A few weeks ago, I had the amazing opportunity to visit MA‘O Organic Farms, which is a 25-acre organic certified farm in Lualualei Valley on the western coast of O‘ahu, near the town of Wai‘anae. The trip was just one of the many events I had planned as part of a three-day meeting that Down to Earth hosted for members of the Independent Natural Food Retailers Association, who were visiting Hawaii from the mainland.
Of all the events, the visit to MA'O farms was the most powerful. That's because of what I learned about what this farm is doing to build community in a district fraught with hardships. Waianae was once a self-sufficient region that produced adequate amounts of food for its people while managing its land and water resources sustainably. Today, it finds itself relatively isolated from island-wide growth and development, and it is economically challenged. The district of Wai‘anae is known as an area with little economic opportunity and many social problems.
With its organic farm and various culture-based education programs, including the opportunity for students to earn an income, MA‘O farms is helping to improve local food security as well as the economic and social situation of this marginalized community.
MA‘O is an acronym for mala ‘ai ‘opio, which translates as "the youth food garden." It represents the heart of a project that seeks to develop a comprehensive living local food system through education. Young people, aged 18-25, are invited to become involved in an internship where they work three days a week and go to school two days a week. MA‘O Farms pays for their schooling and also gives them a stipend to work on the farm. When they finish the program, they can return to working on the farm. Such an amazing arrangement, right?!
While the farm itself is self-sustaining, there’s a need to raise funds for student stipends via fundraisers and grants.
They have a CSA program (Community Supported Agriculture) that delivers food to spots all over the island. If you want to volunteer or become more involved, MA‘O Farms holds Community Workdays where you can come and work on the farm and learn more about what they do. They welcome visitors, and offer tours the last Saturday of each month.
Perhaps the most memorable aspect of our visit to MA'O farms was the sincerity and upstanding character of the student workers and their connection with the `āina. Getting to meet them and listen to them discuss their day's activities as a group—watching them cheer one another and celebrate their successes by clapping in unison—deeply touched our hearts. Their commitment and passion was unforgettable.
As we drove away, one of the INFRA members tried to think, “Was there anything like this going on where we live?” His colleague agreed. There was nothing like it.