Published by City Farmer, Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture

Bringing Soul Back to Wai'anae: the Mala 'Ai 'Opio Farm

By Camille Tuason Mata

Camille Tuason Mata received her Master of Urban and Regional Planning degree from the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. She is a volunteer for the non-profit organization, Partnership for Human Rights and Development (PaHRD) based in Valencia City, Mindanao, Philippines.

On this web page, we have placed a short excerpt from the paper. The complete paper can be downloaded here. (156K Word Document) (2,500 Words) Bringing Soul Back to Wai'anae: the Mala 'Ai 'Opio Farm

Who would have thought that a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project could regenerate pride in a community rifted by youth on drugs, high crime and poverty rates, and unemployment? This was the situation facing the young couple, the Maunakea-Forths, who conceived of the idea to develop a CSA - the Mala 'Ai 'Opio (hereafter MA'O) Organic Farm - in Wai'anae, Hawai'i. The rationale behind their nascent plans were two-fold: (a) to reverse the social decline by reclaiming the community's identity through Hawai'i's long-standing tradition with local agriculture; (b) to give the at-risk youth population a career direction through a youth training and entrepreneurial volunteer program that provides hands-on business skills, and which will build up the fledgling project. What the youth have accomplished thus far, and what the farm has come to represent for the community, render the justification for not only diversifying the functions of urban agriculture, but also integrating it into land use policy.

This article is the result of a semester-long, community-based planning seminar that was taught in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Hawai'i. It draws from interviews with the Maunakea-Forths and a community attitudes survey conducted with community residents in the Wai'anae area.

Food Security and Beyond

The MA'O Farm is located a short drive inland from the coast. It is operated on 5-acres of leased land (from a nearby church), with a green house, where seedlings are sprouted before being transplanted to rows. (Source: Honolulu Star Bulletin, March 3, 2004)

The vegetables grown are fairly typical of CSAs. There are the usual mesculun greens, varieties of lettuce, bok choy, herbs (especially basil and cilantro), radishes, and green onions. The produce that makes MA'O Farms unique from those located in cooler climates are the tropicals like apple bananas and papayas, as well as the kalo (taro plant), a plant deeply attached to Native Hawaiian culture and has been adopted by contemporary residents. Like many other Indigenous cultures, agriculture is profoundly rooted in the Native Hawaiian identity.

Ethnographers have published countless literature carefully expounding on the intricate Native Hawaiian agriculture techniques and elaborate irrigation systems. The legend of Native Hawaiian origins - that they were borne from the taro plant - has become a mythology widely accepted throughout the islands. Later residents, otherwise those who have become rooted in Hawai'i by way of an immigrant past, have also adopted this mystical representation as testament to their own heritage of being from Hawai'i. The MA'O Farms continues to bridge the Native Hawaiian communities with those, which have adopted Hawai'i as their own through restoring the agricultural heritage and incarnating the notion of living off the land.

The highlight of the Farm is the youth program. At-risk youth are recruited to spend ten months on the farm learning leadership skills and the mechanics of running an entire business. During this term, they volunteer time working in the fields, planting seeds and weeding in exchange for business skills, namely cash handling, marketing, designing shares, and building the membership base. In the meantime, they also learn about small-scale ecological agriculture, from developing plots to sowing, nurturing the soil, and harvesting.

In the spring of 2003, the youth volunteers were involved in a planning session, which aimed to determine box shares, pricing, and other logistics. In one afternoon brainstorming period, much was accomplished. The youth, firstly, all shared ideas on significant details pertaining to the "shares" (boxes per household). They determined the volume of their contents, their constitution, and prices; they clarified whether they should offer half sizes (single for individual) or full (for three or more members of a household). They finally decided on eight core items with supplementary rotating vegetables as they become available seasonally.

Secondly, the youth coordinated distribution. Should the shares be delivered door-to-door, organized and serviced by the youth, or should consumers simply pick up at the farm? Can the farm generate enough income to accommodate door-to-door delivery given the added cost of gas and possible car repairs?

Moreover, the youth felt it important to inform Wai'anae residents about the nutritional contents of a primarily vegetable diet, as well as the virtues of consuming organics to further engender appeal. Some households, they worried, might not know how to cook the vegetables. Thus, they agreed to include various recipes and designed a brochure that discussed the nutritional benefits of a primarily vegetable diet, which would be included with the shares.

As the youth plan for the growth of the MA'O Farm CSA, they are also preparing to manage its future trend. In the process, they learn to collaborate with each other and simultaneously enrich community networks by forging new links between themselves and the community.

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Revised Monday, August 8, 2005

Published by City Farmer
Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture