Building a Sustainable Future on Kauaʻi


The Office of Hawaiians Affairs is one of several entities supporting the work of community nonprofit ʻĀina Hoʻokupu o Kīlauea

“He aliʻi ka ʻāina, he kauā ke kanaka.
The land is a chief; man is its servant.”

They describe themselves as modern-day ʻĀina Warriors, helping to bring sustainability, resiliency, and self-sufficiency to their island home. Their vision is an economically diverse and food secure Kauaʻi, and they are rallying the community through the value of mālama ʻāina.

It’s critical work, and if the pandemic proved anything, it’s that Hawaiʻi needs more organizations like ʻĀina Hoʻokupu o Kīlauea (AHK) spread out across the entire pae ʻāina.

Photo: Yoshito LʻHote and his son, Malu
Yoshito LʻHote (right) and his son, Malu, are committed to supporting Hawaiian and other local families on Kauaʻi to build food security and sustainability. – Photo: Jason Lees

“AHK is here to manage, listen and care for the ʻāina within the reality of this modern world,” said AHK Executive Director Yoshito L’Hote. “How do we continue to uphold these values that describe the land as a chief, and the man as its servant? Our project is an approach toward re-establishing a role for Kānaka to become a provider and steward by providing a space where we can thrive in this modern age.”

Established in 2015, AHK’s goal is to facilitate solutions to economic, social, agricultural and food security challenges that the Kīlauea community and Kauaʻi face.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, AHK was able to support local farmers by purchasing their goods and putting together Farmers Market Boxes that were then sold at a drive-through to local residents. The program boomed, and as the volume of produce gathered increased, AHK started purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables with donations from the community and began servicing kūpuna and families economically impacted by the pandemic.

A $50,201 Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) COVID-19 Impact and Response Grant in 2021 allowed AHK to provide 3,500 mixed locally grown produce boxes that supplied weekly deliveries to more than 500 Native Hawaiian families on Kauaʻi for some five months.

AHK went on to garner support from the federal USDA Farmers-to-Families Food Box program, the County of Kauaʻi and CARES Act funding, which allowed them to purchase equipment, greenhouses, and the necessary infrastructure to start producing the food that was going into the boxes.

In September of 2022, AHK was awarded a $100,000 OHA ʻĀina Community Grant intended to provide 3,600 produce boxes to more than 300 Native Hawaiians across Kauaʻi over the next two years. Specifically, the grant funds 1,800 boxes per year (36 per week) to benefit Native Hawaiian families.

Boxes are approximately 10 lbs. each and cost about $25 for the produce and $5 for aggregation, construction and delivery.

The community grant from OHA is being used as matching funding for a USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant, which is a three-year grant of $125,000 per year. AHK also secured $75,000 from a private donor but still has to raise matching funds for the second and third years. Along with $75,000 in private donations, AHK will be able to continue producing Farmers Market Boxes for the rest of this year.

“Our partnership with OHA is allowing us to continue providing this great gift from the ʻāina through our nonprofit partners that serve our Hawaiian community. The more boxes get purchased, the more food can be grown at the Kīlauea Ag Center, and the more connected the benefiting families are to the ʻāina,” L’Hote said.

AHK has been developing the Kīlauea Community Agricultural Center (KCAC), a 75-acre parcel on the North Shore of Kauaʻi formerly owned by the Kīlauea Sugar Plantation Co., to build food resiliency, economic diversity and provide an avenue to connect with ʻāina.

“KCAC is a place where beginning farmers can have access to land, infrastructure and expertise to facilitate their success,” L’Hote said. “We currently have seven independent farmers on-site, and we farm 5 acres to grow produce going toward the boxes, along with other produce purchased from our on-site location and from other local farmers,” L’Hote said.

“Recently, we are continuing to vertically integrate the farm by adding our new support kitchen and market/deli, capturing the retail dollar and its profitability to help maximize the revenue from local production, and continue to allow us to maintain our produce boxes system hopefully in perpetuity,” he added.

“KCAC is an attempt to support Hawaiians and local people to maintain their sense of place and allow them to perpetuate their culture. We’re also providing access to entrepreneurial support, access to land to farm, and skillsets to have them contribute to their community in a meaningful way,” L’Hote said.

L’Hote said he enjoys serving his community and providing a positive path forward that honors the island’s host culture.

“The best thing about this grant work is to see the smiling faces of the recipients when they see the beautiful fruits and vegetables that they would normally not be able to purchase and to connect the most disadvantaged parts of the community to our ʻāina,” he said.

“We are nurturing a sense of hope and direction for Kauaʻi. It is our responsibility, as stewards of this land, to prioritize the needs of ʻāina. Our project allows the continuity of Hawaiian values while succeeding in this modern era.

“Because locally grown produce is more expensive, those who are financially well off are able to purchase it. As a producer and aggregator, we utilize the philanthropic mechanism to ensure fresh produce is readily available to all, regardless of income, because nobody should go without a healthy balanced diet in Hawaiʻi.”