Hookuaaina Rebuilding Lives From The Ground Up

A Letter From Our Directors – March 2023 

By: Michele & Dean Wilhelm, Co-Executive Directors 

Aloha Kākou,

We hope the beginning of 2023 finds you and your loved ones well! We are so excited to share how the transition into this new year has been filled with great news and new beginnings for Hoʻokuaʻāina. 

Firstly, the spirit of celebration has been on the highest level as we just recently received an award from the State Legacy Land Fund for $2.6 million towards the purchase of an additional 116 acres of prime agricultural land almost next door to our current site at Kapalai. This coupled with an award last summer from the City and County Clean Water and Natural Land Fund of $6.3 million, completes the amount needed for Hoʻokuaʻāina to complete the purchase. We are referring to this property as Palawai.

Viewplane of Palawai 116 acres from bridge on road to Royal Hawaiian Golf Course

We are just beginning the strategic planning process we are terming Hoʻokuaʻāina 2.0, as we move beyond the stewardship and programming currently at our location in the ili of Kapalai and begin to ready ourselves to significantly expand the work we do on the ʻāina of Palawai.  Some exciting new partnerships have formed to help us with the process. Islander Institute will be helping to facilitate the great team that is forming with our Board of Directors, consultants, community stakeholders, students at Stanford University and University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy. The possibilities of diversifying our current model of production and community outreach are boundless which presents good problems we hope to solve by year end with a solid plan moving forward.

For eight years now, Hoʻokuaʻāina along with other value-aligned organizations as well as community members in the Maunawili/Kailua area have sought to prevent the development of these incredibly fertile agricultural lands and return them to the stewardship of those committed to their restoration. Trust for Public Land and Hawaiian Island Land Trust have been the support to lead us through the process. We couldnʻt have done it without them! They have been the ones who spearheaded the effort as well as the many other community stakeholders who have given support, shared testimony, and held great faith in Hoʻokuaʻāina to pull off this next phase of the journey.  With all the many stories of lands being lost here in Hawaii, this is a huge aloha ʻāina victory!  We hope you celebrate with us. Mahalo Ke Akua!

With all that being shared, it would come as no surprise that we have some planning to do!

An expansion means building our internal team as well. We are pleased to announce the appointment of 4 new board members over the last 2 months who bring a wealth of experience as well as the essence and belief in the values we hold true to as an organization.  They along with our current members are all excited about the possibilities that lie ahead for us as an organization as well as the impact this will have on the surrounding communities.  See our website for the list of the current board.

The face of our staff is almost all brand new as well. Dean, Michele, and Cas ʻKauiʻ continued to hold it down while welcoming all the new faces in 2022. I know many of you will miss the crew that were the face of Hoʻokuaʻāina for so long. Not to worry, they are still around but have embarked on exciting new missions. We have been blessed to welcome back Benjamin Ah Sing who is our Farm Operations Specialist along with Kazu Akiona-Bannon. The two of them are in charge of all the kalo production and sales along with mentoring and teaching the thousands of kids who visit throughout the year. Rebecca Croft joined the team last summer as our Outreach Coordinator but also comes with great data collection and evaluation skills. Kaulana Kealoha-Hanawahine is one of our alakaʻi peer mentors who has worked his way through every level of programming at Hoʻokuaʻāina starting as a volunteer, then intern, and finally ASA apprentice now pursuing a Bachelors in Sustainable Food Systems from UH West Oahu. Ari Lunnow-Luke joined our team as well in the fall and is a tremendous asset to the whole team as she contemplates next steps to pursue her graduate degree. We have great confidence in this team and are ready to step into the next phase of growth and impact.

The two of us truly have so much to be thankful for.  We look to the future with great anticipation with the perspective that Hoʻokuaʻāina is only now beginning to hit its stride.  We firmly believe a true kuaʻāina is a person committed to the well-being of present and future generations.  A big part of this year’s strategic plan and goal setting will be to organize a financial campaign to garner the needed start-up capital to successfully begin the restoration of abundance back to the Palawai lands. We hope you will begin to dream with us about this ʻāina, its future prospects, and the exciting opportunities that lie ahead for generations to come.  We ask that you pule/contemplate how you can partner with us and support this effort moving forward. If you feel inclined, please reach out to discover ways you can get involved.

Blessings and aloha!

Me ka ha’aha’a,
Michele and Dean

Understanding Waiwai at Hoʻokuaʻāina

Vance shares his thoughts on what it is to measure waiwai at Kapalai

By: Vance Kaleohano Farrant

On December 18th, 2019, I sat down with Uncle Dean in the afternoon once he had finished working in the loʻi. We set two chairs down on the lawn and started to talk story. Uncle Dean has been good friends with my Uncle Ken since high school and college, and for a few years prior, I had been coming to the loʻi every now and then to volunteer. I was thinking about research project ideas as I entered the second half of my junior year in college. The timing of the meeting was perfect, as Uncle Dean began to tell me that he and Aunty Michele had been reflecting quite a lot on how to quantify the waiwai (value, wealth) of Hoʻokuaʻāina’s work in Kapalai, and how that sort of research could connect them to more partners within and beyond Hawaiʻi. Those questions of waiwai and storytelling resonated with me, and I was inspired to play a role in answering them.

Three years later, I feel grateful to say that I have interviewed 41 staff, interns, and other community members connected to Hoʻokuaʻāina. I have also facilitated an online survey and several group discussions with staff and interns. Hoʻokuaʻāina became the focus of my undergraduate thesis at Stanford University as well as my Master’s capstone project in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management at UH Mānoa, where I expect to graduate in Spring 2023. One exciting culmination of this work is a collection of essays about Hoʻokuaʻāina that tells the story of the organization’s waiwai through the voices of its community. I converted transcripts from several of my interviews into a form that would read well as a short essay. Then, I edited these essays with the interviewees, who are ultimately the authors. These essays are beautiful narratives that speak to the heart of Hoʻokuaʻāina. The Wilhelms and I look forward to sharing these essays and this collection more in the future to spread the wisdom and inspiration that they hold, grown in the lepo of Kapalai.

For me, this project has been one of the greatest honors of my life. School is sometimes frustrating, but working with Hoʻokuaʻāina has never been anything less than a profound joy. Part of my mom’s family goes back more than five generations in Kailua, including the Maunawili area specifically. Until a short time ago, my grandpa’s family had a farm right near where Hoʻokuaʻāina works today, and while I grew up in Paumalū on the north shore, we still always come to Tūtū’s house in Olomana every holiday. Hoʻokuaʻāina’s work honors all of the ancestors of Kapalai and the surrounding area, which was once abundant in kalo, and I am humbled to share the stories of this region and its caretakers today. Since the beginning of this project, the Wilhelms and I acknowledged that the process of understanding and communicating the waiwai of Hoʻokuaʻāina would take time. We still have only scratched the surface, and I hope that more people will be excited to join this journey.

Pilina and Poi: Kūpuna Program Update

Becca our Outreach Coordinator shares the story of our new Kupuna Program where we bring poi to them each poi week.

By: Becca Croft, Outreach Coordinator

Aloha, my name is Becca and I am the Outreach Coordinator at Ho’okua’āina. As we welcome the new year and cast our vision for the journey ahead, we would like to take a moment of reflection and gratitude for the growth of our Kūpuna program.

The program was first developed in 2020 in response to the first COVID-19 lockdown. St. Francis Medical Center contacted Hoʻokuaʻāina to host a virtual tour of the loʻi for kūpuna who were stuck at home and feeling isolated from ‘ohana and community. This initial workshop received overwhelming interest and support, planting the seeds for a new program at Hoʻokuaʻāina for kūpuna across the Koʻolau region to explore Hawaiian culture, connect with the community, and experience the beauty of the ʻāina.

Two years later, the program is blooming as we continue to host our virtual workshop series and are now able to gather in person for educational walking tours. Our workshops and tours focus on sharing ʻōlelo noʻeau, moʻolelo, kalo production practices, and programming updates. We always take time for hoʻolauna and look to traditional Hawaiian values and ʻike kūpuna for direction and solutions on how to carry ourselves as we navigate contemporary issues.

