Aloha Aina Workforce: Kumano I Ke Ala

The Aloha Aina Workforce Program with Kumano I Ke Ala hosts workers that are learning skills applicable to farming, like land management, planting, harvesting, the life-cycle of the taro field, and farm maintenance. They are learning to track the native species in the area. They are learning the financial aspect of farming in the application of grants and funding and the market value of a taro field. More than that, they are learning about the cultural heart of the land.

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Vision for Westside Food Security

To arrive at the farming site of Kumano I Ke Ala, I parked near a swinging bridge over the Waimea River and walked across. Birdsong was all I heard. I smelled desert plants and the river. A truck picked me up and we bounced along a rutted road that paralleled Makaweli Stream until we came to a flat sunny expanse in a box canyon.

The stated Vision of Kumano I Ke Ala is “…is to empower a sustainable west Kauaʻi and restore its cultural resources.” The most beneficial way to empower a sustainable west Kauai during the Covid era is to empower people towards food security. Kaina Mauka, Keoni Martins, and their visionaries are doing just that. 

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A field of young taro in a box canyon along the Makaweli Stream

Kumano I Ke Ala has big plans. While they are maintaining existing lo’i, they are busy preparing more land and planting more kalo. They partner with the Aloha Aina Poi Company, which brings kalo to market and economic development to small farmers. Additionally, KIKA is in the process of developing a parcel of several acres that will provide certified organic produce, eggs, and pork to the west side of Kauai, an area generally considered a food desert.

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Getting more fields ready for planting at the grounds of Kumano I Ke Ala

The other facet of the mission of Kumano I Ke Ala is that of giving a place for the west side’s youth to learn and grow within Hawaiian culture. During non-Covid times, young people come to the taro fields to work and participate in cultural activities, an opportunity that replaces the sorts of life diversions faced by teens with life skills, and connection to culture and land. These days, however, youth programs will be contained within the confines of school breaks and Zoom. 

Working on The Mission

Aloha Aina workers Zoie, Kapono, and Vimal are replacing the usual labor provided by young people and various volunteers working the land. They are also hard at work readying new fields and learning how to farm. They make notations of the land and the native species, and are participating in the plans for the land. The three workers took a trip with Kaina to the Kauai Historical Society to see the history of the land and the visions for the future.

“Yesterday, we spent a few hours in the morning at Kauai Historical Society learning about the rich history of the region from the encyclopedic living repository, Randy Wichman. I was in heaven!”

Vimal, Aloha Aina Participant at KIKA. Vimal’s job is two-fold: he farms, but his main job is to seek and write grants for the various projects. 

Vimal says of his job, “I’m coming in to support and learn from an already talented group at KIKA of program administrators and grant writers. The opportunity is immense to learn the work of grant writing and program development in an active situation but also within an organization who is doing amazing cultural and community development.” Vimal lost about 60% of his pre-Covid income working in part in the tourism industry.

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Part of farming is maintenance and weed control. Here is Zoie keeping the pathways between taro field free of debris. Another duty of hers is to keep a log of native species that show up to the area.

Zoie used to crew a tour boat but has wanted to be a farmer for some time. Covid layoffs and the Aloha Aina Workforce Program has given her the time and unique chance to pursue farming as a career. The qualifications and skills she will gain from working at Kumano I Ke Ala will give her the advantage she needs to enter the food systems field.

The Aloha Aina Workforce Program has reacted to the Covid-based economic crisis by uniting displaced workers with small businesses and non-profits that need workers to keep their visions afloat. It is a 12-week program that focuses on career transitions for people that lost income due to Covid. We hope for a Win-Win-Win: for workers to gain tools, for businesses to get a leg up, for the island to have more experienced agricultural and Aina-based leaders.

Visit Kumano I Ke Ala for more information about their programs, vision,  and how you can get involved.