Don't Miss Out

Subscribe to OCA's News & Alerts.

The Farmers Restoring Hawaii’s Ancient Food Forests That Once Fed an Island

Rain clouds cover the peaks of the west Maui mountains, one of the wettest places on the planet, which for centuries sustained biodiverse forests providing abundant food and medicines for Hawaiians who took only what they needed.

Those days of abundance and food sovereignty are long gone.

Rows of limp lemon trees struggle in windswept sandy slopes depleted by decades of sugarcane cultivation. Agricultural runoff choking the ocean reef and water shortages, linked to over-tourism and global heating, threaten the future viability of this paradise island.

Between 85% and 90% of the food eaten in Maui now comes from imports while diet-related diseases are soaring, and the state allocates less than 1% of its budget to agriculture.

Downslope from the rain-soaked summits, there is historic drought and degraded soil.

“We believe that land is the chief, the people its servants,” said Kaipo Kekona, 38, who with his wife Rachel Lehualani Kapu have transformed several acres of depleted farmland into a dense food forest on a mountain ridge.