Many participants are also now returning poi customers, allowing us to continue to connect on a more regular basis. Another aspect of the program is the distribution of fresh poi and kalo pa’a to kūpuna in the Koʻolau region. Aunty Dolinda generously distributes our poi every other week to kūpuna at Kulanakauhale Maluhia O Na Kūpuna in Waimanalo. In 2022, we donated 1,983lbs of poi!

One of the biggest gifts of the program is the intergenerational pilina building between kūpuna and the ʻōpio in our mentorship program. We have seen great value in creating spaces for generations coming together to learn, grow, and support one another. Through meeting inspiring and hardworking young people, kūpuna expressed feeling nostalgia for their youth and hope for the future. Meanwhile, ʻōpio have been able to learn from the lived experiences of kūpuna. Lilinoe, a participant in our apprenticeship program, helped to lead one of the farm tours and shared “I was honored to be there and grateful to listen to their stories and perspectives. It was reassuring to hear that we are doing a good job and on the right track.”

Kau’i Asing, a Program Administrator from St. Francis Healthcare System of Hawai’i, is central to coordinating and generating interest in the program. Looking back on the past year, Kau’i reflected “Those who attended shared how they enjoyed a return to the outdoors, fresh air, and sunshine, and felt a strong nostalgia for the days of their youth. Others who attended the virtual presentation expressed an appreciation for the opportunity ‘to get in touch with [my] Hawaiian roots and enjoy the spirituality of the presentation.’ They especially appreciate hearing all the Hawaiian words and values as experienced by the alaka`i and ʻōpio. One attendee shared, ‘Every one of the presenters spoke from the heart, which was most touching.’ We see this Kūpuna Program as an integral part of our programming as it addresses environmental, cultural, social/emotional, and physical dimensions of wellness. The feedback from caregivers and kūpuna has been amazing and we are so pleased that the program will ho’omau.”

The Kūpuna Program has blessed our organization with grounding and guidance during times of uncertainty and transition. Mahalo nui for all of the ongoing support and participation in the program, ensuring more opportunities to share poi and pilina in 2023!

Coming Home: Reflection From An Intern

Ari is a kaikaina intern at Hookuaaina and shares her story of coming home to the lo'i

By: Ari Lunow-Luke, Kaikaina Intern

Aloha! My name is Ari and I am currently an alakaʻi intern at Hoʻokuaʻāina. While I am a new addition to the staff here, I have been coming to volunteer at Kapalai on and off for the past eight years. Despite an ongoing global pandemic and my decision to attend college all the way across the continental United States, I continued to return to Kapalai any chance I got.

Born and raised in Kailua, this place has always represented the abundance that my home ahupuaʻa could and should hold; an image of what Kailua could and should look like. To me, Kapalai is a place to return to: a safe gathering space, a welcoming community, and a way to imagine more abundant futures for Hawaiʻi.

Although the crew might be different now, I can definitively say that the sense of aloha I have always felt here, and the people this place seems to attract, remains the same. From Kazu and Kaulana always serenading us in the patch with their loʻi remixes, to Becca’s lively British accent, to Benji sharing his daily snacks, the community here is as comforting as always. Whenever we hoʻolauna, introduce ourselves as a staff and share our “why” for being here, we all tell different stories but share one commonality: we continue to return to Kapalai, continue to care for it, continue to show aloha for it, because it is our collective home.

Just like the process of hehi, stomping, and turning over the lepo to prepare a patch for the next cycle of growth, this new year brings with it new nutrients and abundance; excitement for what’s to come. As a staff, we are stoked for the new year, ready for whatever it brings, and confident in the resiliency of our community here. Because no matter what is thrown our way, we will continue to return, continue to steward and continue to aloha this place.

Lepo Lapa’au: ASA Reflection

Rain is part of our ASA Program and is in her first of two years at Hookuaaina

By: Rain Makekau, ASA Cohort 4 Participant

Aloha, my name is Rain and I am in my first year of the Ahupua’a Systems Apprenticeship program. I didn’t have any thought about going to college until I came across Ho’okua’aina on Instagram. I thought that I wouldn’t be able to pay for college and my mental health wasn’t doing too well either. So in the meantime, I just stuck to working. However, the program looked like it would be a perfect fit for me. I always knew I wanted to get into agriculture and Hawaiian studies. Upon our first day, I realized the atmosphere was something transformative. I felt like I opened a new door to the next steps in my life.

Initially, I wasn’t planning on making any friends. I was just there to work and go to school. However, over the course of the program, I gained many new friends and a huge support system. My cohort became so close by the time the summer term ended. I got to start college with the positive mindset that I am capable of getting my AA.

School aspect aside, the program also taught me life lessons through working in the kalo patch, and the ‘olelo no’eau we learn about with Uncle Dean. “Nani ke kalo” was the first thing we were taught and I immediately shared it with friends and family, and I continue to follow it. It reminds me to be aware of how I behave wherever I am and to be mindful. The hands-on work teaches me patience, self-discipline, and to put 100% into what I do. Cultivating and farming kalo is not easy. When we work in groups the work gets done quicker, but only if you work well with others.

This program has helped me in so many ways. It has helped me work better with my social anxiety, given me a space where I know who I can come to if anything were to happen and has made me hopeful for my future. The program has also flowed through me to my family. They are always excited to hear about how my day was at the lo’i and hear about what I learned.

I’m very thankful to have come across Ho’okua’aina. It’s an amazing organization and the people I’ve met are now more like family. I’d probably still be working at Target right now with no thought of college. Instead, I’m in the spring semester, of my first year of college towards getting my AA in Hawaiian studies and agriculture.

The Power of Poi

Story told by Audrey Nakamura
Transcribed by Vance Kaleohano Farrant

My family had a banana patch in Maunawili for 40 something years. My dad was first generation in Hawaiʻi, born in Okinawa. He didn’t have money, so he got a job as a janitor at Castle and Cooke. We worked the farm every single holiday vacation we ever had, and it was like home over there. For me, coming to Maunawili is like coming home. I grew up in Palama, on the same block as the Palama Settlement. I used to go to the Settlement for piano lessons. I actually took hula for a little while, and then sang in the children’s choir. They took us to Central Union Church to sing. We had to wear a pastel dress, and my mother said, “What’s a pastel dress?” We had to get out the dictionary and look up what pastel was! We needed to have shoes, so my mom had to buy me shoes. Everything was all strange and new, but it was eye opening and really worthwhile.

Aunty Audrey Nakamura

Momi is the person who first introduced me to the poi from Hoʻokuaʻāina. She told me, “Audrey, you gotta have this poi cause it’s the best one on the island.” I go, “Yeah right. Poi is poi.” Then she brought me some when I went to the dentist, because she was my teeth-cleaner. I said, “Oh my god, this is out of this world!” So I started going to Hoʻokuaʻāina. The poi that they produce here is the best tasting and makes everybody feel so good, including all the kūpuna. I used to know someone who was 98 years old, and she would really look forward to getting the poi every other week. A 93-year-old woman that I know was gonna give up driving and doing things, but her two daughters said that as soon as she sees the poi, she perks up, and then she’s walking and doing some exercises. Another 94-year-old woman told me that because she has the poi to eat, she gets up and does yoga in the morning. The poi gives her something to look forward to.

I didn’t grow up with poi. Japanese only eat rice! We only had poi once in a great while. My mom was a really healthy eater. She wouldn’t fry things, and she always baked or slow-cooked food. Poi was kinda expensive, too, so she only made rice. After a while, it was only brown rice, and she made sure we had more fruits. That’s when she began using a little bit of poi. But when she tasted the poi from here, she was like “Oh my god. Gotta have this one.” I tried the other kinds of poi, and we used to get the Hanalei poi, but the other ones are not even close to Hoʻokuaʻāina’s. My mom could recognize the difference, too. With her, I learned that when you eat good food, you feel better and your health gets better, too.

Recently, one of my friends that I deliver poi to had six university students from his daughter’s volleyball team on the continent visiting and staying at his house. When I dropped the poi off, he said, “My god, they don’t know what a treat they’re getting! And they’re getting the real poi and the real taste of Hawaiian kalo and stuff.” His daughter was jumping up and down in the garage. She couldn’t stay still! The mother was busy inside, and as soon as she saw me, she jumped up and came running, saying “Thank you for bringing the poi! But not only for the kids. We get to eat a little bit, too!” I laughed! They’re more happy to see the poi and kalo than they are to see me!

That family has always appreciated the poi tremendously. The parents said that they tried hiding the poi, so they didn’t have to share, and I said, “What?!” Both of them are educators, and I started laughing. I said, “You have that side to your personality?” He said, “I was trying my best to hide it, but I couldn’t succeed. I didn’t give with an open heart, but I gave with a really closed heart.” I just started laughing and laughing. I said, “This is what you teaching your students?!” He said, “No! But I’m teaching them what stuff is good!”

The people that I drop off poi to, they’re all different in education and age, yet you can see how much they all enjoy the poi. When I come, it’s not me—it’s the poi and the kalo that they happy to see. They tell me that they always feel so much healthier and happier. People I know in town think that this place is really country and really far. I tell them, “It’s right at the beginning of Maunawili. You guys don’t even go into Maunawili?” They’re like, “That’s far to go over the Pali.” I say, “What?! Ah, I’ll just pick it up and then drop it off for you.” But I have quite a round of deliveries. I’ll start with about 30 bags of kalo paʻa and 30 bags of poi, and I’ll drop off in Waimānalo, Keolu Hills, Hawaii Kai, Niu Valley, Wilhelmina Rise, downtown by the old stadium, and Pauoa valley. I feel like Santa Clause! Then I give to people at my office. I give poi to the maintenance people because they always working so hard and doing extra things for me. I ask them, “You guys do it for the poi?” They joke and say, “Of course! We not doing it for you!” At least they’re honest!

All of the workers at the office wait for me to come. I used to only give the supervisor and his assistant, but then the workers started jumping in to volunteer. They’d say, “If it’s for Audrey I’ll go!” So I said, “Okay, I gotta bring a batch for the workers.” They started introducing themselves to me, saying things like, “I’ve been working here three years already, you know, and I’m the one that did this and that,” because they’re trying to get poi, and I just laugh! One time the supervisor’s assistant saw me in the lobby at work and told me, “Audrey, anything you want, you just ask!” It’s interesting how the poi can change people a lot. The relationships and interactions change so much. The supervisor’s assistant said that since I started sharing poi with his work crew, they are a lot more open. They see me coming, and they’re running to the elevator to hold it open for me, but I see them doing it for other people, too! It’s so neat to see that the good food can bring out the goodness in people.

I tell people that the vibration here is very different, if you just come and see. I was telling one of the people that I deliver to, “You gotta go and experience it.” His daughter-in-law has come here before, so he told her, “Next time you go, you better bring me!” His son went wild when I shared some poi with him, because he has that Hawaiian side, yeah? His mother was hundred percent Hawaiian, so they ate poi growing up. He sent poi to his half brother in Iowa who is Hawaiian. He told me that he mailed it, and I go, “What?!” He said, “The thing is so good and so different, I had to do it!” He also gives poi to a retired policeman next door who is on hospice care with cancer, and I think he knows two other people that are pretty much ending their lives, but they’re eating the poi. He said “You see their faces when they get the poi, and it’s really worth it.”

It’s the same for me when I deliver poi and see how happy people are. Usually I’m pounding away at their bodies, giving deep massages. The guy who sent the poi to his brother in Iowa says that he remembers wanting to run away and not ever come back to my office because the massage I gave him was so painful. Then, he walked out and forgot his crutches in my office. He was walking to the elevator, and I yelled out his name and said, “You forgot something!” He says, “What did I forget?” When he saw the crutches I said, “I can make some money from this if I sell it…” He looked at me and said, “Oh, you funny!” After the massage, he didn’t even remember that he had walked into the office with the crutches. It’s kinda similar to giving people poi. You give them something, and then they feel so good they can’t even understand what happened.

Interacting with the people like Dean, Michele, Makana, and Ethan makes me feel connected to this place, along with eating the poi. All of the people here are really open and want to do the best that they can. One time, Ethan was valet parking at a restaurant, and he came running up to me. He said, “I know you!” He is usually busy when I pick up poi, so I don’t see him often. I looked at him with his mask on, and I said, “How do you know me?” Then he looked at me and said, “I’m the one that’s pounding the poi!” I go, “What? Pull down your mask. But even if you do, I wouldn’t know you!” He started laughing.            

I think the most valuable thing about this group is where they are coming from, in just serving and being the best that they can. That hits home for me. They are giving 100 percent. I think a lot of businesses are more motivated by money, but it’s never been like that here. Never. Your love has to go into the poi. If not, the poi wouldn’t taste the same. Absolutely not. I have friends that brought people to work in the loʻi, and they got soaked in the mud and water. I didn’t hear one person say anything negative, which made me want to open up more possibilities for other people. They all said that they felt so much better after, like they got cleansed from the inside out. I feel that when I eat the poi, too. I always feel better, and just so lucky. I feel happy watching this place grow. I get chicken skin when I see the view of the loʻi. Everything looks so nice. I’m happy that it’s spreading, and that it’s gonna have more people enjoying it. It feels

Edited by Vance Kaleohano Farrant

Ka Piko o Kapalai

November 20, 2021

Aloha mai kākou,

Itʻs amazing that 2021 is already coming to a close! Like everyone, we have done our best to navigate through this year and hope you all are doing well during these most challenging of times. In spite of the difficulties, we are grateful for the many highlights. Here are just a few from Kapalai we would like to share with you.  

Although many businesses were adversely affected during the shutdown, we were fortunate to find a way to continue operations and meet the high demand for kalo and poi. As we close out 2021, it looks to be another record year for production with over 30,000 lbs of kalo harvested contributing to Hawaiʻi’s food security.

In regards to programming this past year, one important lesson that we learned while running our Ahupuaʻa Systems Apprenticeship (ASA) program was how vitally important it was for our 13 participants to have a safe space to connect with others and find support through their college journey. Many shared how difficult it was to be isolated in their homes while trying to navigate college online and life in general. This gave us clarity on the importance of ASA and renewed our commitment to expand the program to provide the opportunity to more students. In 2022, we will be working with Windward Community College to recruit for Cohort 4 and onboard new community organizations to offer the apprenticeship program in new locations.

One exciting development in 2021 was the completion of a traditional Hawaiian hale. Under the direction of Kupuna Earl Kawaʻa, construction was completed this summer. It was an incredible opportunity for our staff, apprentices, board members, volunteers and other organizations to learn the traditional process of building. This beautiful structure has now become the gathering place and piko of our ʻāina. It has been a pleasure to see this vision fulfilled and now have a place to properly host the many groups who visit. In August, we began to slowly host groups in our Kupuohi education and Kaiāulu community programs once again. What a blessing it has been to see the faces, hear the laughter and feel the energy of social interaction!

So what is ahead for 2022? We plan to come out of the blocks hard in January with renewed vision and intention to challenge ourselves to improve as an organization. With the help of our board and a few dedicated consultants, we have begun the process of organizational evaluation and strategic planning as we prepare to purchase 100 acres of ʻāina in Maunawili (stay tuned for the update next year!).

These exciting developments would not be possible without your kokua. It is many of you who support and encourage us to carry on with our mission to meet the most important needs in our community. During this giving season we humbly ask for you to consider sowing into the future of our organization. 100% of your donation enables Hoʻokuaʻāina to continue programs and services for at-risk youth, struggling families, students and our precious kūpuna.

Mahalo nui for your continued generosity and consideration. If we are unable to thank you in person, we send you our aloha filled with prayers of peace, health, and waiwai during this season and all the year through.

Me ke aloha nui,
Dean and Michele Wilhelm
Co-Founders and Directors

A Letter From Our Director – Oct. 2021

Aloha kākou,

It’s been a long time and so much has happened since our last newsletter back in March 2020! Like everyone on the planet, we have done our best to navigate through the pandemic and hope each one of you are doing the best you can through these most challenging of times. I would like to share a few of Hoʻokuaʻāinaʻs highlights during this period as well as discuss what I believe to be the mindset of health and well-being from the perspective of our kūpuna to encourage us all.

