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From a lo‘i in Waipi‘o Valley to a commercial processing facility in Kaka‘ako, Kamehameha Schools’ Mahi‘ai Scale-up business plan competition finalists come from all sectors of Hawai‘i’s growing local food system.

Six growers and gatherers advance to the finals of Mahi'ai Scale-up competition

May 13, 2021

Contributed by Crystal Kua

From a lo‘i in Waipi‘o Valley to a commercial processing facility in Kaka‘ako, Kamehameha Schools’ Mahi‘ai Scale-up business plan competition finalists come from all sectors of Hawai‘i’s growing local food system.

The program invited established farmers, distributors, processors and aggregators – Hawai‘i’s “growers” and “gatherers” – to submit plans for growing their businesses in new and creative ways. Following a 10-week business training course from the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, the six finalists will present a final business plan and pitch before a panel of judges on Thursday, May 13, for a chance to win cash prizes.

Read on to learn more about how the six Mahi‘ai Scale-up finalists are making a positive difference in Hawai‘i’s food system.

Hawaiian Kine Trading Co.
Dallas Stewart, Co-Founder
Honolulu, Oʻahu

Dallas Stewart KSK’04 and her husband Sean founded Hawaiian Kine Trading Co. in 2018 based on the simple understanding that while most people eat to live, “we live to eat.”

“We love all processes and aspects of food, taking it from concept all the way to the shelf and putting it in the consumer’s hands,” Sean Stewart said. “That’s something we’re really passionate about.”

With experience in retail, the Stewarts created their boutique distribution company to share Hawaiian culture with the world by placing Hawai‘i-inspired snacks and goods on shelves worldwide. From developing a recipe to perfecting a product and transporting it to market, Hawaiian Kine Trading Co. supports its Hawai‘i-grown small business partners every step of the way.

The business helps local vendors scale up and reach the next level of connecting more customers with their products. The duo offers free research and development space at their commercial kitchen to help new product makers develop shelf-ready products.

“We’ve been able to gain ground because of the unique and strong partnerships we have with our suppliers. We can grow together instead of growing against each other or growing apart. That’s our strength,” Dallas Stewart added.

The Stewarts leverage their strong connections with local retailers, who are willing to replace national products with locally sourced items. One of the company’s largest customers is Hele’s nomnom stations, which transformed their private label to highlight Hawai‘i-made products with Hawaiian Kine Trading Co’s support.

“Winning Mahi‘ai Scale-up will help us not only tell our story, but the stories of the makers that we bring with us,” Dallas Stewart said. 

Krisha Zane, Project Developer
Hilo, Hawaiʻi Island

Krisha Zane is a project developer with Kū-A-Kanaka, a family-owned native Hawaiian social enterprise working to revitalize Kapapa Loʻi o Kealiʻikuaʻāina in Waipiʻo Valley. Zane and Kū-A-Kanaka believe in the idea that when natives thrive, everyone benefits. Through its site on Hawai‘i Island, the organization seeks to revegetate the land and reconnect young native Hawaiians to the ʻāina.

Through Kapapa Loʻi o Kealiʻikuaʻāina, Kū-A-Kanaka aims to increase the amount of table taro served in homes on Hawaiʻi Island. Zane explains that providing table taro will save time, energy, and costs, grow a relatively untapped market and provide access to locally grown, nutritious food with deep cultural connections.

“This will lead to a healthier Hawaiʻi. We will also be the first income-generating taro farm in Waipiʻo Valley, where workers are paid living wages and receive medical and other benefits,” Zane said.

Zane turned to the Mahi‘ai Scale-up competition and the KūHana Business Program to help bring this vision of a thriving lo‘i to life. 

“Winning this competition would mean getting our taro farm up and running by bringing water into the loʻi, building the necessary infrastructure to cultivate taro, and making our five-acre taro patch complex self-sustaining,” Zane shared.

Kū-A-Kanaka would also provide educational opportunities for learners of all ages to learn how to use the Hawaiian staple for cooking delicious and nutritious food and providing hands-on experiences in taro patches. Kū-A-Kanaka beneficiary, Ea Ecoversity, would also benefit from an outdoor learning laboratory to train future Native Hawaiian taro farmers.

“Native Hawaiian youth and young adults can gain experience in traditional regenerative agriculture while also contributing to the health of our ecosystems, our economy and our lāhui,” Zane said.

O‘ahu Food Hub
Matt Johnson, Co-Owner
Honolulu, Oʻahu

Inspired by the need for a location that would allow his budding business to grow, Matt Johnson launched Oʻahu Food Hub in 2015. The hub is a food-safe certified facility that provides storage, processing and distribution support at an affordable cost to 40-50 small to mid-sized local food businesses.

Alongside business partner Thomas Naylor – the owner of local catering company Ke Nui Kitchen – Johnson recognized the need among many businesses in the local food community to find food-safe certified facilities to operate from at an affordable cost. For Johnson, launching the hub created a tool to address this critical need and expand opportunities for even more growers and gatherers to succeed.

“We believe that with facilities like Oʻahu Food Hub throughout the state, all aspects of the local food system will be able to thrive,” Johnson said.

Oʻahu Food Hub businesses have the unique opportunity to work together under one roof, ensuring they have the facilities necessary for their operations while allowing collaboration between local food businesses.

