Heart of Honolulu: A Young Hometown Hero Helps Waimea Farmers
An eighth grader turns his passion into a kōkua project that strengthens his community during a crisis.
Heart of Honolulu is a collection of stories that feature locals performing small acts of kindness and generosity in their communities.
Photos: Courtesy of Pā‘ina by Ocean
Sometimes a small act reaps big rewards. And when it does, it has the power to change the outcome of a story. When farmers in Waimea were struggling to survive the financial hit of the pandemic, 14-year-old Kamaha‘o Ocean stepped in to help. (Yes, 14!) He lives on the Big Island and loves to cook. While sheltering in place, he was excited to post more videos of himself cooking on YouTube—he’s famous around town for his smoked meat. But, a weekly trip with his dad to a few local farms sprouted an idea. “Most of my ingredients come from our community,” he explains, “so when I learned that a lot of their crops had to be killed because nobody was buying, I wanted to help.”
With his fresh perspective, Kamaha‘o created a plan to sell pā‘ina bags, which basically means a to-go Hawaiian feast, to locals in town. It’s easy to imagine how this would be a win-win situation since CSA boxes are booming now. But, no one was offering them in laidback Waimea. “My dad and Kamaha‘o meet with farmers and collect what they have in stock,” says Kamaha‘o’s older sister, Jaydene, who handles operational duties and is a chaperone on media interviews. “We divide it up, fill the bags, take online orders and have people pick up their purchases in the parking lot at Church Row. It first started off as a thought my brother had and it turned into an entire family affair.”
At first, they aimed to deliver 25 pā‘ina bags a week. But when word got out, the demand was for quadruple the amount.
“We didn’t know what to expect,” says Jaydene. “We thought people in Waimea would participate, then orders started coming from Waikoloa, O‘ahu and the Mainland.” They can’t ship the bags, but driving to their not-so-far-from-home neighbors became a critical piece in their plan. “In Waikoloa and Waimea, the elderly kūpuna are afraid to leave their house, so we deliver the bags to their door.”
With the community buy in, businesses like JA Farms could breathe life again. “Because the bags were doing so well, some farmers told me they had to plant more seeds,” says Kamaha‘o. “My dad has been a chef for a long time, so he always taught me to appreciate where food comes from and to support local as much as I can. Because of that, I have close relationships with a lot of the farmers.”
He recalls visiting a farm where the owner was struggling to collect all his strawberries on his own after having to let many workers go, a reality common among small town, family-run businesses. That day, Kamaha‘o and his dad spent five hours picking strawberries in the hot sun. Through the phone, I could hear the joy in his voice as he described that day to me. He didn’t only see it as reviving an industry or hard work—he was committed to helping out a fellow farmer, and a friend.
Along with a hearty harvest of fruit and vegetables, including sweet strawberries, the pā‘ina bag also comes with locally grown or freshly caught protein. Very lucky shoppers may find Kamaha‘o’s ‘ono smoked meat in their bags. “The recipe was passed down from my dad’s grandfather and it’s super simple: salt, water and garlic,” shares the 2019 Hawai‘i Food and Wine Festival Keiki in the Kitchen Champion. “The sweet smokiness comes from what kind of wood you use. We use kiawe; it brings BIG flavor.”
His favorite way to eat the meat: with saimin. Any type of saimin.
And, when he does have free moments, he plays soccer with friends, enjoys reel time at his favorite fishing spot, Kawaihae Harbor, and, of course, cooks.
“I just follow my passions and get out in my community. Before this, I already knew the hard work and dedication that local farmers, fishermen and ranchers put in. I was happy my family and I could help during this time,” says the teen. Jaydene adds: “With the exception of a small fee we add on to pay for taxes, website costs and staffing pickups when needed, the money goes back directly to the farmers. Our whole mission is to help them fill financial voids and ensure sustainability. Because of the wonderful community support and involvement, we’ve been successful.”
Sometimes, it takes is a young mind (and his family) to bring a village together.
For more details about orders and pickup dates, visit painabyocean.com