ASA- Ahupua Systems Apprenticeship

ASA day one new cohort 3

With the guidance and kōkua from our good friends at MAʻO Farms, after three years of planning and a pilot year to work out the kinks, and despite all the uncertainty and unknowns at the beginning of the pandemic, we chose to forge ahead and move forward with implementing our Ahupuaʻa Systems Apprenticeship (ASA) program in partnership with Windward Community College (WCC) in June of 2020. This is a two-year leadership development program which aims to encourage Windward Oʻahu public school graduates to further their formal education by providing tuition at WCC along with a paid internship at Hoʻokuaʻāina. While instilling participants with life skills, work ethics, ʻike kūpuna (ancestral knowledge), and hands-on experience in the production of food through the cultivation of kalo, we see our most important role in ASA as providing a support system for each student’s educational journey. The challenges, especially online learning, have been real for our participants and program over the last year and a half. We continue to learn and adapt to provide the best programming possible and are pleased to report that our successes have far outweighed the challenges. We could have easily canceled the program because of Covid. Still, We would have foregone the benefits of experiencing the growth and development of each participant while providing them a safe and supportive space to help them navigate the difficulties of this time. 26 windward graduates have participated in the program over the last 3 years. Our first 2 in the pilot program graduated and are now pursuing 4-year degrees in business and aeronautical science. Currently, we have 13 apprentices in Cohort 2 and 3 and will be ramping up for recruitment of Cohort 4 in the spring. If you know of any Windward seniors who might be interested, send them our way!


The crew up on the hale structure

The second Hoʻokuaʻāina highlight of the season began in the fall of 2019 with the construction of a traditional Hawaiian hale after years of envisioning with Uncle Earl Kawaʻa, who taught us how to build and who led out the project. Earlier that year, with the generous help from our friends at Paepae o Heʻeia, we gathered mangrove wood and set the posts of our hale in the ground in January of 2020. Well, of course, Covid hit shortly after that, and our hale project was put on hold. We waited over a year before really doing much until Uncle Earl (supported by Kamehameha Schools) was ready to begin again. From the beginning of April until mid-August 2021, we worked diligently to complete the hale while continuing our other programming. It was an action-packed spring and summer, to say the least, and we wrapped up the project with no time to spare the day before the blessing and celebration of our new hale on August 14th. The hale is truly amazing and far more beautiful than I had envisioned. We could not have done it without Uncle Earl and mahalo Ke Akua for him and all the many hands that took part in itʻs creation! It is now the piko of Kapalai and our main gathering spot that we hope you will one day come and experience. 


Kaulana and Haylie having fun while cleaning kalo

Regarding health and well-being, we often share and speak about Lōkahi and living in a personal and communal place of harmony, balance, and unity. From the perspective of our kūpuna, Lōkahi can only be achieved through our intentional and ongoing relationship with Ke Akua, our fellow kanaka, and the ʻāina and kai. This holistic view of health and well-being acknowledges that we are made up of body, mind, and spirit and encourages the necessity to mālama all aspects of ourselves. 

While I try not to get caught up in the news (which often gives me a feeling of angst), I am troubled by the current focus and black and white debate on health and well-being centered on masks and Covid shots. It’s as if our health and well-being have been dumbed down and reduced to just that. Few people seem to be talking about the holistic outlook our kūpuna had. For instance, pule is essential to our physical health. Similarly, being outdoors and connecting physically with the beautiful ʻāina we’ve been blessed with nourishes our mental and spiritual state as well. It’s all interconnected. Whether we have taken the Covid shot or not, and I completely respect both choices, the primary defense we have against any sickness is our immune system. It’s well known that tension and stress hinder our immune system and that what we choose to ingest into our bodies is key to building its strength. As they say, food is medicine. I purposely and regularly eat sour poi, drink noni as a tonic and take olena in many forms as examples of preventative remedies our kūpuna used for their overall health. During this time, it seems we have forgotten that Covid is not the only thing we can get sick and die from. I heard a figure that, on average, people in the US gained 14 lbs. during the pandemic (I put on pounds during the onset of it myself). And we all know that excessive weight adds to a plethora of potential sickness and disease. Yet it seems as if discussions about the core to our physical health such as eating right and exercise have been sidelined, not to mention talk about the negative effects to our emotional well-being due to the lack of face to face (alo i ke alo) human social interaction. I could go on and on. 

ASA crew in the loi

All this said, while we are living in an extremely challenging time, we must not lose sight of the age-old wisdom and example of health and well-being our kūpuna modeled and established for us. Unfortunately, there is no magic pill that can rectify the pandemic we are in, and it seems we will be living with Covid for some time. While I by no means contend to have the answers, I am convinced our kūpuna gave us an example and framework of how to live and thrive. The most important component being Aloha. Let us always remember this, lead out all we do and say with Aloha, and look forward with hope while utilizing the ʻike of our kūpuna to guide us onward. I pray for you and your ʻohanaʻs health and well-being.

Me ke Aloha pumehana,

ASA Program Update – Oct. 2021

Nani Ka Hale

Written By Maile Daniels, 2nd year Cohort 2

Maile ASA Cohort 2 Participant cutting raw kalo

This summer has been one of the most eye-opening summers I’ve had by far. I’ve felt myself progress in many aspects of my life, physically, mentally, and emotionally. This has been a rough year for all of us in more ways than one, but like all things in life, there is good in everything. This past summer has been so rewarding. When summer first started, we all finally got to meet the new Cohort- and they are nothing short of amazing! They are a group of smart, kind, and hardworking individuals and it’s been such a joy to work alongside them. But with them coming to join us, myself, and I’m sure many others, felt a huge obligation to make sure this new cohort had good people to look to for help, in any aspect further than just work. When I first started this program, I remember that I’d sort of shadow everyone that worked there. I’d use them as examples and take any advice they had for me. That being said, there was the slight chance that this new cohort looks at me and my cohort in the same light, so I wanted to make sure I was a person worth coming to for anything. Once I realized this I feel that I changed my attitude at work from learning to help myself to learning to help others. I’m very grateful to have been put in many situations where I had to teach this summer. It’s definitely something out of my comfort zone but it’s taught me more than I could imagine. I’m more conscious of my actions, my words, my attitude, and my energy. I’m still learning- as we all are, but I’m grateful for this new cohort as they taught me a lot more than I could’ve ever expected.

Another highlight of this summer was being able to learn the traditional Hawaiian building of hale alongside Uncle Earl Kawaʻa, the Wilhelm’s and many others. This was truly a once in a lifetime experience and I made sure to soak in all that I could. Uncle Earl is a very wise man and being able to learn under him was amazing. I have never seen a hale being built nor have I ever had any experience in hale building so participating in this process was nothing short of humbling. The first day I got to go up on the hale and work, Uncle Earl told me, “you’re learning today to teach tomorrow” and at first that put a lot of pressure on me because teaching others is a huge kuleana that I wasn’t sure I was ready to take on. But over time my confidence built up and looking back, I am so so grateful to have been able to teach volunteers, and some of my friends in the program. The hale is now completed and it is so incredibly breathtaking, I am so grateful to have been a part of it. We might’ve built the hale, but in many ways, the hale also built me.

I have been able to do a lot of reflecting on this past summer and I’ve realized that I’ve implemented a lot of what I’ve learned from work, to my personal life. I can feel myself growing everyday into the woman I know I can become. I have so much more to learn in my lifetime but I can say, without a doubt, that this summer has been one of growth for me. And for that I am so thankful…

My Little Kīpuka 

Written By Kaiewa Leota, 1st year Cohort 3

I would like to start off by saying that coming into ASA I wasn’t expecting to fall for the program as I did. It helped to better myself in all aspects of my life because I was taught that if there is something in my life that isn’t going too well it will reflect in my work for everything else, it kept me active and in tune with my culture. I created not just friends but a family and people who will accept and support me through any journey. I have learned how important it is to be taking care of the ʻĀina because it will take care of you in return in many more ways than I could do for it. It’s helped me learn balance, and moving forward into my adulthood I have been so blessed to be able to be surrounded by people who will uplift me. There had only been laughs and good times and a lot of working on myself. ASA has helped me on my journey with confidence and how to be vocal with my manaʻo. I’m excited to see where this program will take me and I know it will take me far and I can’t be anymore thankful for this little kīpuka that I have in my life now.

