Tucked away in Wai‘anae’s Lualualei Valley, MA‘O Farms is more than a teaching and learning farm. An acroynym for Mala ‘Ai ‘Ōpio, or youth food garden, it is an opportunity for a better life. The farm’s Youth Leadership Training program supports academic and entrepreneurial growth by giving young adults college tuition support, a monthly stipend, and firsthand job experience—like helping to operate Ma‘o’s Community Service Agriculture element—while working at the farm.
Colsen Kāpili‘enamekealohapūnihipau‘ole Balai initially joined the Youth Leadership Training program as a pragmatic means to pay for higher education. But the takeaway has been equally rich: “In my time at MA‘O, I feel I have developed a greater understanding and appreciation of the work that it takes to produce food,” he says.
MA‘O Farms draws from its Hawaiian value of aloha ‘āina, working closely with the land, a practice integral to the understanding that if the land is nourished, so too will the people around it. Students like Balai are examples of such belief: In this supportive, nurtured setting, they, like the plants they tend, take root, and flourish.
Day in the Life at MA‘O Farms with Colsen
“Every day on the farm at 6 a.m. we begin our day by chanting, “E ho mai,” a traditional Hawaiian chant, as grounding to prepare for the work ahead. While in the circle, farmers are briefed on what must be done and any upcoming events. On this day, we will work outside in the fields. We use a knife to manage the weeds in a bed. We burn the soil beds to eliminate any weed seed that might compete with crops and their growth. We connect with our roots, while picking roots. Washing American parsley can sometimes be a pain. I wash the soil off some pak choi. Boss isn’t amused with the pictures. We pack the produce to send it directly to stores and restaurants. At the end of the day at 1 p.m., we circle up once again to discuss the workday and debrief.”
More info at maoorganicfarms.org