Exchange Ave: An Ahupuaʻa Inspired Digital Economy

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Photo: John Kealoha Garcia

By John Kealoha Garcia

Prior to the overthrow, Native Hawaiians lived in a highly organized, self-sufficient, subsistent social system based on communal land tenure.

At the core of this system was the ahupuaʻa, an ancient land division that sustained Hawaiians for thousands of years. Resources were cultivated from mountain to ocean, and abundance was shared amongst the community, with a focus on the health of the whole. Aloha was the currency.

If the ʻāina thrived so did the people — and thus, our unique language, culture and religion was born.

My earliest memory of aloha ʻāina was through my Papa Cullen. To me, he was the epitome of what it meant to be Hawaiian. Respected, humble and hard working. He kept an impeccable yard and made the best lūʻau stew. Papa could fix anything and if he couldn’t, he had an ʻohana that could. The weekends I spent on Nānākuli Ave. shaped my sense of culture, place, and belonging.

Growing up in town and through my corporate career, I slowly lost that connection. As family passed, memories were lost. Thinking back to weekends at Papa’s house reminded me what it meant to feel connected.

In 2018 I moved home after two years in New York City. Being away allowed me to explore different cultures which helped me reconnect to my own.

I began growing kalo and started a small garden in Kaimukī as a way to eat healthier. That garden grew into a community foodscape and, ultimately, fueled the development of my latest venture, Exchange Ave. (EA).

EA is a portal to the past, and a bridge to our future. A digital economy inspired by the ahupuaʻa, with aloha and shared abundance at its core.

The mobile app allows members to create a profile, upload items, and browse a marketplace of goods and services offered by their neighbors. Members earn points by logging daily exchanges to incentivize the exchange economy.

In just three months, we’ve grown to 500 members, facilitating over 180 exchanges throughout the islands. At an average exchange value of $5 to $7 per trade, the opportunity for savings through shared abundance is untapped.

EA is currently being used in Koʻolaupoko, helping to drive an economy of resources at Puʻuhonua O Waimānalo. The community stays connected virtually, and digital literacy improves through productive use of technology and innovation.

During lockdown, the exchange of goods and services is organized in a digital space, with contactless pick-up and drop off of items at the convenience of the community — helping us to maintain COVID-19 bubbles.

The goal for EA is to become a global economy focused on connecting Indigenous people worldwide, with Hawaiʻi serving as a successful model for ahupuaʻa economics. As we seek funding to take EA to the next level, every exchange counts towards proving the value of the EA economy and helping us achieve our community expansion goals.

To get the app and participate in the new economy, visit us online at ExchangeAve.com. Follow our journey through social media on Instagram @ExchangeAve.


John Kealoha Garcia is an entrepreneur and award-winning creative director. Known for his role in building community platforms, John’s forward-thinking approach and ability to grow and evolve ideas has led to his success over a 20-year media and tech career in Hawaiʻi and New York. In addition to serving as an executive advisor for The Nation of Hawaiʻi, John’s latest venture – Exchange Ave. – is an ahupuaʻa-inspired barter and trade marketplace with the mission to restore our Indigenous economies.