Ka Piko o Kapalai – Oct. 2021

Written By Mahie Wilhelm

At the junction of the Kaloʻs hā and lau lies the piko. This is the navel of the plant. An indispensable connection that tethers the ʻiʻo at the base of the kalo to the outstretched alo of the lau. I ke kau ʻana o ka lā i ke alo o ka lau, momona ka ʻiʻo. When the sun beams down on the leaf, the corm becomes rich because of its connection to the lau through the piko. Hāloa teaches us that without a piko, intricate systems that bind us together would collapse.

Much like the kalo, at the center of Kapunawaiola o Kapalai now stands our piko. Seven years ago a vision was planted to build a hale where our community can gather and fellowship. Under the leadership and teachings of Uncle Earl Kawaʻa, countless hands came together to set the foundation and build this piko. A piko that will connect kanaka to ʻāina and akua, an essential junction for our wellbeing. A piko where moʻolelo will be told, lessons will be taught, and our keiki will laugh and play under the protection of the malu. A piko where, regardless of where you come from or your background, you will feel welcomed and restored. This hale is the navel of Kapalai.

The Mark of a New Season – Oct. 2021

Written By Kealohi Wong, farm co-manager

Itʻs been an interesting past couple of months witnessing the growth and transformation of Kapalai. We have a new cohort of ASA interns who have become a part of our big Hoʻokuaʻāina family. With the mundane work of loʻi, itʻs so refreshing to have a new bunch of faces and conversations to engage in. They each bring their own unique flavor, and I have loved getting to know each and every one of them. Already in their first 10 week session this past summer, so much growth has occurred and itʻs humbling to be able to see it first hand.

Watching our second year ASA interns step into positions of leadership, and modeling for them is amazing. We can spread out across the different patches and tackle different tasks all in a day, and having them lead out helps to take the load off us farm managers. Thereʻs been a couple of memorable days I’ve had with our crew. One day, with about 8 of us, we harvested and cleared out all of the remaining 350# of kalo from Rachel patch (our second biggest patch at Kapalai), and ripped out all the weeds. We were cranking and moving–it felt great to look back and makaluhi (reflect with satisfaction) at our hard work.

With the building of the Hale, a good chunk of resources, hands and time was directed to that project–but it didn’t stop the weeds from growing! As we get back into the groove of loʻi kalo duties and stewarding land, it’s a breathtaking sight to look up at the Hale standing right in the piko of Kapalai. Sometimes I cannot believe there’s a Hale there. I remember when I first started in 2018, it was all just black plastic and there was talk of us putting a hale here and what not. Uncle Dean would share about the African Tulip trees that were removed, and all the clearing it took to get the area opened up. I remember probably 500 wheelbarrow loads each weighing at least 200 lbs of mud being dumped and leveled. We built a Hawaiian Crane which lifted the 800 lb posts and then Covid started, and they sat there….for about a year. I remember the logs being harvested from Kapaa Quarry, Paepae and Puʻuloa, loads and loads of it. I remember the grass being planted, and the debarking of logs, sanding, grinding, lifting, bending, tying and re-tying. The stress of whether or not weʻd have enough loulu to thatch with, and the loads that came in days before our end goal date. I remember the many hands who helped, and the new friendships and connections formed from working alongside each other towards the same goal. I could go on and on!! Long story short: building a hale ain’t easy!

I write this because if you’ve ever come to the loʻi, then you can probably attest to the welcoming and healing, the ‘aloha’, this place exudes. When you drive along the gravel road and look out, for a slight moment, the stresses of life go still and you sort of forget it all. At least for me, I am in awe–oh! and then I see all the weeds we gotta pull! But in all seriousness, the loʻi is a place where I continue to heal, strengthen and grow. I know it also serves as similar purposes for many others. Yet now, in 2021 and for many more to come, we have a physical representation of all the goodness, and homey-ness Kapalai provides, and it is what you see when you look at the Hale. I am so grateful to have been a part of this season at Hoʻokuaʻāina, to see the complete transformation and growth of Kapalai. It also marks a season for myself, of growth and renewal, and I find tremendous power in myself knowing that I contributed to a momentous chapter and project. The next one is unwritten in our eyes, but I cannot wait to see what’s in store here at Kapalai.

Kaiāulu (Volunteers) – Oct. 2021

Written By Makana Wilhelm, Outreach & Education Coordinator

Sophia (12) and Cale (15) are our youth volunteers at Kapalai

Meet our dedicated young volunteers Sophia (12yr) and Cael (15yr). Sophia is from Maunawili and has taken it upon herself to dedicate her Saturdays to building connections to the ʻāina, culture, and people here at Kapalai. She says, “There’s a lot of kids nowadays that are just glued to their phone all the time. Sometimes you just need to get outside and experience your own culture.”

Cael – living in Kāneʻohe, has taken it upon himself to learn more about the Hawaiian culture, team-work, and leadership through the cultivation of Kalo here at Kapalai. Cael says, “Apart from the agricultural knowledge being taught here, one of the deeper things you learn here is about teamwork, and about encouraging others to get the work done. You learn from people like Paul or Uncle Dean how to lead in different ways while still cultivating a really welcoming environment.”

Mahalo to these two for continuing to inspire and encourage us. The future is bright for this next generation.

We invite you to join us in uplifting our community.

December 4th, 2020

Aloha mai kākou,

As we all know, 2020 has indeed been a year full of challenges and adversity for many. Like everyone, we at Hoʻokuaʻāina are trying our hardest to pivot and adapt to the times to best meet the needs of our surrounding communities while continuing to fulfill the mission close to our hearts: to empower youth, especially those at risk, and strengthen community through the cultivation of kalo.

Since March, when the effects of the pandemic began to unfold here in Hawaiʻi, we were blessed to be deemed an essential business, thus able to continue the vital production of kalo. Although we had halted poi production, the sudden increase in demand for raw kalo caught us off guard. In addition to new orders, we became aware of the need in our communities to increase access to healthy food, and partnered with Hui Mālama o ke Kai and Hoʻoulu ʻĀina to provide nearly 5000 pounds of kalo to distribute to struggling families. Amidst the challenges of this unprecedented time, the silver lining is a heightened awareness of Hawaiʻi’s food insecurity and an increased desire in individuals to grow food. We seized upon this and organized huli drives to encourage families to grow their own kalo, while offering tutorials to support their success. The response has been overwhelming. People are more excited than ever and determined to learn to grow their own food. Since May, we have given out over 10,000 huli to over 500 families across the island, many of them first time growers.

All of our other programming had to quickly shift as well. In March, 48 groups canceled their visits and our fully booked calendar was suddenly erased. The loss of physical connection and increased isolation were the most common hardships expressed by our regular visitors. We needed to quickly shift our focus as an organization to address this immediate concern for the mental health of our loved ones. Again, we saw another opportunity, and videos and virtual lessons became a new medium for many to connect with the staff and ʻāina they had built pilina with over the years. As a result, our reach and impact has grown. One of the gems that has emerged from this time is a new wellness workshop series in partnership with St. Francis Wellness Center that we offer to our beloved kūpuna.

Thankfully, our internship and Ahupuaʻa Systems Apprenticeship (ASA) programs safely continue without restriction, which helps us meet the demand for kalo. Twelve apprentices will successfully complete their first semester of full-time college this month, while two others who started last year are on their way to receiving their degree in May. All of them work in the loʻi at least 10-15 hours per week and have truly become a part of the Hoʻokuaʻāina ʻohana as we support them through their educational and life journey.

In this season, we are most grateful for those of you who support and encourage us to continue striving to meet the most important needs in our community. Understand that you are a vital part of this work and that we could not do it without you. 100% of your unrestricted donation this year enables Hoʻokuaʻāina to continue programs and services for at-risk youth, struggling families, students and our precious kūpuna.

Until we are able to meet again face-to-face, we send you our aloha filled with prayers of peace, health, and waiwai during this season and all the year through.

