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Mokuwai Piko Poi (owner Kahealani Kaaihili pictured left), Aloha ʻĀina Poi and Kanekoa Farms (owner Gina Kanekoa pictured right), have all received loans from Feed The Hunger Fund to foster local food production. The investments are part of a larger collaboration with Kamehameha Schools and Hawaiʻi Pacific Health.

Feed The Hunger Fund receives more than $1 million to invest in small-scale food entrepreneurs

Funding by Kamehameha Schools, Hawai‘i Pacific Health provides infusion of capital

July 27, 2023

For Kahealani Kaaihili, cultivating kalo and producing poi to feed the young and old is an honor for her.

“This is not like any plant – it’s a part of who we are,” said Kaaihili, a fourth-generation Native Hawaiian poi processor and wetland kalo farmer along the Hāmākua Coast on Hawai‘i island. “When I think back to the thousands of people that we’ve fed – some their first meal, some their last meal – this is why it’s important to me.”

As the owner of Mokuwai Piko Poi, Kaaihili has found that obtaining financing to expand her business so she can feed even more people has been challenging. Time and time again, lending institutions have turned down her funding requests.

But then she met the folks at Feed The Hunger Fund, a federally‐certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) in Hawai‘i and California.

“When I went to Feed The Hunger and I explained to them that I wanted to acquire this new piece of equipment and what it would do to our farm and what it’s going to do to productivity and the future of what my dream is for what we do, whether on the poi processing side or the farming side,  (Feed the Hunger Fund) didn’t hesitate like they just wanted to know more,” Kaaihili said.

Feed The Hunger Fund this week announced $260,000 in awards to three small-scale food entrepreneurs – including Mokuwai Piko Poi – as part of a financial collaboration with Hawai‘i Pacific Health and Kamehameha Schools totaling more than $1 million. Hawaiʻi Pacific Health and Kamehameha Schools each provided $525,000, mainly in loans, to Feed The Hunger Fund, which helps create access to opportunity and funding for greater food security and sustainability. A total of $50,000 from the total is being used to assist Feed The Hunger Fund with costs associated with administering the loans.

Among the businesses receiving loans from Feed The Hunger Fund as part of this partnership are:

  • Mokuwai Piko Poi – Home of the “Poi Pops,” Mokuwai Piko Poi is a family-owned poi mill located in Honoka‘a along the Hāmākua Coast of Hawai‘i Island, which sources kalo from Kaua‘i and Waipiʻo Valley. Mokuwai Piko Poi received $95,000 to purchase heavy machinery that will allow them to speed up the harvest of more kalo.
  • Kanekoa Farms – Founded in 2021 by Gina Kanekoa KSK’06 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic which rattled the food and restaurant industry, Kanekoa Farms provides high-quality vegetables to chefs so that they can showcase the beauty of local produce. As one of three Kamehameha Schools’ 2022 Mahiʻai Match-Up competition winners, the Waimānalo-based business secured an agricultural lease agreement on Kamehameha Schools’ lands in East Honolulu on Oʻahu. The farm used the $15,000 in funding to buy a hook and trellis system for its tomato crop.
  • Aloha ‘Ᾱina Poi Company – Based in Makaweli Valley, Aloha ‘Ᾱina Poi Company’s goal is to provide the highest quality kalo products to reinvigorate and support a thriving mahiʻai kalo (kalo farming) complex in west Kauaʻi. The farmer-owned enterprise centers on ʻāina-based community enrichment, empowerment and economic development. The company received $150,000, which went toward new equipment and building renovations to expand refrigeration storage capabilities, additional delivery vehicles and staff, e-commerce enhancement and facility upgrades.

Most of Hawaiʻi’s more than 7,300 farms are small, and 80% of Hawaiʻi farms have annual sales under $25,000. Access to low‐interest loans is identified as the top barrier and a solution to increasing local food production. Small entrepreneurs identified a need for low‐interest loans but had difficulty accessing commercial loans due to collateral barriers or lease terms.

“By investing in the establishment and expansion of healthy, locally-sourced food-based businesses, low-income communities gain greater food equity and security, as well as increased economic and environmental vitality,” said Feed The Hunger Fund CEO and Co-Founder Patti Chang.

Feed The Hunger Fund’s mission is to alleviate hunger and poverty by using the platform of micro-loans and small loans to low‐income individuals. Many borrowers are identified as women, Native Hawaiian, and of immigrant status residing or working in low‐resourced communities.

Collaborating with Feed The Hunger Fund on this effort are Kamehameha Schools and Hawai‘i Pacific Health. Kamehameha Schools established a $10 million Food Systems Fund to invest in local businesses and strengthen the economic resiliency of Hawaiʻi.

“Investing in Feed The Hunger Fund will broaden Kamehameha Schools’ agricultural impact,” Kamehameha Schools Community and ‘Ᾱina Resiliency Vice President Kā‘eo Duarte said. “The fund looks to support compelling businesses that will accelerate the revitalization and diversification of food systems, including our own Kamehameha Schools portfolio of ‘āina and tenants. This enables us to more directly invest in enterprises that aim to provide healthy and accessible food to feed Hawaiʻi and beyond, as part of a resilient economy with new jobs and career pathways.”

“At Hawai‘i Pacific Health, we believe that creating a healthier Hawaiʻi begins beyond the walls of our medical centers through community partnerships,” said Hawai‘i Pacific Health Vice President of Government Relations and Community Affairs Michael Robinson. “A key part of building strong communities is healthy local food systems. Small farms are the backbone of Hawaiʻi’s food system and ensuring access to capital for these growers is essential for sustainability. Our co-investment with Kamehameha Schools for Feed The Hunger Fund will help ensure that small farming businesses can continue to produce the foods Hawaiʻi can grow locally.”

During a tour of Kanekoa Farms, owner Gina Kanekoa showed off her vine-ripened tomatoes hanging from a special hook-and-trellis system that she purchased using the investment she received from Feed The Hunger Fund.

“So that acquisition of that hook-and-trellis system allows for a longer production period because even though the tomatoes want to grow up, I can stretch them out … so I’m getting a longer harvest period and the tomatoes are a lot healthier,” said Kanekoa, a winner of the 2022 Mahi‘ai Match-Up business plan competition. “I’m creating this product. I’m putting my time and energy into it. But it’s a product that I give to other people. As a farmer, I take a portion, but a good majority of what I’m growing feeds and nourishes other people.”

Kamehameha Schools and Hawaiʻi Pacific Health have joined forces on a number of initiatives to improve the education, health, economic stability and social well-being of students and families across Hawaiʻi. Both organizations also recognize that the health of Native Hawaiians is disproportionately worse than other ethnic groups in Hawai‘i, and strongly believe integrating a commitment to Hawaiian culture and language while increasing a connection to the ʻāina is essential to addressing this disparity.

Going forward, Kamehameha Schools and Hawai‘i Pacific Health will continue to work to increase engagement in healthcare pathways and fields to sustain and grow their respective organizational commitments to healthy, local food systems. This includes exploring opportunities to join in place-based investing and ways to boost economic empowerment in our communities to support a thriving Hawai‘i for all.

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