Maui Food and Dining

Three food system businesses win Kamehameha Schools’ Mahiʻai Match-Up

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Kamehameha Schools’ Mahi‘ai Match-Up. PC: Kamehameha Schools

Three Native Hawaiian-owned food systems businesses are the winners of Mahi‘ai Match-Up, an agricultural business plan competition, at the ‘Aha ‘Ᾱina Pauahi event at its Pearl Country Club on Sunday evening.

Mahi‘ai Match-Up is a part of Kamehameha Schools’ commitment to strengthen Hawai‘i’s agriculture industry and food systems for future generations.

The 2022 winners of Mahi‘ai Match-Up are: 

  • Waiāhole Poi Factory  $25,000 cash award and expansion opportunity at a KS commercial property within Kapālama Kai, O‘ahu.
  • Kanekoa Farm – $15,000 cash award and an agricultural land agreement on KS lands on O‘ahu.
  • ‘Awa Bird – $10,000 cash award and an agricultural land agreement on KS lands on Hawai‘i island.
Kamehameha Schools’ Mahi‘ai Match-Up. PC: Kamehameha Schools

“Winning this competition helps us realize the vision of re-establishing a connection to ʻāina-based food in the urban core of Oʻahu,” said Kelikokauaikekai “Liko” Hoe, owner of Waiāhole Poi Factory and a 1992 KS Kapālama graduate. “Waiāhole Poi Factory is part of a long history of nourishing community that goes back centuries and will hopefully continue into the future. We have helped to preserve and perpetuate Hawaiian food culture and practices for both the local and visitor communities.”

“We are a small farm looking to scale up and support more local chefs who need access to high-quality vegetables on a consistent basis,” said Gina Kanekoa, owner of Kanekoa Farm and a 2006 KS Kapālama alumna. “Winning Mahi‘ai Match-Up means we would have access to a land parcel with waived rent and through this waived rent, we would have enough time to replicate what we are doing successfully in Waimānalo.”

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“Winning this competition allows my business to expand from a nursery to a full production farm and make my lifelong dream of having my own farm a reality,” said Nelson Crabbe, owner of ʻAwa Bird. “What makes ‘Awa Bird special is that it will produce and sell all of the 13 known Hawaiian cultivars of ‘awa at an affordable price. Fresh frozen Hawaiian ‘awa should not be so expensive that it is only reserved for local people to enjoy at special occasions and ceremonies.”

Kamehameha Schools’ Mahi‘ai Match-Up. PC: Kamehameha Schools
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The other Mahi‘ai Match-Up finalists were:

  • Kiʻowao Farms – A passion project Sean Tomas and Christy Tomas started with a backyard garden in Mānoa and their signature Lickin Liliko‘i Butter.
  • MetroGrow Hawaiʻi – Hawaiʻi’s first indoor, vertical farm, growing high-quality, nutritious and clean hydroponic produce for chefs, gourmet markets and the community, owned by Kerry Kakazu.

The winners were announced yesterday at ‘Aha ‘Ᾱina Pauahi, a fundraising event hosted by the Pauahi Foundation that celebrated Hawai‘i’s food systems. The event raised money in support of ag-related scholarships managed by the Pauahi Foundation. The title sponsors for the event were First Hawaiian Bank and Cades Schutte. 

KS’ Food Systems initiative aims to grow healthy and accessible food in Hawaiʻi, to feed Hawaiʻi and beyond. As part of this effort, KS is engaging in partnerships to increase the productivity and resiliency of agricultural-related businesses on KS ‘āina and build consumer interest in locally grown foods and services.

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Participants’ business plans and final pitches were reviewed by a panel of judges on April 8 that included:

  • Greg Gaug, senior vice president, Investments & Analytics, Ulupono Initiative
  • Dallas Stewart, co-founder, Hawaiian Kine Trading Co. and the 2021 Mahi‘ai Scale-up Winner
  • Walter Thoemmes, managing director, Commercial Real Estate Group, Kamehameha Schools

“Food security, sustainability and economic resilience is rooted in community,” said Kā‘eo Duarte, KS vice president of Community & ‘Āina Resiliency. “Everyone who participated in this year’s Mahiʻai Match-Up is building a brighter future for their communities and Hawaiʻi, rooted in a deep love for ʻāina. It’s energizing to witness their commitment.”

In partnership, the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement provided a 10-week specialized KūHana business training course to this year’s cohort of 18 businesses leading to the selection of the five finalists. The Kohala Center is coaching the top competitors with final business planning preparation and will offer support services beyond the program.

“Ulupono Initiative is committed to improving the quality of life for future generations in Hawai‘i, which we work to achieve by investing and partnering with others to increase local food production; advance reliable, affordable renewable energy; and build a cleaner, more equity-enhancing transportation system,” said Greg Gaug, senior vice president of Investments and Analytics for Ulupono Initiative, who was one of the competition judges. “Mahi‘ai Match-Up highlights Hawai‘i’s innovative thinkers and doers who have solutions to help address our state’s dependence on food imports and a just-in-time delivery model that leaves the people of our state at risk.” 

Ulupono Initiative, a Mahi‘ai sponsor since the program’s inception in 2013, donated $25,000 toward prize money for the agricultural parcel winners.

KS stewards more than 181,000 acres of agricultural land across Hawai‘i. Farmers on KS land grow a variety of vegetables, orchard, and specialty crops and raise livestock, producing nearly 19 million pounds of food per year.

From Mahi‘ai Match-Up to a Food Systems Fund, KS’ Food Systems Initiative strives to increase the production of and access to healthy, affordable, local food for all;  strengthen the food value chain from farm to table; foster a resilient economy with new jobs, training and career pathways in food and agriculture; and advance the sustainable production, profitability, and collaboration of KS agriculture and commercial real estate.

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