Me ke aloha nui,
Dean and Michele

ʻĀina Curry | Kapalai Kitchen x

Aina Curry by Meakala

There are so many ways to incorporate food you’ve grown in your backyard or bought from your favorite local farmer into your everyday meals. What are your favorite ingredients? What do you love to make? #growfood #supportlocal

We are blessed to have our “resident chef” (Meakala) cooking up delicious, healthy, easy recipes for us!

This ʻĀina Curry includes kalo, ʻulu, eggplant, ʻōlena and limes straight from the ʻāina of Kapalai. Not only is this a simple and delicious meal, but it is super healthy and affordable! It is much cheaper if you grow these ingredients yourself, but if not, the cost per value is a lot more affordable to buy these ingredients from the store and prepare the meal yourself, rather than going out to dinner. The amount that I cooked was enough to feed my family of 6. If you calculate the cost of all ingredients and divide this by 6, then you will find that this is a lot more affordable than taking your family out to dinner. For more information, check out the recipe below!


Total Prep Time: 1 ½ hours (including the steaming of kalo and ulu)

Total Cooking Time: 20 min

8 Healthy Servings

  • 2 cups steamed kalo (cubed)
  • 2 cups steamed ulu (cubed)
  • 3 average size Japanese eggplant
  • 3 tbsp. avocado oil1 med size onion1 bunch kale4 Tbsp fresh grated ʻōlena (turmeric) (if dry then 1 tbsp.)
  • 4 8oz cans coconut milk
  • 2 tbsp. Thai curry paste
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • Hawaiian Salt to taste
  • 1 lime


  1. Saute chopped onion with avocado oil, add curry paste, grated ʻōlena, and chopped garlic. Continue to saute for 5 minutes.
  2. Add coconut milk to sauteed spices and onions. Let simmer for a few minutes then add eggplant. Cover and simmer for 2 min.
  3. Add-in already steamed kalo and ulu. Cover and simmer for another 5 min.
  4. Turn off the heat. Stir in chopped kale and the juice of one lime. Salt to taste. Let sit for 5 min. The kalo and ulu will soak up a lot of the liquid. Add a little water or chicken broth if too thick.
  5. E ʻai! (then eat!) I māʻona ka ʻōpū (until your stomach is content).

*This recipe is intended to be eaten alone no rice needed.

Kilo with Kapalili Journal

We as kānaka, or people, have a kuleana to serve and to care well for the ʻāina we are given to steward. It is both a responsibility and a privilege. In order to mālama (care for) anyone well, a relationship must be cultivated. Through kilo, or observations, and by spending time caring for and cultivating ʻāina, we learn better what it needs. 

As we learn from Papakū Makawalu, kilo is to observe with our whole selves using all of our senses. Kilo is the foundation for understanding, knowing, acknowledging, becoming involved with the systems of this natural world.

Papakū Makawalu organizes our environment into three areas.

  • Papahulilani is the space from above the head to where the stars sit. The clouds, rain, wind, sun, moon, and stars.
  • Papahulihonua includes the natural earth and ocean and its development, transformation, and evolution by natural causes. The dirt, rocks, mud, our seas, and freshwater.
  • Papahānaumoku includes everything that moves from the embryonic state of all life forces to death. It is the birthing cycle of all flora and fauna inclusive of man. The plants, animals, and people.

Join Kumu Dani as we kilo our space here at Kapalai. Be sure to download our kilo journal (available in English & Hawaiian) and start to kilo your space today. It is amazing what we can learn when we stop and observe for a moment.

Kilo Journal – English

Download our Kilo Journal in English

Click to download the kilo journal – English

Kilo Journal – Hawaiian

Download our kilo journal in Hawaiian

Click to download the kilo journal – Hawaiian

Additional Journal Pages

Source: Edith Kanakaʻole Foundation: Papakū Makawalu.

Letter from the Director – July 21st, 2020

Drone shot of Hoʻokuaʻāina

Aloha Mai Kākou,

I hope everyone is enjoying their summer! My last newsletter over three months ago was quite dire regarding the need for us all to be socially responsible in the face of mitigating COVID 19 with the mindset of preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. I think it safe to say that while we have indeed been impacted by this pandemic, we are moving through it far better than what has taken place in many other parts of the world. We still need to be vigilant and work through the negative fallout, but can indeed be thankful and commend ourselves for our response. Mahalo ke Akua!

While many businesses and organizations had to shut down due to the circumstances of COVID 19, we actually became busier than ever. As an essential service and the largest producer of kalo on the island of Oʻahu, we focused more keenly on ramping up our production efforts. For safety reasons, we ceased making poi and hosting groups but kept our staff working and through stimulus money hired 14 temporary interns for eight weeks who helped us in the effort to grow more food. We indeed experienced a significant rise in demand for kalo and, through the support and partnership with other organizations, sought to help our community by feeding people, donating kalo, and giving out thousands of huli for others to plant. We also continued to maintain our education program and connection with our partnering schools and students through outreach and online learning, and because our amazing Cassie Nichols thought it was time, she, along with the help of Michele and Dani, redid our website! In spite of the uncertainty of how to navigate and move forward during this time, we commenced with our Ahupua’a Systems Apprenticeship Program in partnership with Windward Community College, and on June 8th welcomed 13 participants from four of our Windward highschools. We will be working with them for the next two years providing them a place to learn and work while supporting them through their post-high educational journey. Like everyone, we’ve also been adjusting to virtual communicating and learning. I must confess, I long to return to the pre-zoom call days and not having to subject people to hearing my voice or seeing my face online! My continued apologies.

As we all know, seasons change. For three years we’ve had the privilege of having Dani Espiritu as our Education Specialist. She is an amazing teacher who not only developed relationships with so many schools, teachers and students, but also lives out her values, the same that Hoʻokuaʻāina seeks to embody, through her teaching and manner. In June, she transitioned out of her position with us as a staff member to finish her doctoral dissertation. We will be forever grateful to her many contributions and she will be greatly missed, yet will always be a part of our Hoʻokuaʻāina ʻohana.

As Dani transitioned out, we knew it would be extremely difficult to fill her shoes. Instead of trying to hire for her position, we created a new position- Education and Outreach Coordinator. We are pleased to announce the hiring of Makana Wilhelm, a recent graduate from the Hawaiian Studies and Language program at UH Hilo. Makana brings to the team fresh and innovative perspectives and ideas to engage with our community. She is helping to navigate the challenges of virtual learning and our connection with the schools and community groups we have built relationships with who have not been able to visit us physically during this time. In addition, she adds greater depth to our Hawaiian culture and language foundation of teaching as well as her intimate understanding of the mission and purpose of Hoʻokuaʻāina. We believe she will challenge us and help us grow as an organization.

We are so looking forward to the time when we can have groups return and make poi again. Until things open up and we are able to do so, please continue to engage with us on our social media sites. (@hookuaaina) Connecting with us in this manner means so much because in-person relationships (pilina) and experiential engagement are some of our most important values. If we canʻt meet face to face, at least we can connect in this manner. E mālama ʻoe i kou kino! (take care of your health)

Aloha no,

Education and Outreach Update: July 2020

Written By Makana Wilhelm – Education and Outreach Coordinator

Kilo and Kalo event at Hui Mālama o ke Kai with Mālama Honua PCS and Blanche Pope Elementary

Aloha nui e ka mea heluhelu, 

With schools closing down in March because of COVID-19, we wanted to find ways to continue connecting with our students while they were stuck at home. In our Kupuohi program, many of the schools visit 4 times during the year with the final quarter being the culminating lesson where students get a chance to kuʻi the kalo they have been caring for all year long. It is the most exciting of the 4 visits and the one returning students look forward to the most. You can imagine their disappointment when all of the schools had to cancel their final visit for the year. In total, 19 school visits were canceled due to COVID. Because we have worked hard to build these connections with the students and their families, we chose to find creative ways to continue connecting with our students and teachers in the Kupuohi program. We quickly shifted our focus to create virtual learning opportunities through live feeds with our staff so keiki could talk to familiar faces on the farm. Several tutorial videos were created by staff demonstrating the various tasks around kalo cultivation. A fun virtual farm tour was produced that the keiki really enjoyed with their ʻohana.  All of these helped us to strengthen the relationship already established throughout the year and also make the best of a tragic situation. 

