Reconnecting to Hawaiian Roots Yields a Fruitful Life

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As a young man, Umi Martin left his hometown of Kekaha to attend college in Missouri. He later moved to Oregon – which is where he was living when he decided it was time to return home and reconnect with his roots. Today, Martin operates a successful farming business and country store on Kauaʻi.

“When you’re in your early 20s, you start to think about these things, about your Hawaiian culture,” Martin said.

Martin aspired to pursue a master’s degree in Hawaiian studies at UH Mānoa, but none was offered at the time (an MA in Hawaiian studies was not approved by the Board of Regents until 2005). Undaunted, he immersed himself in the lifestyle of the lo‘i at Kānewai on the UH campus for six months.

Instilled with a passion to mālama ʻāina, Martin decided to seriously pursue agriculture, using an acre of his grandmother’s kuleana land in Waimea, Kauaʻi, to start growing taro. For the next 15 years, Martin and his wife, Kaʻiulani, lived in a small house adjacent to their loʻi working and raising their young family.

When a store in Waimea came up for sale, Martin saw an opportunity to grow his business. With the help of an OHA Mālama Loan, he purchased the store and got it up and running, turning it into a flourishing go-to local style “convenience store” aptly named Umi’s Store.

For the next six years, the ʻohana continued to work their small farm selling their vegetables to restaurants while running the store. Martin hoped to someday expand into growing tropical fruit and invested time growing his nursery and researching farming methods in anticipation of one day having land for a tropical fruit orchard.

In 2014, his dream became a reality when Martin secured a lease for state agricultural land in a secluded area of Kekaha plus valuable technical support from the state’s Agricultural Development Corporation. By the end of 2016, he was up and running. A second OHA Mālama Loan helped Martin establish his orchard.

It took him three years to plant his 5-acre parcel, growing 20 different tropical fruits. Martin’s knowledge of fruits is as impressive as his tenacity. He grows a variety of different oranges plus jackfruit, lilikoʻi, guava, and soursop.

But Martin is best known for his mangos – he grows five different varieties. He notes that the mangoes flourish in Kekaha’s hot, dry weather enabling yields of 5,000 pounds every other year. “Rain makes the fruit ugly,” Martin added.

Martin is optimistic about the future and hopes to one day expand his farm to 50 acres – and he encourages others who may be thinking about pursuing agriculture to not hesitate.

“Now that the days of sugarcane are over, the opportunity is here!” he said.


The Office of Hawaiian Affairs now offers a MahiʻAi Agricultural Loan program, with unique features for farmers. For more information: https://loans.oha.org/.