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Cacao farmer Tom Menezes, owner of Hawaiian Crown Plantation and Chocolate Factory located on KS ‘āina at ‘Alae in South Hilo, shows off his cacao trees that he grows to eventually produce chocolate.”

KS, The Kohala Center honor farming on Hawaiʻi Island with Mahi'ai a Ola

Aug. 12, 2019

Contributed by Crystal Kua

Mahiʻai a Ola is an ʻāina-based lifestyle concept that is not about living to eat but rather eating to live. In the larger food system, farmers don’t just cultivate food, they cultivate knowledge, ‘ohana, and communities.

With nearly 90% of Hawaiʻi’s food being imported, Kamehameha Schools and The Kohala Center (TKC) are collaborating to find and partner with farmers to increase local food production. This week, KS and TKC launched Mahi‘ai a Ola, a campaign to support local farmers, agricultural education, and innovative solutions to improve food security.

“When you break down the concept of mahiʻai – it’s about the energy and the vigor of working with the land. It’s also part of the word ʻāina,” KS Asset Management Director on Hawai’i Island Marissa Harman says. “Together, it’s about sustaining oneself, one’s community – feeding the mind, body, and spirit.”

Cheryl Ka‘uhane Lupenui, president and chief executive officer of The Kohala Center, adds: “The Mahi‘ai a Ola initiative is truly a unique opportunity for our Hawai’i Island farmers. Not only will we be able to grow more local food, but we can grow more viable mahi‘ai working with ‘āina as a meaningful way of life in Hawai‘i. It takes hard work, resources, innovation, and a love for the land to feed our families, neighbors, and communities.”

Mahiʻai a Ola is an initiative that evolved from the Mahiʻai Match-Up program as an opportunity to increase agricultural awareness in support of the farming industry, while reinvigorating innovation, community connections, and a commitment to future generations. Mahiʻai a Ola encompasses three programs:  

  1. Mahiʻai Match-Up: An agricultural business plan competition that awards a five-year land agreement with KS and a $10,000 cash prize donated by Ulupono Initiative. The winner will also have the support of KS land asset managers, along with wrap-around business services and financial guidance from TKC. Applications for the contest are due by September 20, 2019.
  2. Mahiʻai a Ao: Scholarship awards for various agriculture-related educational programs, in partnership with GoFarm Hawaiʻi.
  3. MahiX: An open innovation challenge seeking cooperative solutions to Hawaiʻi’s most pressing agricultural issues. 

KS stewards more than 160,000 acres of agricultural land on Hawai’i Island. Farmers on KS land raise a variety of crops such as papaya, bananas, vegetables, ʻulu, Kona coffee, macadamia nuts, cacao and livestock such as pigs and cattle.

Since 2013, KS has sought innovative farmers through the Mahiʻai Match-Up business plan competition and provided them with a financial boost to increase their long-term chances of sustainable success. Alongside these efforts, TKC has supported the Hawaiʻi Island food system with farmer training programs, youth education initiatives, and rural and cooperative business development services to inspire future generations of food producers and help them succeed.

Funds raised on behalf of Mahiʻai a Ola will provide scholarships and funding for new and innovative ideas and initiatives that support agriculture and food security.

“Because farmers, like students, thrive in a healthy environment, Mahiʻai a Ola is about more than land and money; it is about honoring our mahiʻai as exemplars in our community, true lāhui lifters, who not only grow food but provide sustenance for all,” Harman says. 

To learn more about Mahi‘ai a Ola, or to enter the Mahi‘ai Match-Up competition, visit

Various crops are grown on KS agricultural land at Pāhoehoe in South Hilo.

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