Join us as we give you a tour of the farm at Kapalai where we grow our kalo in addition to other crops and where we run all programming for our non-profit Hoʻokuaʻāina.

 Aside from school groups being canceled, it was pretty much business as usual for our staff and interns. Deemed an essential service during the COVID crisis, Hoʻokuaʻāina continued to work hard to supply our community with kalo. Without our normal school and community group visits, we have had an opportunity to really reflect on how essential growing kalo is. The demand for kalo has doubled in the past 3 months which has been record breaking for us, so much so that we had to stop taking individual orders for a few weeks in order for the patches to catch up. After each bountiful harvest, we have had more than enough huli (kalo cuttings for replanting) to share with farmers, keiki, and ʻohana who are eager to plant kalo in their backyards.

Meakala shows simple ways to plant kalo (huli) in your home garden or in a pot if you don’t have space in the ground.

One of the incredible outcomes of the crisis was that we were able to donate over one thousand pounds of kalo (thanks to the Consuelo Foundation and the Omidyar Foundation) directly to the students and families of Mālama Honua PCS and Blanche Pope Elementary. Along with the cooked kalo, we provided families with huli (kalo cuttings for planting) and an observation journal created by our team called “Kilo with Kapalili” for keiki to track the growth of their kalo and to build a relationship with their environment through kilo (scientific observation). In the month of May, we gave away over 3,000 huli to families from every moku (district) on Oʻahu. The response and gratitude we experienced from the recipients was overwhelming. We witnessed how empowering it is for kānaka to be able to plant and eat kalo straight from their own garden which has been truly inspiring for our Hoʻokuaʻāina ʻohana. 

As for what’s next, we are still unsure what programs will look like with the ongoing pandemic. However, we are committed to continuing our attempt to connect virtually through video content, lessons, activities, and opportunities for students and the community to engage with the work here at Kapalai. 

Rachel and Keliʻa are here to share our process of fertilizing kalo at Kapalai.
Here at Kapalai, we weed a certain way to ensure that our pu’e (mounds) and our kalo can thrive. Here are some of the do’s and don’ts.

‘Ōlelo Hawai’i

In the month of June, we started to be more intentional about the implementation and usage of Hawaiian language into our everyday work life. Being a culture and ʻāina based organization, we recognize that it is important that we continue to utilize the words and phrases that our kūpuna once used to connect to their ʻāina on a daily basis. Through the Hawaiian language, we are able to deepen our understanding of Hāloa and broaden our perspective as people of Hawaiʻi. We have started with simple words that people can remember for everyday tasks and tools such as:

  • Pākeke – bucket
  • Kopalā – shovel
  • Kanu – to plant
  • Huki – to pull, harvest
  • Waele – to weed
  • Nāhelehele – weeds
  • ʻŌhule – bald (because our managers feel that it is imperative we all know how to describe Uncle Deanʻs bald head in Hawaiian when he walks by)

In addition, we have started a weekly workshop series called Papa Hāloa, led by Kumu Kaipoʻi Kelling, where moʻolelo is shared to further our understanding about kalo drawing from the pool of rich resources we have from scholars and kupuna. 

We wish to create a safe and inclusive space to continue to practice the language of this land and grow together as a community of kuaʻāina. We look forward to including the larger community once this season of COVID-19 has settled a bit. 

Program Update: July 2020

Written By Rachel Kapule – Program Coordinator

He ʻaʻaliʻi ku makani mai au; ʻaʻohe makani nana e kulaʻi. ʻŌN #507
I am a wind-resisting ʻaʻaliʻi; no gale can push me over. 

These past few months have been challenging for us all, as many of our daily routines were thrown off balance. For those in school, classes were transitioned online and students had to learn how to adapt. None of us could have anticipated or prepared for this. But despite all the adversity, our ASA pilot cohort stood firm like the ʻaʻaliʻi tree; they finished the semester strong and had officially completed their first year at Windward Community College and Hoʻokuaʻāina.

Our Ahupuaʻa Systems Apprenticeship (ASA) program was designed to educate and cultivate the next generation of people committed to living the values and practices of a once sustainable island food system. It is a collaborative opportunity for students to gain hands-on experience and earn a stipend while starting their college career at WCC. Paul and Mikey are a part of our pilot cohort that began last year. It has been amazing to watch them step into leadership positions and share their experiences with the new cohort one that began just a few weeks ago. In this new cohort, we have been blessed to have two returning interns as well as eleven strong and dedicated wahine, 13 total, committed to the program for 2 years. We’re all excited to build new relationships and grow our ʻohana even more. We’ve also been fortunate enough to hire two summer interns that fit right in with the rest of us. It definitely helps to have all these extra hands on the farm! We’ve been able to spend time on other important things that sit lower on our priority list, like building out new showers. You won’t have to run the hose across the street anymore! 

The ASA students have already had the opportunity to experience weeding, fertilizing, pulling kalo, managing orders, prepping patches, and planting grass! While we do love just having more help in the loʻi, we love even more hearing their “whys;” what drives them to be here at Hoʻokuaʻāina and to pursue a college degree. The 15 (including the 2 from the pilot year) of them are becoming a team and will go through WCC together. They’re already getting a taste of college through an online summer Ahupuaʻa course that they have enrolled in. So far, they’ve learned about the kumulipo and have been able to relate it to working with kalo. We can’t wait to see what these next two years have in store for them and see how much they grow as individuals and as a whole. 

Source: Pukui, M. K. (1983). ‘Ōlelo No‘eau Hawaiian Proverbs & Poetical Sayings. Honolulu, Hawaii: Bishop Museum Press.

Makaluhi: Our Story

It was in 2002 that our vision for Kapalai began to unfold. At that time Dean was working full time as a DOE teacher at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility by day and performing as a Hawaiian musician by night. I was a stay at home mom caring for our 3 girls. We were happy living in our humble home
in the Olomana subdivision which we referred to as “Beavercleaverville” and perfectly content to spend the rest of our lives there as the neighborhood was an ideal environment to raise our family. A small garden kept our table full of fresh vegetables year-round with enough abundance to share. It was a common practice for us to use the leaves from our kalo plants to invite our friends over to prepare laulau (a Hawaiian favorite) and make an imu (underground oven) to cook them in. It was inevitable that these gatherings would turn into celebrations of food, friends, and fellowship – mini neighborhood luaus in our carport. They became quite frequent, growing in numbers, to the point where soon we were outgrowing our small space.

During this period, Dean, who was an English teacher at the facility, was having difficulty connecting with his students who had no interest in the subject. He had the thought to plant some kalo right outside his classroom. What better way to connect with young Hawaiians (75% of the student population) than with a plant and food very significant to their culture? As the plants grew, so did their interest. He began to shift his subject matter to areas they might relate to such as music, breaking down rap to teach poetry, and challenging them to write their own. Suddenly they were engaged. As a reward, Dean led them in harvesting the leaves of the kalo to make their own laulau. The majority had never done so before and had no idea how this common dish was prepared. They took great pride in the fact that they grew the majority of the ingredients, prepared a delicious dish with their own hands, and had plenty to share with teachers and staff. A breakthrough had occurred.

Back to the carport…. it was through this season that an idea began to emerge. Dean would often come home after challenging days and share heartbreaking stories about the life circumstances of his students. Drugs, violence, incarcerated parents, no home, no place to shower, no one to prepare a meal, were all common themes. These kids were set up to fail from the beginning. Caught in a spiral of circumstance, just trying to survive, many of them turned to substance abuse to ease the pain. In most cases, incarceration was a much better alternative to the hopeless reality of their lives. What was the common denominator in all the stories – broken families. As we sat in our safe, privileged bubble, we began to think of our carport luaus and garden. It was so easy for Dean to connect with the kids in the growing, preparing, and eating of kalo. We asked ourselves, “What if we were able to do this at a community level, not just with the kids but with their families and community members as well?”. What if we could mimic our carport gatherings at a community level? It seemed there was some healing power to the notion of using food to gather people to encourage fellowship, building healthy relationships, and bringing hope to an otherwise hopeless situation.


