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$2.5M program helps 105 small farms in Maui County

Laoa Farms, a citrus farm in Kula, received a $14,000 grant from the Maui County Agricultural Micro Grants Program, administered by Maui Economic Opportunity’s Business Development Center. The farm used the money to purchase mostly equipment, including a chipper/shredder, lawnmowers and weed whackers. Photos courtesy of Laoa Farms

The Maui News

A $2.5 million grant program has helped 105 small farms across Maui County purchase much-needed supplies and boost their visibility online.

Maui County’s Agricultural Micro Grants Program, which is administered by the nonprofit Maui Economic Opportunity, purchased tractors, chippers and other supplies; put up fencing and sheds; and established an online presence for the farms.

The program was established to allow small farms to receive grants up to $25,000 to directly increase the availability of local produce, livestock, poultry and farm products while increasing agricultural capacity, productivity, name recognition and income, MEO said in a news release Monday.

With the program winding to a close, MEO Business Center Director David Daly said Monday that his team is working on putting the finishing touches on the last couple of grants and the program.

Laoa Farms on 4 acres in Kula produces citrus fruits, including lemons, limes, oranges, peaches and nectarines and avocados.

To qualify, farms had to have a state general excise tax number, and the owners had to reside in Maui County. Preference was given to socially disadvantaged applicants, such as women and Native Hawaiians, and food-producing farm businesses that operate on fewer than 12 acres in Maui County.

Carol Voss of citrus fruit farm Laoa Farms in Kula received a $14,000 grant and used the money to buy farm equipment, including a chipper/shredder, lawnmowers and weed whackers, as well as fertilizer.

“We needed equipment; that’s our biggest drawback,” Voss said.

The farm produces about 5,000 pounds of lemons, limes, oranges, peaches and nectarines annually. Voss said the pandemic did not really affect their business because their distributor, LocalHarvest, kept accepting their fruit.

Her husband, David, is the mechanic for the 4-acre farm, keeping the old and hand-me-down machinery going. He recently learned that he had cancer, and the treatment sapped his energy and his ability to care for the equipment.

Then they learned about the grant from the Maui County Farm Bureau.

“I appreciate the county and whoever put this together for small farmers,” Voss said. “Usually, everything’s big grants, you gotta make $50,000 to get something. This was nice that it was small. . . . I assume it benefited a lot of small farmers on this island.”

Her husband, meanwhile, is on his way to recovery.

Payments through the grants program were made directly to vendors, according to MEO. Daly noted that vendors have been paid but that some farmers have not yet received equipment or materials due to manufacturing shortages and weather issues.

The money was used for farming equipment and machinery; processing and storage equipment; farm expansion, such as fencing and sheds; supplies, including fertilizers, soil amendments, seeds, plants and small tools; packing and packaging materials; technology equipment; marketing supplies and services, including website development; health and safety upgrades; and professional development and education.

MEO’s Business Development Center received more than 220 applications from October to January. The 105 grants included fruit, vegetable, aquaponics, livestock, herb, Native Hawaiian and medicinal plant farms, Daly said.

He added that there is a wait list of more than 80 applicants.

MEO is referring farmers to the Hawaii Department of Agriculture’s $1.9 million Micro-Grants for Food Security Program, which offers up to $5,000 to support small-scale gardening, herding and livestock operations, as well as religious groups and food banks.

Applications may be found at hands.ehawaii.gov/hands/ opportunities/opportunity-details/20023. The deadline for emailing the completed forms to hdoa.addrfp@hawaii.gov is noon April 23. Awards are expected to be announced in May, with first disbursement of funds expected in July.

For more information, contact the department’s Market Development Branch by phone at (808) 973-9595 or by email at hdoa.addrfp@hawaii.gov.

For more information about business planning and micro loans offered by MEO, contact the Business Development Center at (808) 553-3270 or at david.daly@meoinc.org.

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