MA‘O Organic Farms receives federal money for farming, training facility

The grant will create an estimated 200 badly-needed new jobs in the economically-depressed and underserved Wai‘anae community.

Hawaii Independent Staff

Above: High school interns work on MA‘O Organic Farms during their winter break || Will Caron, Summit magazine, Issue 3.0, 2017

The Hawai‘i congressional delegation announced today that the Economic Development Administration (EDA) will award $1.6 million in federal funding to MA‘O Organic Farms in Wai‘anae to fund the construction of a new agricultural produce processing and farmer training facility. The new facility is expected to create 200 new jobs in west O‘ahu.

“Sixteen-years ago we started with 5 acres and handful of Wai‘anae college interns. Now we farm 25 acres, produce almost 100 tons of organic food per year, and support hundreds of youth in our college–career pathway. The graduates of this program have become leaders in the community,” said Gary Maunakea-Forth, Co-Founder and Managing Director of MAʻO Organic Farms. “The new processing/training facility allows us to produce more food, train more young people, and create critically needed green industry careers.”

The funding from the EDA will improve economic capacity and assets that will make it possible for entrepreneurs and small business enterprises to be more operationally efficient, resulting in an expected 200 jobs for the region—but it will also help rekindle the connection between the Wai‘anae community and the land. MA’O Organic Farms operation helps to implement the Waiʻanae Community Re-Development Corporation (WCRC)‘s mission to stimulate economic growth through education and respect for Native Hawaiian agricultural and land management practices.

“Food security is one of the greatest challenges facing Hawaiʻi, as our state still imports more than 85 percent of its food. [Our state is] also facing an aging farming population. This funding will bring jobs and investment to the Waiʻanae coast along with critical training for the next generation of local farmers and agriculture producers,” said U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard. “Over the years, MA‘O Organic Farms and WCRC have worked to empower our Waiʻanae community by preserving and protecting our ‘āina and resources, promoting opportunities for our keiki and community, developing affordable housing, fostering local agriculture, and so much more. This funding will help to continue and expand their important mission.”

“Agriculture is part of Hawai‘i’s history, and this funding will help it be part of our future, too,” said U.S. Senator Brian Schatz. “It gives MA‘O Organic Farms the resources to carry out its mission and enhance farming operations in Wai‘anae, and that’s going to create jobs and create a stronger industry overall.”

“Investing in community projects that support locally grown agriculture is critical to advancing towards a more sustainable and food-secure future for Hawai‘i,” agreed U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono. “By funding projects like the new facility at MA‘O Organic Farms in Wai‘anae, we are providing local communities the tools they need to develop innovative solutions, create new jobs, and train our next-generation agricultural workforce.”

“These critical funds will help farmers in Wai‘anae overcome the many obstacles to economically viable farming on O‘ahu,” added U.S. Representative Colleen Hanabusa.  “Hawai‘i needs sustainable agriculture and these funds will make a positive difference. Congratulations to MA‘O Organic Farms.” 

“The new facility is emblematic of the power of partnerships,” said Maunakea-Forth. “We thank our congressional delegation and the folks at EDA, especially the tireless Gail Fujita, and acknowledge our healthy food systems/healthy community collaborators at Kamehameha Schools, the Kōkua Hawai‘i Foundation, the Atherton Foundation, the Hawai‘i Community Foundation, the University of Hawai‘i and Leeward Community College.”