Maui Farmers Union United West Side Chapter President Alika Atay inspires sustainable island life
WEST MAUI – Alika Atay, community leader, farmer and mentor, is president of the recently formed West Side Mauna Kahalawai Chapter of the Maui Farmers Union United (MFUU). Raised in Hawaii in a family that goes back at least ten generations, Atay is an indigenous farmer who combines permaculture with traditional and ancient knowledge.
Speaking at February’s inaugural West Side meeting, which included a “locavore” potluck, produce and seed swaps, Atay focused on the importance of building community and promoting the future viability of agriculture in Maui County.
“MFUU is an association of local farmers, gardeners, parents and island citizens committed to creating an abundance of agricultural products while respecting island ecology,” said Atay.
Formed in 2009 as a volunteer-based grassroots organization, MFUU is a local chapter of the Hawaii Farmers Union United (HFUU). Like its parent organization at the state and national levels, MFUU assists island farmers to earn a prosperous living through stewardship of our lands, waters and communities.
“We serve as a bridge between farmers, consumers, ranchers and fishermen throughout the Hawaiian Islands,” Atay said, citing many of the programs MFUU supports.
In the Farm Apprentice Mentoring (FAM) Program, Atay, as a certified natural farming teacher, mentors beginning farmers with the purpose of expanding Maui’s food production and growing jobs.
“Many beginning farmers do not have the opportunities and resources to become literate in the wide range of abilities required to be a successful farmer in today’s competitive economy,” he said. “For Maui and the state to become food-secure and maintain economic growth, we need to work together.”
The FAM Program supports newcomers in accessing land, building a portfolio of experience and providing resources that enable the development of successful agricultural enterprises. FAM sponsors participants in a 16-week apprenticeship program, including a series of classes that provide the skills and technical training necessary to start a successful farming enterprise.
“Our goal is to grow more food with beginning farmers on underutilized agricultural land,” Atay said. He went on to describe the demand for talented chefs and environmental engineers as well as future farmers.
Atay also teaches a course with HFUU President Vincent Mina on how to improve soil productivity, health and yield through a system called Korean Natural Farming. This method teaches the basics of indigenous microorganism production, soil cultivation and plant cycles to improve production on the farm or in backyard gardens.
“It goes back to creating and monitoring good soil, to good plants, to good vegetables and fruits – to good people,” said Atay. For example, at one meeting he demonstrated the science behind converting weeds into a fermented plant juice.
“This natural form of nitrogen can then be applied to new growth plants to encourage them to be healthy,” he explained.
As a leader and advocate in the Farm-to-School Lunch Program in Hawaii, Atay informed farmers about the possibility of the project to provide Maui-grown food for school lunches across the state.
“The time has come,” he announced at a West Side meeting. “Maui farm fresh food at school! So many residents would like their children to eat local organic school lunches. We need all farmers to contribute to the school lunch program. We need the capabilities and facility to process and store this magnitude of food. The state serves over 50,000 lunches a day – the challenge is on us to produce!”
Atay is working with the state Department of Education to provide Maui-grown produce for school lunches across the Hawaiian Islands. Calling for Maui farmers to “hui up,” Atay said one farm can’t fill the order alone. “So farmers reach out to your local MFUU Chapter and let them know what you’ve got,” he said.
All West Side residents – in fact, all residents island-wide – are invited to join MFUU and help meet the challenges faced by Maui and the state.
“Our goal is to train more farmers and support the island’s quest for food security, healthier soil and the overall health and wellness of the community,” he concluded.
For more information, visit www.mauifarmersunionunited.org.