6 People Making a Difference in Honolulu
Meet a few people making Honolulu a better place for all of us.
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The soil of Waianae is growing more than kale and salad greens, thanks to the sowing done by Gary and Kukui Maunakea-Forth of MAO Organic Farms. At 24 acres, their farm is the largest organic farm on Oahu, yielding about two tons of food per week. It is a leading, if not the leading, producer of organic foods in the state.
But, as the managing director and cofounder of MAO (an acronym for Mala Ai Opio—“the youth garden”), Maunakea-Forth says he doesn’t limit his definition of a profitable farm to one that makes money. “Profit also means investing in young people,” he says. “While we do a lot of the farming, I am constantly training and retraining young people—not just how to be an organic veggie farmer, but I’m teaching them a work ethic: how to work, how to lead.”
MAO’s programs give at-risk and lower-income Waianae kids more than just a day at the farm; they tap into and foster their potential. MAO offers programs such as giving Waianae Intermediate students a “mini-immersion into Pacific Island culture” with hands-on activities and field trips, for example, or an internship in Organic Agriculture and Food Systems for Waianae High School students, as well as offering a two-year college-level paid internship that grants Waianae youth an Associates of Arts degree from Leeward Community College (LCC), while also giving them experience in leadership of a nonprofit organization. So far, thousands have gone through the programs, and 50 people have graduated through MAO’s relationship with LCC.
Maunakea-Forth estimates that more than half of the graduates from Nanakuli, Waianae and Makaha high schools who went on to college last year went through MAO Organic Farms. “The large numbers of [Waianae] youth between 17 and 25 years old are thought of by others as a deficit,” Maunakea-Forth says, “but it was our contention that they are our biggest asset. ... The food tastes good and people enjoy it and value it—plus, the soil seems pretty happy.”