Tag: growing communities


Growing Communities

Urban Farm Hawaii

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.

Foundry_Hunter01 copy

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.


Feeding Hawaii Together

Giving Tree, Feeding Hawaii Together

How one nonprofit has been supporting communities from its Kaka‘ako location since 1993.

Text by Christa Hester | Images by John Hook

When you run an organization that gives everything away for free, you can’t afford to be greedy. That’s what makes Charlie Lorenz, executive director of Feeding Hawaii Together, so good at his job—or rather, his calling.

Since opening its doors in Kaka‘ako in 1993, long before the area became a creative hub, Lorenz’s nonprofit has supported low-income individuals and families by providing food, clothing, furniture, and other items. “We gave away over three million pounds of food last year,” Lorenz says. The nonprofit gets the majority of its food from Hawaii Foodbank and stores that donate mispackaged, dented, or mislabeled food that can no longer be sold on the market but that is still perfectly safe to consume. “Most of that food would have gone into landfills,” Lorenz says. “So we’re feeding the hungry and also reducing waste.”

Three days a week, clients wait their turn to shop, selecting what they need from a produce section with fresh and packaged food and a household section with furniture, clothes, books, and more. “When we first opened, we thought our clients were mainly going to be homeless,” Lorenz says. “We were surprised when we found out who was actually coming.” Only 10 percent of the nonprofit’s shoppers are houseless; the rest are mostly low-income families, individuals, and senior citizens.

Feeding Hawaii

“There are lots of senior citizens in this area who come, and we even have five women that carpool from Wai‘anae,” Lorenz says. “They come from all over. They’re scared to be homeless, so they pay their rent, then buy some of their medication because they can’t afford it all, and lastly, they go buy food.” Many clients only have enough money and food stamps for three weeks out of the month, which means that some weeks can end up being really bad. “Like cat and dog food bad,” Lorenz says. But by turning to Feeding Hawaii Together, such difficult weeks can be avoided.

Most food pantries hand out prepared boxes of food, but because Feeding Hawaii Together has enough space, they created a grocery store. “People may have diabetes or different dietary needs or likes,” Lorenz says. “So if they can shop once a week and pick out what they want, there’s less waste because they’re actually getting things they’ll eat.”

As Lorenz walks around the nonprofit’s facilities, he stops at every turn to say hello to a fellow volunteer; ask how someone’s family is doing; or receive a small gift from one of the kids. After years of running the organization, he’s realized that fulfilling this community’s need also means spending time with its people.

With the nonprofit’s support, many clients make better lives for themselves. “We had a family that shopped here, then started volunteering,” Lorenz recalls. “One day they tell me, ‘We have bad news. We got jobs, so we can’t volunteer anymore.’ And I’m like, ‘That’s great! That’s what this is all about!’ This story just repeats itself so many times. That family now has a cleaning business, and they’re just loving it, making lots of money, and contributing back.”

Feeding Hawaii Together is located at 615 Keawe St. and is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Learn how you can get involved at feedinghawaiitogether.org.