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Waianae High School’s Searider Productions produces an award-winning video on Kainoa Aila, a MA‘O college intern who loses 130 pounds in 10 months and gains a connection with the land. (2:59)

MA‘O Farms Video Produced by Searider Productions

From vegetal to digital Wai‘anae youth are doing amazing work

By Martha Cheng

MA‘O Organic Farms is the largest organic farm on Oahu, and while the fruits and vegetables harvested from its Waianae soils are so sought after by restaurants and institutions that the farm has a waitlist, what really sets MA‘O apart is its commitment to youth. The name itself, MA‘O, is an acronym for mala ‘ai ‘opio, which translates to “the youth food garden.”

What good is the ‘keep the country country’ momentum when no one is farming?”
Currently, thirty-two young adults from the Waianae community work on the farm, from planting to harvesting to selling at farmers’ markets. They are hired as part of MA‘O’s Youth Leadership Training (YLT) program. Interns work on the farm 20 hours a week and are given a $500 monthly stipend and a tuition waiver to Leeward Community College. Many of the interns are first-generation college attendees.

While organic farming requirements are usually framed as negatives—no synthetic chemicals, no pesticides, no GMOs (genetically modified organisms)—MA‘O has always focused on the positives. MA‘O actively builds healthy soils, plants and community. It all started when Farm Manager Gary Maunakea-Forth says he, his wife, Executive Director Kukui Maunakea-Forth, and other community members decided to put down their picket signs and take a more active role in preserving the rural community. “What good is the ‘keep the country country’ momentum when no one is farming,” he says. “If we’re farming and making money and providing food for people, it’s a proactive way to really help the community and shape [our] environmental vision.”

Picture 2

MA‘O’s philosophy is perhaps best reflected in the Hawaiian proverb:

Ne huli ka lima iluna, pololi ka opu;
Ne huli ka lima ilalo, piha ka opu.

When your hands are turned up, you will be hungry;
When your hands are turned to the soil, you will be full.

In 2001, MA‘O leased their first five acres of land, and recently, in May, acquired an adjacent 11-acre parcel of organic agriculture land. Maunakea-Forth talks of experimenting with different kinds of broccoli and cauliflower that come in shades of purple and yellow, planting an orchard of fig trees, and bringing in poultry for free-range eggs. Mao3 And ever with the community in mind, there are plans for a community village on the new land that might include a café, market, teaching kitchen and a courtyard where educational programs can take place among the beautiful mountains of the Lualualei Valley.

Kaimana Pine of the Waianae Community Development Corporation (WCRC), MA‘O’s umbrella organization whose mission is to develop a self-sufficient Leeward coast, said in a press release, “The accomplishments of Wai‘anae youth are tremendous; the recent land acquisition will help further the practices of sustainable agriculture handed down from previous generations. With supporters and community the movement continues in a larger capacity, and promises that we’ll continue to invest our time and mana‘o into our youth and their future.”


Waianae students in front of and behind the camera


Searider Productions is an Emmy award-winning multimedia company run largely by Waianae High School students. Teachers Candy Suiso and Norman Chock originally started Searider Productions in 1993 as a video production course for the high school.

Today, it's a professional company specializing in digital filmmaking, with a long list of clients like Hawaiian Electric and KHON, but the students are still in the director's seat. For more information, go to seariderproductions.com.



Interested in visiting the farm? Help out at MA‘O‘s G.I.V.E. (Get Involved Volunteer Environmentally) Days every last Saturday of the month. Plant, weed, harvest and learn more about MA‘O. Details here.

Comments from Readers

  1. 8ec2619d220aba071ad92bc336342ec6
    Kukui Maunakea-Forth on 7/15/2009 at 7:44am

    Kainoa and the Aila `Ohana, father William Jr and William Sr. continually provide inspiration and aspiration to the place, people, and purpose that MA`O represents. Mahalo to our Searider Production's 'ohana for portraying the real Wai`anae moku "vegetal to digital". No panic, go organic!

  2. C087dac32a43c4d9d2200ffc509413fa
    Kaimana Pine on 7/15/2009 at 6:14pm

    Mahalo for your time and words Martha! We look forward to hearing more about your passion for our food system and how it connects us all. No panic, Go organic! Aloha!

  3. D41d8cd98f00b204e9800998ecf8427e
    Derek Pine on 9/2/2009 at 7:22pm

    As our children are learning,we can also learn from them.Stay connected to the land thats where the roots usually are, proud to be part of MA'O and there mission.

  4. 9b8af8fbbbe83f67c57e4978119f48d4
    Gary Maunakea-Forth on 5/13/2010 at 6:14pm

    good job martha, you might be farmer material yourself

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