MA’O Organic Farms and Kamehameha Schools
Wai’ane, O’ahu, Hawaii
Feature written in July, 2019
FHLB Des Moines Member: Central Pacific Bank
Located on the west side of the island of O’ahu, Wai’anae is an isolated and rural community which faces considerable political, economic, social and cultural limitations, especially for youth.
Waiʻanae has the highest rates of teen pregnancy, school suspensions, incidents of substance abuse and juvenile arrests in the state, which suggests a bleak future for many Hawaiian youth.
The community is also considered the most food insecure region of Hawaii, holding the highest rates of preventable disease, including diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.
The Wai’anae Community Re-Development Corporation (WCRC) dba MA’O Organic Farms was established in 2001 by community members in hopes to change that by growing the rich, food producing traditions of the region and the development of academically underachieving youth.
To that end, MA’O along with partners, Central Pacific Bank (CPB) and Kamehameha Schools (KS) collaborated in 2019 to facilitate expansion of MA’O’s farm operation and social enterprise program, allowing MA’O to acquire 236 acres of land through a guaranteed loan agreement with CPB, its 45-acre operation to 281 acres as of April 2019.
This unprecedented collaboration positions MA’O as the eighth largest landowner and fourth largest private landowner in Wai’anae and furthers a production-oriented enterprise to create green collar jobs, provide locally grown organic produce to the community and retain and matriculate youth through higher education and sustainable career pathways.
The farm now supplies over two tons of fresh organic produce every week to farmers markets, grocery and natural food stores and locavore restaurants on O’ahu.
MA’O has not only taken on responsibility for transforming an important agricultural resource that has been uncultivated since the 1980s, but is also using an approach grounded in the empowerment of local youth. MA’O offers educational programs including an on-farm to college two-year internship that provides a stipend and full tuition support for students at the University of Hawaii Leeward Community College, UH West O’ahu or UH Mānoa.
These programs have graduated over 100 interns with Associates of Arts degrees and 25 with Bachelor of Art degrees, so far, and some graduates of the program have gone on to manage the organic farm and youth training program.
MA’O anticipates its youth leadership training programs to quadruple and its organic food production to grow tenfold, creating an estimated 75 green-collar jobs. This expansion has opened the door for developing an agricultural housing project and forging a more financially sustainable organizational future through an expanded earned revenue base.
Through future projects, MA’O will also provide mentorship, internship and scholarship to youth in the community, a model that other social and educational enterprises can aspire to.