exactly. We gotta start to remove all these silos, remove all the walls and barriers between people, between organizations, between businesses, between everybody, so we all can work together as one. And I make sure that there’s nothing in it for me, so that I’m able to be successful with my whole goal, is to make people work together.


You assemble a lot of meetings, you pull people together. Is it very administrative, or is it kind of organic where you can just kind of do like a flash mob?


Organic. We gotta start to remove all these silos, remove all the walls and barriers between people, between organizations, between businesses, between everybody, so we all can work together as one. And I make sure that there’s nothing in it for me, so that I’m able to be successful with my whole goal, is to make people work together. I tell you, I don’t have any secretary, and I share my office.


With whom? Who do you share your office with?


I share with my meat buyer. Well, we all share together. And for me, what is important, is not the glamour of where you’re at and everything else. What is important is the store. Making sure that the store functions, and we’re able to put whatever resources into the store, not into ourselves. So, you just go and work with the positive. You grab those that want to make it happen. And a lot of times, we kinda focus on vocal majority, and we get ourselves nowhere. So, I’ll just grab people that want to be part of the family, want to do it, and we just make it happen. And I guess people who are involved all understand what I’m talking about. They all understand this whole Hawaiʻi culture, plantation Hawaiʻi, or whatever culture you call it. Like the lei, right, how everybody gotta work together. And to me, that’s important.


The Big Island is such a special place. We got beautiful weather, we got beautiful scenery, but most of all, we got beautiful people like all my friends here at Toa Here! Yeah! You know—


With no prior television production experience, Derek Kurisu plunged fearlessly into the world of television production more than a dozen years ago. As a vehicle to help bridge and build community, Derek produces the monthly cable TV series, Prime Time Living in Paradise, and Seniors Living in Paradise, hosted by George Yoshida.


I remember we needed lights, so we used to grab like those home lamps. [CHUCKLE] I mean, ‘cause we had no idea. And I hired this cameraman who’s with me today, helps me producing the family show. Man, the guy, he just had one small portable camera, and we started our first show with that. So we have two shows. We have a senior show, and we have a family show, plays every night, it rotates once a month. And the good thing about this is that, a lot of these seniors, I mean, there’s so much content in there. It’s so precious that I want to build one archives so we can keep it there, so that their great-great-grandchildren one day will be able to see.


What’s the kind of thing they’ve said that’s really touched you?


Well, [CHUCKLE] I remember one of them came to me and said, Derek, the last year of my dad’s life was the greatest, because he was on your show, and everybody recognized him, and now, they all know that, you know, he collects shells. And for me, actually, why I created two shows, the senior show and the family show, because I wanted eventually to have a little bit more a connect between the children and the seniors. If you have intergenerational things and both of ‘em could work through each other and learn.


In 2012, Derek Kurisu’s boss is Barry Taniguchi, wise grandson of the company founder, who steers the KTA course of weaving together plantation style values, a deep understanding the community served, and the willingness to try new things, to collaborate and partner for the good of all. It’s an approach that says, We’re all in this together. Thank you, Derek Kurisu, for sharing your long story short. And thank you for watching and supporting PBS Hawaiʻi. I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kākou.