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Mahi‘ai Match-Up winners (from left to right) Loren Shoop representing ʻUlu Mana, Ethan West from Piko Provisions, and Ladd Kahaʻi Ah Choy of Hoʻoulu Punaluʻu, were awarded during the ‘Aha ‘Aina Pauahi event on Nov. 14.

Mahi‘ai Match-Up awards $40,000 to indigenous crop entrepreneurs

Dec. 12, 2023

Kamehameha Schools and Ulupono Initiative have announced the winners of the 2023 Mahi‘ai Match-Up, honoring entrepreneurs dedicated to cultivating native crops of Hawaii. This theme represents KS' effort to reintroduce into modern cuisine canoe plants like ʻulu and kalo. These traditional crops nourished the people of Hawai‘i for centuries.

Mahi‘ai Match-Up was established in 2013 as an agricultural business plan competition to inspire innovative agricultural solutions, foster community connections and develop educational pathways. Since its inception, the program has supported 24 local businesses and entrepreneurs. Winners receive various prizes, including capital, land lease agreements and ample business resources. Notably, 14 businesses earned lease agreements on ʻĀina Pauahi, totaling 144 acres, with nearly $500,000 awarded in prize money. Additionally, over $70,000 in scholarships has been granted to students pursuing careers in food systems.

“Over the past decade, Mahiʻai Match-Up has been a catalyst for positive change in Hawaiʻi’s food landscape. Dozens of farmers and food businesses, inspired by this competition, have become integral contributors to our State’s food sustainability. Their impact goes beyond agriculture, influencing the health and well-being of our communities, economies, culture and ‘āina,” said Kā‘eo Duarte, vice president of ‘Ᾱina Pauahi Group.

The three winning Hawai‘i food entrepreneurs were unveiled at a recent ‘Aha ‘Aina Pauahi event featuring locally grown food. They are: 

  • ʻUlu Mana, led by Loren Shoop, creates award-winning snacks from locally grown crops including ʻulu, mai‘a, māmaki and others. The company also operates Hawaiian Farmers Market, a retailer of more than 200 locally made products from small producers. They were awarded $25,000.
  • Piko Provisions, founded by CEO Ethan West, supplies 100% locally grown and locally made food products for infants. They were awarded $10,000.
  • Ho‘oulu Punalu‘u, managed by farmer Ladd Kahaʻi Ah Choy, cultivates various crops on 4.5 acres of KS land in Punaluʻu, Oʻahu. They were awarded $5,000.

“This year’s winners and finalists are showcasing how homegrown businesses with innovative and creative ideas are building a brighter future for Hawai‘i’s food systems. We commend their dedication and commitment to and love of ‘āina,” Duarte said.

Notably, Ulupono Initiative has been a sponsor of Mahi‘ai Match-Up throughout the history of the contest.

“It’s important for the entire community to continuously support innovation using locally grown food as we move our state towards better resiliency and sustainability,” said Murray Clay, Ulupono Initiative president.

Six other businesses were finalists in this year’s competition, showcasing a diverse range of food-related endeavors.

To learn more about Mahi‘ai Match-Up:

ʻāina pauahi,food systems,mahi‘ai match-up,agriculture,food sustainability

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