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Center serves the community through agriculture

By Staff | Jan 8, 2021

Pictured at the center are (from left) Jade Chihara, Ku Kapu-Kekona, Pio Kapu-Kekona, Kaipo Kekona and Rachel Kapu, with Kawai Kapu-Kekona and Liu Kapu Kekona in the car. Below, the greenhouse and teaching center has been rebuilt.

LAHAINA — Amidst the dark shadow cast by the COVID-19 pandemic and the social divisions within the country, a bright new project here on the Valley Isle illuminates a brighter future for all.

The Kuia Agricultural Educational Center, sponsored by Kamehameha Schools, launched its sustainable farming project at the foothills of the West Maui Mountains below Lahainaluna High School in 2105.

Created within a vision to regenerate and sustain traditional farming production in West Maui on former sugarcane land, the project has thus far planted approximately six of the 12-acre parcels allotted to the effort.

Led by Maui home grown Project Manager Kaipo Kekona, the KAEC has also built — and rebuilt after a March windstorm destroyed the original structure — an 1,800-square-foot greenhouse and teaching center at the site.

The heartbreaking destruction of the original greenhouse only served to further inspire Kekona and assistant Jade Chihara to rebuild and carry on their inspirational work.

The two of them were aided by Davis Neizman, Suzette Felicilda, Danny Palakiko, Kazuo Flores, Hiilei Bacalso, Lopaka Wright and the Honsador Lumber company to rebuild the growing, teaching and office center for the project.

Kekona, Chihara and many in this group have led the effort to regenerate the sustainable farming of the Hawaiian culture, including planting and nurturing the soil.

Thus far, KAEC has planted ulu, coconut, avocado, mango, sugarcane, banana, ti, kalo, noni and several native trees — some already 200 years old. Native trees to be used for tools and implements, and medicinal plants such as noni and uhaloa, have also been planted.

On the educational side, KAEC has recruited guest groups and local school programs such as Lahainaluna High School’s Future Farmers of America to participate in planting, cleanup and educational sessions onsite.

The school groups have made several excursions to the farm, and last year a group from 3M Corporation staying in Kaanapali — filling six busloads –took time off from the beach to participate in coconut tree planting and weeding (what fun!) cleanup.

That work included rebuilding the greenhouse, planting over 180 varieties of plants using organic soil methods for water retention and healthier growth, studious attention to water supplies, establishing a more efficient communication network with the Maui County Fire Department and continuing the development of the greenhouse.

That structure has been designated as an educational center and a plant nursery that is important to Rachel Kapu, Kekona’s wife.

According to her husband, “The plant nursery in the hot house is definitely Rachel’s baby. It really reflects her motherly personality.”

Kekona added that the other half of the greenhouse will be used as a keiki learning site as well as a place for holding community events.

“We’re also looking into getting grants to expand the learning center with emphasis on a family first theme. We hope to introduce and train them on sustainable farming, including composting and organic growing.”

The farm site just above the Lahaina Bypass highway south of Lahainaluna Road has become a second home for the Kekona family — wife Rachel, daughters Ku Kapu-Kekona and Kawai Kapu-Kekona, and son Liu Kapu-Kekona.

“We want this to be a family-oriented farm to promote and share island family values. We are here to serve the community through agriculture to provide food security and methods of growing and restoring food growth. We are open and welcome to all to come up and visit the farm. We are open daily Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m.,” Kekona concluded.