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Farmers look to grow community, culture in Waikapu

Early talks plan hale ku'i for poi pounding, relationship building

Bobby Pahia of Hoaloha Farms talks Saturday about his vision for hale ku'i, a gathering place to pound poi and cultivate community, at his farm in Waikapu. The Maui News / KEHAULANI CERIZO photo

WAIKAPU — For a group of local farmers, growing community and culture are just as important as growing crops.

During a community meeting Saturday on kalo farmland in the central plains, about two dozen people met to discuss a new structure that would help cultivate the relational side of farming.

“Sometimes farmers can get caught up in their own little silos,” said Lehia Apana, Hawaiʻi Farmers Union United’s Mauna Kahalawai Chapter secretary. “But a lot of emphasis and excitement is growing in the farming community. It’s not just about interacting with the soil but also with the people.”

Called a hale ku’i, the structure will hold regular ku’i kalo (pounding poi) and other Native Hawaiian cultural workshops. It would double as a site for farmers and like-minded community members to share resources, collaborate on ideas and cultivate relationships.

“It’s a focal point where we all can meet, we all can educate and we all can participate,” said Native Hawaiian kalo farmer Bobby Pahia, HFUU Mauna Kahalawai Chapter president.

Meeting participant Kekai Robinson hailed the chapter’s efforts. As the interim administrative director and kahu for Ke Kula ‘O Pi’ilani, an independent Hawaiian language immersion school for keiki in Kindergarten through fourth grade, she said she is excited for the possibilities. The Maui News / KEHAULANI CERIZO photo

The hale ku’i is being built by Hoaloha Farms, with the support of HFUU’s Mauna Kahalawai Chapter, and will be located on its Waikapu farmland off Honoapiilani Highway. Pahia’s Hoaloha Farms is a subsidiary of Nā Hoaloha ‘Ekolu restaurant group that backs the local agriculture and farm-to-table movement.

Hale ku’i would be open to any community member, regardless of whether he or she actively farms.

People will “learn first-hand about regenerative farming practices from the ground up,” Pahia said. “Not just by going to a class and listening, but by putting hands in lepo and actually doing it.”

Also, board members said design for an adjacent food forest based on agroforestry and other permaculture principles is in the works.

Board members for the HFUU chapter, which holds about 350 local farmers and nonfarmers, had been discussing Pahia’s idea for hale ku’i since last year. They decided it would be their 2020 project, and the first meeting Saturday marked the start of the planning process.

Vincent Mina, president and founding member of Hawai‘i Farmers Union United, speaks during a hale ku'i community meeting Saturday at Hoaloha Farms in Waikapu. The Maui News / KEHAULANI CERIZO photo

Pahia said the chapter wants the effort to be community driven. He encouraged anyone interested to contact Mauna Kahalawai Chapter and attend the next project meeting, which will be announced.

“We have an open canvas over here; we get to paint it from the very beginning,” he said.

Meeting participant Kekai Robinson hailed the chapter’s efforts. As the interim administrative director and kahu for Ke Kula ‘O Pi’ilani, an independent Hawaiian language immersion school for keiki in Kindergarten through fourth grade, she said she is excited for the possibilities.

“On behalf of those of us who are not farmers but who are raising little kanaka, little humans, that are conscious of their environment, their akua that exists in the elements, under the ground . . . I wanted to express my excitement and appreciation for all of you and all you do,” Robinson said.

For information on the project, email HFUUMaunaKahalawai@gmail.com.

Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner Sam Ka'ai talks about ideas for hale ku'i next to the draft rendering of the approximately 1,000 square foot structure slated for Hoaloha Farms in Waikapu. The Maui News / KEHAULANI CERIZO photo

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.