Nolan Hing (far right), owner of Hawai'i Fresh Specialties and 'Aha 'Aina featured chef with his 'ohana. ʻAha is a gathering or weaving together, and ʻaina without the kahakō is what you eat and consume. The event brings together people, 'āina, mo'olelo, and locally grown mea'ai.
As dusk cast long shadows from the Koʻolau mountain range upon the ʻili of Waipao in Koʻolaupoko, dozens of food systems advocates gathered for ʻAha ʻAina, Poi for the People – a fundraiser and benefit for Kamehameha Schools Mahiʻai Match-up and the Mahiʻai Scholarship. Papahana Kuaola, a non-profit that stewards and cultivates this ʻili hosted the event.
In this lush valley, this ʻaha – gathering- is a gathering of ingredients that create an ʻono recipe for the more extensive food system—cultivating more than food, but also cultivating minds, families, and communities.
One key ingredient is Mahi‘ai Match-up, a Kamehameha Schools initiative that awards seed money and expertise to support local farmers and food system entrepreneurs to improve food security for Hawaiʻi. Mahi‘ai Match-up winners embrace a deeper understanding of mahi'ai - cultivating an 'āina-based lifestyle, a way of thinking, and our connection to and relationship with ‘āina.
Past Mahiʻai Match-up winner Gina Kanekoa KSK’06 of Kanekoa Farms, LLC exemplifies this deeper understanding. She recently expanded her operations by leasing farmland in Kamilonui Valley through the support of Kamehameha Schools. “Through concerted efforts, we have embarked on a multifaceted endeavor that involves clearing land, capitalizing on the existing screen houses, and actively recruiting a skilled workforce. This endeavor has empowered us to elevate our operational capacity from a modest quarter of an acre to an envisaged potential of ten acres,” Kanekoa said.
Another ingredient is using indigenous crops crafted and elevated by Native Hawaiian chefs from the community and from each of our three Kamehameha Schools’ campus chefs. It is the first time that KS Kapālama Chef Dean Matsushita, KS Maui Chef Bonny Davis, and KS Hawaiʻi Chef Sharlene Greendyk are together serving their locally inspired dishes like Samoan crab and kalo chowder, Hawaiian-style poisson cru, and olakino salad drizzled with a poi vinaigrette, topped with seared mahi-mahi and a poi compound butter. Attendees were excited to sample the array of tantalizing dishes, and going for seconds clearly indicated that the ʻono-meter was at an all-time high.
The campus chefs are also part of KS’ food systems initiative focused on increasing local production, processing, and consumption opportunities within their cafeterias. In addition to a commitment to increase local protein and produce purchasing to 50% by 2025, KS has also committed to increasing acreage in production by 16% by 2025 to expand local food production across the pae ʻāina.
The night’s third ingredient was a sprinkling of new locally grown products created by both budding and established entrepreneurs. They included Big Island Coffee Roasters, Kō Hana Hawaiian Agricole Rum, Lonohana Estate Chocolate, Ola Brew, and Manu Brewing, the world’s only sparkling māmaki beverage company. They represent the retail and consumption part of the food system cycle, and support through KS’ Food Systems Fund portfolio looks to scale businesses to deliver and create demand.
Pono Maʻa KSK’82, KS director of advancement and executive director of the Pauahi Foundation, was thankful for yet another ingredient that night: the generous donors that help fund the Mahiʻai Scholarship, which has awarded over $70,000 to 17 scholarship recipients since 2014.
“ʻAha is a gathering or weaving together, and ʻaina without the kahakō is what you eat and consume. It is a weaving of different ʻaina from different places and different traditions around food. So that is literally happening here. Different chefs, different ingredients, and different places are woven together. That is the essence of it,” said Kāʻeo Duarte, Kamehameha Schools vice president of Community and ʻĀina Resiliency.
The event’s theme, Poi for the People, refers to an initiative aimed at making Indigenous food more accessible and bringing poi back to the palates of our keiki. In years past, poi was abundant and a main staple placed in a large bowl on the family table. Today, people are familiar with it served in a half-ounce white paper cup. Duarte says, “If our Native Hawaiian foods or Indigenous foods are not accessible, affordable, and our keiki do not have the ʻono, the thought is we would have failed. So, if we had local food, but our Indigenous or native foods are not there. They are not accessible. They are not part of who we are. As a Native Hawaiian community, we would not have succeeded. And that's why Poi for the People was born.”
Duarte credits sponsors like Ulupono Initiative, who have supported sustainable food systems from the beginning. Senior Vice President Greg Gaug of Ulupono Initiative said. “I am really excited to see more participants go through the program, striving to make Hawaiʻi more sustainable. And those folks who are on the ground in this system, working the fields, whether it is distribution or logistics or processing, are really rolling their sleeves up and getting it done.”
The final ingredient completes and begins the food system cycle – our haumāna. KS Kapālama 8th grader Kinohi Souki and about a dozen of her classmates from Kumu Mark Pacarro and Kumu Paul Parish’s papa gathered to demonstrate kuʻi kalo and prepare paʻi ʻai for guests. The students were energized by the evening’s events and confidently grounded in their Hawaiian identity and culture. Souki is an ardent volunteer coming to Papahana Kuaola regularly.
“Like mahiʻai and all these mala, they are the connection to kānaka. You know the story of Hāloa, how he is our older brother, and how we must keep that reciprocal relationship between ʻāina and man,” Souki says assuredly. “I am here to kōkua. That is my duty being put on this earth. It is my duty to mālama ʻāina as a kānaka maoli.”
This ʻAha ʻAina event perfectly encapsulated the cycle of food sustainability, and it highlighted a growing collective of Hawaiʻi leaders committed to our community’s food security, resilient economies, and sustainability – a recipe for success.
In the ʻili of Waipao in Koʻolaupoko, Papahana Kuaola, a non-profit that stewards and cultivates this ʻili was the site for ʻAha ʻAina, Poi for the People – a fundraiser and benefit for Kamehameha Schools Mahiʻai Match-up and the Mahiʻai Scholarship.