Crop Sharing in Hana, Maui

A cooperative farm in Hana, Maui, shares the wealth among the community.

In exchange for their time and labor, volunteers can take home a share of the farm’s harvest.

photos: kamaui aiona and sadie ferris

“All of us in Hana do these Kahului shopping trips, where we fill our trucks up with as much as we can and stretch the next trip out as much as possible,” says Kamaui Aiona, director of Kahanu Garden. “We wanted to take a few things off that grocery list.”

In 2009, staff at Kahanu Garden began to talk about ways they could help the community get through tough economic times. “The thought was that we are sitting on land that is useful for agriculture with rich soil, no rock and flat land,” he explains. “We wondered how the mission of the garden could extend to the community and its needs.”

Those lunch-table discussions evolved into reality last August when the first crops were planted at Mahele Farm, a 5-acre section of land at Kahanu Garden that is now one of its projects. The grassroots effort is anything but a typical plow-harvest-sell operation. Every Wednesday and Sunday community members are invited to work the land—prep garden beds, make compost, plant seeds. Folks can work for as long as they like. When they’re ready to leave, they fill a grocery bag with as much fresh produce as they need to feed their families.

Mahele is a Hawaiian tradition. In practice, it means: to share in the work is to share in the bounty. “In old times, when you came in from fishing, you needed hands to help get fish out of the net. Whoever helps, gets fish to take home,” says Aiona. “Mahele still happens in Hana—and that is what we wanted to do on the land.”

Economic relief is only one of the perks. Aiona touts the cultural, mental, physical and spiritual benefit of working outdoors, side by side with neighbors. “The oldest Hawaiians living today can still remember a time when they ate the food they grew or caught or their neighbors harvested,” says Aiona. “If we can teach kids at an early age what it means to eat your own food, then we’ve kept that thread going.”

So far, the farm has always had a harvest large enough to support all comers, with a wide variety of fresh produce, such as salad greens, peas, carrots, beets, corn, pumpkins, and Hawaiian plants, including mamake and awa. Thirty chickens provide fresh eggs, too.

Through a close partnership with the nonprofit organization, Ma Ka Hana Ka Ike, which means, “In working, one learns,” students of Hana High School have dotted the farm with impressive structures, including a mosaic tile bath house (with two solar showers), a compost toilet, an office and supply sheds that are connected by an arched roof (with solar photovoltaic panels on top to power a rice cooker, tools and a radio) and a pair of mobile chicken coops.

The farm lies on 170 acres, which leaves open the possibility of expanding. Raising animals, such as pigs and cattle, could be next. “The best part is that the farm doesn’t belong to any one of us,” says Aiona. “We all work here together; it’s ours.”