For months, Dean and I found ourselves having regular discussions around this notion. There must be something that we could do that would be more impactful than the confines of his classroom. We contemplated multiplying our little garden plot a thousand times and making it accessible to struggling families in the community where we saw the greatest need. Our big “idea” or theory of change was:

  1. Create a safe, nurturing, gathering space for families to invest in productive and meaningful work so they could begin to let down their guard and feel hope.
  2. Help families connect in a space where they could form important relationships with the land, themselves and others in the community.

If our theory worked then healing would occur, self-concept would rise, and they would see their lives as having value, meaning, and purpose. Through offering this kind of activity and space, we could contribute to the restoration and rebuilding of a healthy community.

Of course, we had no idea if it would work. In fact, we had no idea about anything! All we had was a nagging notion that this was something that we ABSOLUTELY had to do. Once the idea was clear, we couldn’t let it go. We felt compelled to action in a way neither of us had ever experienced before. It did not make any sense to anyone around us. Why would we burst our perfect little “beavercleaver” bubble and risk failure for something that more qualified institutions could handle? Many wise individuals suggested that IF we were so compelled, we should join organizations with more experience who were doing similar work. But there was no reasoning with us. Events unfolded so quickly, we had no time to think about the details or to back out. Within a year, our house was sold and we were driven by a vision with no plan, direction, experience, or help. What catapulted us forward was a burning passion and unwavering faith that the God who downloaded this upon our collective hearts would be faithful to provide all the necessary means to see it through.


Our search for the right piece of property to unfold our vision took us down a path we were unprepared for. It was 2003, the year the housing market skyrocketed in what seemed like 5 minutes after we sold our house. Within 5 months the house we sold was well outside of our means and our search for a small plot of ag land from Ka’a’a’wa to Waimānalo led to one closed door after another. We moved into a 700 square foot home to caretake a church thinking it was a very temporary way for us not to spend our savings on rent. Our stay turned into 5 years! As several offers for small plots of land were rejected, we began to think we had made a very big mistake. Perhaps we should have listened to all our many concerned friends and advisors. There was just no going back.

In the spring of 2006, a friend who knew what we were looking for suggested we have a look at a property in the Kailua neighborhood, Maunawili. We had a chuckle after speaking with him knowing Maunawili was far out of reach from what we could afford but out of respect and curiosity we decided to have a look. From the moment we stepped foot on Kapalai, I had a feeling from my head to my toes, THIS WAS IT!! We could’t believe our eyes. It was far beyond anything we ever dreamed of or imagined. Although overgrown and untouched for nearly 100 years, the land seemed rich and fertile, flowing with natural springs, and perfectly suited to grow kalo. It was a beautiful kipuka (oasis) in the midst of dense residential development and seemed too good to be true. But when Ke Akua has a plan, he clears the way. That is exactly what happened over the next year. Acquiring the nearly 8 acres in the heart of Maunawili was nothing less than a miracle.

August 12th, 2007, Dean and I signed the official papers and the door opened wide for our vision to begin. Although completely at a loss as to where to begin, we trusted that if we came this far, then provision and direction would arrive. And so it did! We put in 3 years of sweat equity to remove all the rubbish that contractors had been allowed to dump onsite, build a road, put in basic infrastructure such as water, power, and storage, and cleared our first loʻi with the help of many volunteers. The ʻāina was blessed and given the name Kapunawaiolaokapalai – the living springs of Kapalai which is the old ʻili (land division) name for the area.

For the last 12 years we have been forging the way through uncharted territories, learning as we go. It has been a wild ride full of many bumps along the way. In the early years, we often found ourselves in a place of uncertainty or discouragement and the grand vision seemed so far away – unattainable. There were a few times we wondered if maybe we had lost our minds. Each time we hit a lull, without fail, a miraculous provision would drop down to lift us up and put some new wind in our sails.

In 2011, we formed the nonprofit Hoʻokuaʻāina, named by Uncle Earl Kawaʻa who during that time had become a treasured mentor and friend to help guide us in the cultivation of kalo. With a few loʻi established we were able to start part time programming with the youth transitioning out of Hawaiʻi Youth Correctional Facility. Although we didnʻt have any funding, Deanʻs former students were eager to work for the experience of doing something productive and perhaps the promise of a pepperoni pizza after. With two key advisors on board (Andrew Aoki and Kina Mahi), we slowly formulated a very clear strategic plan to begin sharing our story with potential funders and start formal programming with the focus on at-risk youth. 2014 was a breakthrough year for us as an organization. Two substantial funders, Consuelo Foundation and Office of Youth Services, partnered with us so that Dean could leave his job and become our first full time employee as a director, educator, and youth mentor/life coach. It took seven years, but we had finally arrived and were officially doing the work that we had set out to do full time.

Looking back all those years ago, sitting in our carport, contemplating the what ifs, we are so thankful we didn’t spend too much time wondering about the risk and just said yes. There is no way we could have imagined what was to unfold. Kapalai is now the gathering place we hoped it would be, reaching four thousand visitors per year. Our first official program was the Kūkuluhou Mentoring Program designed for the students who inspired us from the beginning. Today, it remains the heart of everything we do and reaches 20-30 youth ages 13-18 per year. Referrals to the program participate in nine months of weekly life skills training to build self-esteem. Since 2009, we have offered over 200 intern positions for young adults 17-24 to provide technical training and sharpen leadership skills. The Kupuohi ʻāina based education program is thriving, providing an outdoor living classroom to 1500 students annually, K-12th grade. In 6 years, our staff of 1 has grown to 9. The biggest accomplishment this year was completing the build out of the loʻi with 23 patches in production, something I wasn’t sure we would see in this lifetime. With a growing space of about 3 acres, we are able to produce around 30,000 pounds of kalo per year which helps to supplement our programming costs making us more sustainable as an organization.

2020 marks the year we take a step back as an ʻohana and makaluhi. Literally translated makaluhi means tired eyes but in this case, we use it as an adjective to describe “a period of rest or feasting which follows a prolonged season of toil” ( have certainly toiled and there is much more that lies ahead, but we are purposefully taking this year to makaluhi – to sit back a bit and gaze with satisfaction at how far we have come. As we find ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic with many uncertainties looming for our communities, one thing remains certain, Kapunawaiolaokapalai has been brought back to life after nearly a century of dormancy. What was once thriving has been revived for such a time as this and is a resource available to those seeking connection, nourishment, and restoration. For all of you who have contributed to the journey, we hope you celebrate this season of makaluhi with us. And get ready, we have only just begun!

Makaluhi (mă’-kă-lū’-hi), adj.

[From makaluhi, to be weary.] An adjective descriptive of the rest or feasting which follows a prolonged season of toil.

Parker Dictionary (Hwn to Eng)

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Hookuaaina Rebuilding Lives From The Ground Up

Hoʻokuaʻāina is located in the ahupuaʻa of Kailua at Kapalai in Maunawili on the island of Oʻahu. Get Directions.

For more information about our programs or how you can get involved please contact us.

916E Auloa Rd.

Kailua, HI 96734


P.O. Box 342146

Kailua, HI 96734

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Hookuaaina Rebuilding Lives From The Ground Up

Hoʻokuaʻāina is located in the ahupuaʻa of Kailua at Kapalai in Maunawili on the island of Oʻahu.

For more information about our programs or how you can get involved please contact us.

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916E Auloa Rd.

Kailua, HI 96734

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P.O. Box 342146

Kailua, HI 96734

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Hoʻokuaʻāina is a 501c3 Non-Profit Organization

© Hoʻokuaʻāina 2020 All Rights Reserved | Terms & Conditions | Privacy | Site By Created By Kaui

Hoʻokuaʻāina is a 501c3 Non-Profit Organization

© Hoʻokuaʻāina 2020 All Rights Reserved | Terms & Conditions | Privacy | Site By Created By Kaui

Hoʻokuaʻāina is a 501c3 Non-Profit Organization

© Hoʻokuaʻāina 2020 All Rights Reserved | Terms & Conditions | Privacy

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