“Our collaborative design creates a dynamic, vertically integrated food chain helping to increase supply and demand of locally grown products,” Johnson said. “Any investment in Oʻahu Food Hub is an investment in Hawaiʻi’s entire local food system, not just one business.”

Leveraging community connections and cross-sectoral collaboration, Oʻahu Food Hub aims to create a permanent asset for the local food community, fueling Hawaiʻi’s resiliency and sustainability.

“Winning the Mahi‘ai Scale-up competition would create a huge jump start for Oʻahu Food Hub to have a broader outreach of its mission, helping to create even more connections within the local food community,” Johnson added.

Ahiki Acres
Haley Miyaoka, Co-Owner
Waimānalo, Oʻahu

Haley Miyaoka launched Ahiki Acres with a mission rooted in respectful land stewardship and a passion for growing healthy and delicious local produce. Ahiki Acres seeks to improve O‘ahu’s food security by connecting food-conscious people with local, organic produce to support sustainable eating and the local food system. Miyaoka credits the pandemic for spotlighting the need for Hawaiʻi to improve upon its food system and supply.

“Only 7% of farmers in Hawaiʻi make $100,000 or more, and the average age of farmers is 60,” Miyaoka said. “Hawaiʻi needs more examples of successful young farmers to encourage more to take on this critical work.”

If Ahiki Acres wins the Mahi‘ai Scale-up competition, Miyaoka said the company would be able to accelerate its plans to expand production and effectively work towards its longer term goals of bridging commerce, culture and community. Miyaoka believes Ahiki Acres can serve as a best-in-class model for Hawaiʻi’s aspiring farmers and seeks to educate upwards of 5,000 Oʻahu residents per year.

“I’ve always cared about creating a more sustainable world as I envisioned a career in developing new solutions for alternative energy companies on the mainland or even abroad,” Miyaoka said. “After my experience as a neighborhood ambassador in Rochester, one of the poorest cities in the country, and learning more about the significance of food access and nutrition, my desire to grow food emerged.”

Returning to her roots, Miyaoka moved back to Oʻahu to grow food in Waimānalo, where she was born and raised. Working alongside partner Matthew McKinnon, the two combine their passions and talents to feed their community, inspire the next generation of farmers and elevate the ecosystem.

Hanohano Huliāmahi
Randie-Leith Lunn, Alaka‘i
Kailua, Oʻahu

Randie-Leith Lunn KSK’03 strives to build pilina between people and ʻāina by providing Hawaiian farm products through the family business, Hanohano Huliāmahi. The fourth-generation family farm works to restore ‘āina kupuna in Pāpaʻakoko – located between Hau‘ula and Punalu‘u.

“I entered this competition on behalf of my ‘ohana, and so winning Mahi’ai Scale-Up would have a tremendous impact not just on myself, but the many family members and friends that makeup Hanohano Huliāmahi,” Lunn said.

Lunn and her ‘ohana have been hard at work to clear the overgrowth of California grass and other plants to restore the existing pond infrastructure and grow kalo. So far, Hanohano Huliāmahi has created three lo‘i.

“Our goal in revitalizing a dynamic, sustainable ahupua‘a begins with recommissioning 10 acres of loʻi kalo, something to be cherished especially on the most populated and developed island in Hawaiʻi,” Lunn said.

Lunn grows native foods using indigenous practices and values to enrich the community, perpetuate a dynamic ecosystem and honor ‘ike kūpuna. She strives to steward a vibrant, indigenous farm in harmony with the surrounding community and ecosystem.

“The legacy of our kūpuna is the backbone of our mission. Many can attest to the challenges kanaka face surrounding ʻāina today, and our ‘ohana is one of them,” Lunn said. “Through these challenges, we know amazing growth and healing can take place, not just the growth of food, but the growth of people as well.” 

Lunn hopes that Hanohano Huliāmahi will help to feed Hawaiʻi today and well into the future. She believes that leveraging indigenous blueprints can support island life for generations to come.

Punahele Provisions
Ethan West, Owner
Honolulu, Oʻahu

Ethan West is a sixth-generation organic farmer and created Punahele Provisions to provide families with healthy, trustworthy and clean-label nutritional products for their keiki. Knowing that the first two years of life are integral to establishing a healthy foundation, West helps parents worry less about what they’re feeding their children so they can spend more time on the moments that matter.

“What truly makes Punahele Provisions special is the trust that has been instilled in us by hundreds of families across Hawaii to provide their families a healthy, Hawai‘i-grown start to life,” West said.

Punahele Provisions provides all-natural baby food products with no additives, preservatives, or artificial flavors. The recipes use fruit and vegetable ingredients like Okinawan sweet potato, kabocha, breadfruit and more from local farmers, growers and cooperatives throughout the islands.

Punahele Provisions plans to source over one million pounds of local food for the community, making direct payments to farmers totaling $3.5 million over the next several years.

“We are asking thousands of local farmers to grow food in a way that takes care of the earth, and we are able to pay above a living wage for their work of mālama ʻāina,” West said.

West believes Punahele Provisions is a viable solution to help improve Hawaiʻi’s food systems, stimulate local production and bring affordable local food to the community.

“If we are fortunate enough to win the Mahi‘ai Scale-up competition, it will be because we have found a way to create an entirely new category for Hawai‘i-grown food production,” West said. “A system that is specifically catered towards our keiki and helps to create a more equitable, accessible, just, and resilient food system throughout the process.”


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