The Hawaiʻi ʻUlu Cooperative is the first investment made to strengthen food self-sufficiency in Hawaiʻi. Above, Zachary De Haas and Caleb Coe of Sweet Cane Farms – a member of the Hawai‘i ‘Ulu Cooperative – show off their crop of ‘ulu or breadfruit with ‘Ulu Co-op General Manager Dana Shapiro.
In an effort to invest in local businesses and strengthen the economic resiliency of Hawaiʻi, Kamehameha Schools has created a new $10 million Food Systems Fund, from which the first $300,000 is being invested in the Hawaiʻi ʻUlu Cooperative to scale up its business operations.
“Kamehameha Schools’ investment is extraordinarily catalytic to the entire food chain,” said Kyle Datta, Hawai‘i ‘Ulu Cooperative board president and owner of Mana ‘Ulu, an ‘ulu farm on KS agricultural land in Umauma on Hawai‘i Island.
KS’ Food Systems Fund is focused on investments within Hawaiʻi to support food production, distribution and aggregation, processing, purchasing, consumption, and solving food waste challenges. The fund, which sits within KS’ Hawaiʻi Targeted Investment Fund, targets both financial returns on investment as well as broader impacts to local jobs and career pathways, and economic multiplier effects on community.
“The fund looks to invest in compelling businesses – and their leaders – who will accelerate the revitalization and diversification of food systems, including our own KS portfolio of ‘āina and tenants,” KS Community and ‘Ᾱina Resiliency Vice President Kā‘eo Duarte said. “Creation of this fund enables KS 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.”
The fund’s first investee, the Hawai‘i ‘Ulu Cooperative, is a farmer-owned business working to revitalize ‘ulu or breadfruit as a viable crop and dietary staple by empowering farmers as change-makers in Hawaiʻi’s food systems. Other crops such as taro, pumpkin and sweet potatoes are also aggregated and processed by the co-op.
Formed in 2016 with nine small, diversified growers on Hawaiʻi Island, the co-op has grown to include over 100 member-farms on Hawaiʻi Island, Maui, and Oʻahu. The co-op also utilizes KS’ post-harvest processing facility on KS lands in ‘Alae on Hawai‘i Island as a central location for farmers to process their crops for market.
“This investment from Kamehameha Schools will help the co-op grow to the next phase,” said Hawai‘i ‘Ulu Cooperative General Manager Dana Shapiro, also an ‘ulu farmer whose Māla Kaluʻulu farm was a past winner of KS’ Mahi‘ai Match-Up and Scale-up business plan competitions. “For us, that is scaling from demonstrating the feasibility of our model to becoming an economically-profitable business in our own right and a business that is able to give back to our farmers, the community and our investors on an ongoing basis.”
Datta said that the KS investment helps to leverage financial support from other funders and allows the co-op to finish manufacturing expansion plans and invest in personnel for processing and statewide marketing.
“Having Kamehameha Schools invest in us brought other impact investors and other Hawai‘i investors off the fence. It gave them confidence because we had Kamehameha Schools behind us. Kamehameha Schools is the anchor,” Datta said.
KS is investing in equity, debt and hybrid models of investment in local food systems businesses to build resilient economies.
“Kamehameha Schools is investing in food producers, processors, distributors and aggregators based in Hawaiʻi who are committed to food self-sufficiency. Innovators and disruptors, who will simultaneously support multiple producers or address unmet needs, are ideal businesses,” said Pia Chock, who manages the KS Food Systems Fund.
KS stewards more than 181,000 acres of agricultural land across Hawai‘i that produces nearly 19 million pounds of food annually. Farmers on KS land grow a variety of vegetables, orchards, and specialty crops and raise livestock.
“My hope is that this investment demonstrates to other investors and food projects that investing in Hawai‘i agriculture is a smart investment. Investing in us does provide a financial return but it also provides for more important long-run returns in terms of environmental, sustainability, climate resilience, farmer support, our agricultural fabric and investing in the next generation and our communities,” Shapiro said.
Kamehameha Schools is investing in food producers, processors, distributors and aggregators based in Hawaiʻi who are committed to food self-sufficiency.
Pia Chock, KS Food Systems Fund manager