Maui Business

Want to fix the food system? Maui’s Polipoli Farms aims to help local farmers do just that

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Lehia Apana recently won a $10,000 grant from Dove Chocolate to help grow her food hub project. PC: Polipoli Farms
  • Polipoli Farms specializes in ‘ulu and māmaki tea. PC: Polipoli Farms
  • Lehia Apana and Brad Bayless, the wife and husband duo behind Polipoli Farms in Waiehu. PC: Polipoli Farms
  • Polipoli Farms purchased a shipping container, which will be converted to an on-site food hub. PC: Polipoli Farms
  • A rendering of the finished project is shown. PC: Polipoli Farms

When Lehia Apana of Polipoli Farms was growing up on Maui, she searched for ways to connect with her Hawaiian culture. It wasn’t until she found farming in her 30s that she discovered her roots. Now, her Waiehu farm is branching out to collaborate with other farmers who share the goal of fixing the broken food system.

“Hawai’i imports nearly 90% of its food, which tells us that our food system is broken,” Apana told Maui Now last week. “To reverse this trend we need to think beyond growing more food. We need smart infrastructure across our food system to ensure these foods reach our community.”

An on-farm food processing hub is the missing link between farmers and the community, Apana said. Once finished, whole foods grown by local farmers would enter the hub and be minimally prepared into convenient packaged goods. Then, products would reach consumers via direct sales and wholesale.

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The Native Hawaiian farmer is one of three female entrepreneurs who recently won a $10,000 grant from Dove Chocolate, a news release said. The grant will help fund the Polipoli Farms food hub, and the project is seeking public support through Indiegogo crowdfunding. 

To complete the project, Polipoli Farms is seeking $480,000. For information on the hub and to donate, visit the Polipoli Farms page on Indiegogo. The project has more than 20 days left to participate.

For people who donate, Polipoli Farms said incentives include connecting with the farm virtually and in person, getting first dibs on new products, enjoying ʻāina-inspired artwork and other “perks.”

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So far, Polipoli Farms purchased a shipping container for the main structure of the food hub and hired Pili Design and Build to lead the project.

However, the project isn’t about a single food-processing hub, according to Apana. “It’s about proving that farmers and our community have the solutions to heal our broken food system,” she said.

Apana and her husband, Brad Bayless, own and operate Polipoli Farms. It grows native and Polynesian plants, including ’ulu (breadfruit), maiʻa (bananas), kalo (taro), niu coconuts), kō (sugarcane) and māmaki (nettle family). In the regenerative agroforest, plants support one another as they grow.

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“I often think, ‘I wish I learned this stuff earlier!’” Apana said about discovering farming. “I can’t go back in time, but I can help foster these opportunities for others. That’s part of the goal here at Polipoli Farms: “To connect people and ‘Āina, so that both may thrive.

Apana was a participant in Purple Maiʻa’s 2021 inaugural Hawaiʻi FoundHer cohort for women entrepreneurs. 

Hawaiʻi FoundHer is a six-month accelerator program made for Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander and Asian women founders of businesses. 

“The work that Lehia has done with Polipoli Farms is important and she deserves the recognition and support for her ongoing efforts,” said Donavan Kealoha, founder and CEO of Purple Maiʻa. “We hope Hawaiʻi will also rally behind her by contributing to her campaign.”

Kehaulani Cerizo
Kehaulani Cerizo was born and raised on Maui and worked for nearly 15 years as a news reporter, copy editor and features editor at daily newspapers. She earned awards at The Maui News in Wailuku and at Today’s Local News in San Diego.
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