Aina Haumana

Maui’s restaurant industry really “gets it” these days.

That is, chefs and restaurant owners are stepping up to teach school children about farming so that a., they learn about and eat healthier foods, and b., a few will choose farming as a profession, so that sustainability can be in Maui’s future.

Take Paris Nabavi, for instance. As owner of Cilantro Mexican Grill and Pizza Paradiso in West Maui, he just won the “Mayor’s Small Business Award” for 2013, mainly for partnering with the Maui School Garden Network to put in gardens and to purchase organic seeds for more than 40 schools in Maui County. The network also continues its focus to help reverse the poor nutritional habits of island kids.

The Grow Some Good benefit Saturday at Hotel Wailea was another success in that top chefs in Wailea and beyond came together to raise money for school garden programs and to inspire future farmers on Maui. Marty Dread was there, singing songs such as “Say No to Monsanto” as diners savored organic school-garden cuisine.

Now, Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas is on the bandwagon. On Saturday, it will partner with Ho’opono Farm in Kapalua to present a benefit wine dinner for the new Aina Haumana.

Translated into English from Hawaiian, Aina Haumana means “students of the land.” It’s also the name of the new nonprofit that will be launched by Ho’opono Farm at this very dinner.

The benefit will consist of a four-course gourmet feast at Westin KOR’s Pulehu: An Italian Grill paired with organic wines from the JMD Portfolio that’s part of Paradise Beverages.

Ho’opono Farm owners David Horsman and Manu Akana will be present doing a slide show of their fertile fields and student program. Partial proceeds will benefit their community projects.

“About two years ago, we started our farm to eventually open a nonprofit for children’s sustainable farm education,” says Horsman, who also serves as a bartender at Merriman’s in Kapalua two days a week.

Horsman and Akana, who also works at Kapalua Residences: Timbers Resort, have been bringing groups of kids to Ho’opono Farm, located 1,000 feet in elevation above Office Road in Kapalua on Wednesdays for two weeks now.

It’s been a practice of love, paid for out of their own pockets. But since they’ve always wanted to grow it bigger, they applied for a 501-C3 non-profit license so they can reach out for donations. They hope to branch out and involve school kids from kindergarten to grade 12.

This is excellent news that they are joining the lineup of those who have a vision for Maui’s farming future.

Because, according to the documentary film, “Seeds of Hope,” which screened at Maui Arts & Cultural Center on Feb. 24, trouble lies ahead if we don’t all choose to be part of the sustainable solution.

According to the film, “For over 1,000 years, the Hawaiian people produced enough food to support an estimated population of one-million people. Today, 85 percent of the state’s food is imported. If current trends continue, Hawaii’s last agricultural lands will be gone by 2040.”

Then you get two young men like Akana and Horsman and things start changing for the better. Wednesday, the Boys & Girls Club of Maui, Lahaina chapter came to the farm to pick and plant fresh produce and tour water and irrigation sources.

“Our mission is to inspire and enable all young people to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens,” says the club’s Danae Marin.

“Ho’opono’s mentors Dave and Manu are great partners in educating our young people while giving them opportunities to learn new skills through farming.

“It is exciting and inspiring seeing the kids laughing and having fun as they dig in the soil, sample organic fruits and vegetables and ask a myriad of questions about farming in this interactive, hands-on outdoor classroom environment. Each week the program is building momentum as more and more youth want to see what going up to the farm is all about.”

“I never knew farming and getting dirty could be so much fun!” said one kid.

Horsman and Akana’s vision is to start a free, three-tier program. The first tier will be kindergarten to fourth grade; the second tier, fifth to eighth grade, and the third tier is ninth through 12th grade. Horsman goes on to say that, “for every 100 kids, if we get just one percent attrition rate, if just one kid becomes a farmer after he turns 18, then we’ll have accomplished our longterm goals.”

Ho’opono Farm is 62 acres with just seven acres planted so far in tomatoes, carrots, beets, mustard greens, mizuna, tatsoi and arugula all in crop rotation and raised in an organic and biodynamic format on former pineapple fields.

“They supply probably 80 percent of our vegetables,” says Bob Megargle, Westin KOR’s director of food and beverage. “We use everything from tomatoes to kale. They are a couple of young guys who are doing amazing things. Chef Wes and I are honored to partner for their first fundraiser. This is a big deal and we want to support them as much as possible.”

In addition, Westin KOR actually grows vegetables from scratch in their own patch at Ho’opono Farm.

“Chef Wes goes up there to monitor it, watch it grow,” says Megargle. “Wes also will team with Ho’opono Farm at the Maui Ag Fest April 6 at Maui Tropical Plantation in a chef-farmer format.”

At the Westin KOR dinner on Saturday, you may savor local fresh fish in Prosecco tempura batter with butter-poached fingerling potatoes, Meyer lemon aioli and pickled heirloom carrots as the first course paired with Cade sauvignon blanc 2011 from Napa Valley.

“Cade is a Howell Mountain organic and LEED Certified winery,” says Alan Jahns of the JMD Beverage portfolio. “Cade is the new Plumpjack venture. It’s very green as LEED stands for ‘Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.’ “

Another course will pair braised Kurabuta pork with Ho’opono Farm black cherokee tomato with parmesan marjoram risotto and micro sorrel with Kaena Grenache of Santa Ynez Valley.

“Winemaker Mikael Sigouin of Beckman is a kid from Oahu who went to Kaiser High School,” says Jahns. “He started making his own biodynamic wine, called Kaena. He and Cade are both doing everything right. We’re going to have some fun at this dinner and learn a lot, too.”