The Essential Guide to Taro: How to Volunteer at a Lo‘i
Volunteers learn more than just how to grow taro at these community workdays.
Volunteers at Ho‘okua‘āina.
PHOTO: ELYSE BUTLER MALLAMS
Walking through the nearly 3-acre taro farm at Ho‘okua‘āina, an ‘āina-based nonprofit in lush Maunawili, it’s easy to see why thousands of people venture here to work in the lo‘i. Volunteers come early, before the midday sun makes it unbearably hot, to clear patches, weed, harvest kalo or get areas ready to plant, with views of Mount Olomana in the distance.
Dean Wilhelm, who runs the nonprofit with his wife, Michele, starts the work day with an opening protocol, either a traditional ‘oli or a simple statement of who you are and why you’re here. “We want to get everyone focused on the purpose,” Wilhelm, a former teacher, explains. “You don't just come here to do service. You’ll come and learn a lot.”
The Wilhelms bought this 7.6-acre property, overgrown with hao and other trees, 10 years ago with the intention of growing kalo, a crop they realized brought people together. Whether it was eating lau lau in their carport using leaves from the kalo they grew in their backyard or the plants Dean Wilhelm grew at Olomana School to teach valuable life lessons to his students, the couple saw the plant’s power to connect.
“The light bulb went off,” Dean Wilhelm says. “I knew I needed to do this on a bigger scale.”
Twice a month, the Wilhelms steam and clean more than 400 pounds of kalo (moi variety) and sell freshly milled poi and kalo pa‘a (steamed chunks of taro) to anyone who orders online.
Community workdays have always been an integral part of the work of this education-based nonprofit, which also offers internships and mentoring programs.
“We wanted to the community to take ownership of this space and be part of something,” Michele Wilhelm says. “We really wanted people to feel connected, to create a gathering place—not just grow taro.”
Where to Volunteer on O’ahu
Ka Papa Lo‘i O Kānewai
Get dirty in the lo‘i every first Saturday of the month. Refreshments provided. Or you can organize a private work day with the lo‘i staff.
2645 Dole St., (808) 956-0640, hawaii.edu/hshk/ka-papa-loi-o-kanewai
Join other volunteers from 8:30 a.m. to noon on the second Saturday of every month to clear invasive vegetation, build ‘auwai for lo‘i kalo, weed and maintain the existing patches or other tasks. RSVP online. You can schedule private work days, too.
46-406 Kamehameha Highway, Kāne‘ohe, (808) 741-3403, kakoooiwi.org
There are two community workdays every month at this 63-acre property in Ko‘olaupoko. Weed lo‘i, plant and harvest kalo, or restore banks and walls from 9 a.m. to noon on the fourth Saturday of every month. Every third Saturday, you can help the nonprofit restore the upper reahes of He‘eia Stream. For groups larger than 10, RSVP online.
46-403 Ha‘ikū Road, Kāne‘ohe, (808) 447-7694, papahanakuaola.com
Learn the traditional way to cultivate kalo and the importance of this staple food. There are no scheduled community work days; you need to book a visit online.
916C Auloa Road, Kailua, (808) 721-5948, hookuaaina.org
What to Bring
Shoes or slippers
Clothes you don't mind getting muddy + a change of clothes!