Urban Farm Hawaii digs up solutions for reconnecting people to the food they eat.
Text by Matt Luttrell | Images by John Hook
Across from the University of Hawai‘i’s John A. Burns School of Medicine is a small, quarter-acre lot that is home to a scraggly patch of weeds. But Urban Farm Hawaii, the nonprofit that will transform the space, envisions the land as a harmonious display of urban agriculture in action, where educational programs will be held to teach community members how to repurpose unused land parcels, and tended plants will provide food for the area. For Hunter Heaivilin, Urban Farm Hawaii’s director, this Ilalo Street plot will be the seedling that grows into a movement of “city agriculture for all the city’s people.”
Urban Farm Hawaii was founded in 2011 by three agriculture and urban planning students at UH Mānoa who were concerned with Hawai‘i’s dependence on imported foods. The nonprofit hui wanted to get their hands in the ground and find a way to reconnect people with growing food in Honolulu’s urban core.
In Kaka‘ako, things took off for the group when they gained access to the land in front of the old Comp USA building on the corner of Ala Moana Boulevard and South Street in December 2013. On the tiny parcel, co-founders Andrew Dedrick, Mitchell Loo, Nate Ortiz, and volunteers planted 28 different varieties of dry-land kalo (taro). Although Urban Farm Hawaii only had the land for an eight-month period due to redevelopment, and the taro is no longer there, landlord Kamehameha Schools was impressed by the endeavor and gave the nonprofit a one-year lease for their current plot.
Heaivilin took on an active leadership role last year, right around the time he graduated with a master’s in urban and regional planning from UH Mānoa. He has been working in the area of sustainable development for the past eight years. “The world we are born into is not the only one that can exist,” says Heaivilin, who is passionate about making O‘ahu a better place through repurposing urban land. While researching his thesis, Heaivilin discovered nearly 10,000 acres between Pearl City and Kahala that could potentially be farmed, should circumstances require it.
It’s estimated that Honolulu imports more than 90 percent of its food. While Urban Farm Hawaii does not preach complete independence from imported foods, the nonprofit knows that a balance needs to be found, and soon. But no one said starting a revolution in local urban agriculture would be easy. Right now, Urban Farm must begin, literally, in the weeds.
Help this small nonprofit engage the community and weave ecosystem services and social interactive spaces back into Honolulu. To learn more, visit urbanfarmhawaii.com.