Every tour of Waipā starts with fresh pa‘i ‘ai and pa‘akai, pounded taro and sea salt. Photos: Kawena Carvalho-Mattos

In the early 1980s, Kamehameha Schools considered selling land on Kaua‘i’s north shore to resort developers but area kūpuna and ‘ohana protested, convincing Kamehameha to save the space as a living learning center.

Today Waipā ahupua‘a, a valley spanning 1,600 acres from the high peak of malamahoa to makai, is being returned to its thriving, abundant state after being overrun with invasive species and degraded by deforestation for sandlewood, rice farming and cattle ranching.

“I think at the core of everything we do, we are trying to connect kids and young people from here and from everywhere to their ‘āina and resources so ultimately in the long term they’ll want to take care of it,” says Waipā Executive Director Stacy Sproat-Beck.

Waipā founders were adamant the ahupua‘a was a place to be farmed to produce food and feed people, notes Sproat-Beck. “So we try to grow things as big as possible, to feed as many people as possible. We also understand another big value of theirs was that sovereignty isn’t just political sovereignty, but sovereignty is food sovereignty and also economic and fiscal sustainability to some extent.”

Full restoration of the vast valley will be a long process, but little kīpuka have already been created on about 30 acres – food forests, cultural plantings, gardens, lo‘i – where invasives are replaced with native and cultural use plants, and modern and traditional food plants. As Sproat-Beck points out, “We don’t just eat kalo anymore. We love lychee and all kinds of fruits, and lettuce and kale.” (In food demos, she explains how to lomi the kale for salads.)

Student field trips, afterschool programs and enrichment activities, such as cooking with middle schoolers, and other group visits bring 4,000 people to Waipā each year. On Tuesdays, Waipā’s Pili Au tour – a culture and food walking tour and food demo – ends just as a weekly community farmers market starts. Twice a month, Waipā partners with Westin for a He ‘āina Ola Farm Dinner, a three course meal and wine pairing. A successful fundraiser last year, “Eat the Invasives,” featured gourmet dishes five chefs created from invasive species. Waipā also hosts two major festivals a year, celebrating kalo in January and mangos and music in mid-August.

“Our goal is to target the visitor who wants to learn more authentic information and not just the visitor who wants to lie on the beach and do adventure activities,” Sproat-Beck explains.

Waipā is also very much engaged in food production and distribution. “Thirty years ago our founders felt poi was getting too expensive for our people to be able to eat as a staple food,” says Sproat-Beck. “Then they realized that Hanalei grows 85 percent of the kalo in the state.” By farming kalo themselves, and buying from other Kaua‘i farmers, they started inviting ‘ohana to come make poi together and keep costs down. Today, Waipā distributes fresh poi to the community at cost – about $4 a pound – and $2 for seniors.

Waipā was able to construct a new commercial kitchen with OHA’s help. There they create foods, which can be tested and market products at the farmer’s market – baked goods featuring food from the ‘āina like carrot cake, pumpkin crunch and signature kalosadas. Other items include salad kits, laulau plates and kalua pig using pigs from the ‘āina, makaki tea and shave ice, smoothies and frosties flavored with fruit from the valley.

Waipā’s success in generating its own revenue reduced its reliance on grants by 30 percent, which helped lead to a partnership with Ka Honua Momona (KHM) on Moloka‘i. Their joint-project, “Ke Ola o La ‘āina,” received a two-year $500,000 programmatic grant from OHA.

Waipā Operations Manager Johanna Ventura explained, “We started realizing maybe half-a-dozen years ago that it would be great to have a sense of sovereignty as an organization to do some of the things that other funders may not necessarily be interested in funding, or just to give ourselves a core base of revenue.”

Waipā will sharing some of its best practices with KHM, a group restoring two fishponds and managing 1.5 acres of edible and medicinal plant gardens. In turn, KHM will mentor Waipā as it develops its its lā‘au program, increases engagement at its community workdays and sharpens its focus on food as medicine.

Waipā hosts community work days every fourth Saturday of the month. Visit waipafoundation.org for more details. Monthly mālama ‘āina opportunities are also available through Waipā’s co-grantee, Ka Honua Momona on Moloka‘i. Visit www.kahonuamomona.org for more information.

Learn more about OHA’s programmatic grant program at www.oha.org/grants, and learn more about Waipā at WaipaFoundation.org.

BONUS VIDEO: Kirs Daly teaches us how to make kalosadas at the Waipā booth at the Waipā Farmers’ Market on Kauaʻi.

Waipā Foundation Community Workday