Future Farmers Formed Through MAʻO Organic Farms-UH Partnership

MAʻO Organic Farms in Waiʻanae helps feed UH’s sustainability efforts, the community and some of Hawaiʻi’s best restaurants. What’s not as widely known is how a unique partnership between the farm and the University of Hawaiʻi is growing future farmers.

MAʻO has been providing scholarships and stipends for post-secondary expenses for qualified UH students through its Youth Leadership Training program since 2001. For more than 15 years, the MAʻO program has supported more than 300 students from Leeward Community College, UH West Oʻahu and UH Mānoa for a total value of more than $1 million in scholarships and other aid.

“It’s definitely helping us go to school,” says UH West Oʻahu student Chelsie Onaga, who is working on a degree in sustainable community food systems. “Some of us might not be able to afford it on our own, but by working here, we can afford to go to school and pursue a better education for ourselves.”

MAO Farm student washing vegetables

MAʻO Organic Farms Executive Director Kukui Maunakea-Forth says UH has been a great partner in terms of providing a foundation for the students. “The tuition support comes as part of their participation in MAʻO’s Youth Leadership Training program, and it’s really a huge incentive and huge motivator for many of them.”

The practical fieldwork through employment at MAʻO provides hands-on experience that is also invaluable to budding future farmers.

Leeward Community College student Scott Kaeo, Jr. says he does not know of any other farms hosting internships like MAʻO’s. Though his work there he’s learned to appreciate how much food Hawaiʻi imports. “We can grow it down here, more cheaper and saves money and it’s more healthier,” Kaeo says.

UH West Oʻahu recently began offering a bachelor’s of applied science degree in sustainable community food systems to help to build Hawaiʻi’s green-collar economy.

Boston native Samantha Ahern, who moved to Hawaiʻi to study sustainable food systems at UH West Oʻahu, says, “It’s really cool to be able to put into action what we’re learning in the classroom.”