Category: Community

At the Chef’s Table: Maui Executive Catering’s Gourmet Laboratory in Haʻikū

Tucked in a quiet corner of rural Haʻikū is a kitchen producing some of the most impressive locally-sourced cuisine on the island. Here, you are invited to pull up a chair at the prep table for a feast of the senses. A notable group of Maui culinary talent did just that recently; here’s what happened.

Story by Shannon Wianecki
Photos by Mieko Hoffman

The chefs rolled in like a gang, excited to escape their own kitchens for a night and curious to see what the buzz was about. Jeff Scheer, owner of Maui Executive Catering, had invited them to a private dinner at his commercial kitchen in Haʻikū, Maui. Scheer’s guests hailed from the island’s top restaurants and represented the new guard: young, hungry and über-talented. One was fresh off the set of Top Chef; another had recently traveled the world with Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto. Not an easy crowd to impress—but if the evening’s host felt any trace of intimidation, he didn’t show it.

Maui Executive CateringScheer sported a spiffy chef’s coat and wild dreadlocks barely restrained by a bright bandana. He welcomed the entourage into his immaculate kitchen, where he was about to prepare a seven-course feast—live and unrehearsed—in front of them. His knowing guests eyed the machinery, the spit-shined industrial stoves, the enormous walk-in, the sous-vide cooker and the dehydrator. They took their seats around a stainless steel prep table that had been transformed with elegant place settings.

Scheer and his business partner, Jason Hacker, explained their mission: to provide next-level cuisine for catered events and to open up their kitchen for exclusive chef’s table dinners, like this one. Maui Executive Catering’s headquarters may be off the beaten path, said Scheer, but it benefits from close proximity to island farms. Everything on the evening’s menu—from the octopus to the heart of palm—had been harvested nearby.

And with that, the banquet began. Scheer produced one mesmerizing course after the next. First came a tomato water teaser, playfully studded with chia seeds and a dollop of rich crème fraiche. This acidic shot across the bow was followed by octopus crudo—a slice of edible stained glass that shimmered beneath coconut water gelée. The tender white flesh was crowned with micro mustards, nasturtiums, and rainbow radishes sliced as thin as fairy wings.

“Food is art,” Scheer said. “You taste it first with your eyes.”

MHH_6010The chefs snapped photos, posting them to their social media accounts with glowing descriptions. And then they ate, murmuring and nodding as they savored each bite. Everyone fawned over the venison rillettes—irresistible shreds of braised rib and shank meat rolled in house-made granola, set on a generous smear of puréed fennel and accented with a whimsical dab of oat foam. It was a deeply satisfying dish, perhaps something Red Riding Hood’s hero would have feasted on before slaying the wolf.

Next came an organic rib eye slathered in rich bone marrow, which Scheer torch-seared into a crust. Tucked alongside was braised oxtail ragout, heart of palm and faux bone marrow in a playful bamboo “bone.” By this point, the chefs who were tweeting gave up listing individual ingredients—who could keep up? Clearly impressed, they began to wonder: Who is this guy?

One of the attendees knew the host well: Kyle Kawakami, a former instructor at Maui Culinary Academy. Scheer had been a promising student there just a few years back. After graduating in 2006, the Ohio transplant catapulted into a full-time catering career. He started out cooking for dive boats in the wee hours, in a borrowed pizza kitchen. He’s since built a brag-worthy kitchen of his own, returned to teach at his alma mater and quietly ratcheted up the standards for private dining on Maui.

Maui Executive CateringIn addition to attending Maui Culinary Academy, Scheer studied at the Culinary Institute of America and “staged” (that’s chef-speak for apprenticed) at Bottega and Flour + Water in California. In Honolulu, he did stints at Mavro’s and Town. Perhaps most significantly, for two years he spent every Monday elbow-deep in the soil at Kupa‘a Farms down the road, where he grew the vegetables he’d later cook.

Hacker, a long-time friend from Ohio, joined him in 2008. “We were working around the clock for the first few years,” says Scheer. The boats needed provisions 365 days a year, so the men didn’t get a day off. But on New Year’s Day in 2010, a rainstorm flooded Kihei and the boat trips were cancelled. Rather than celebrate or rest, Scheer and Hacker rang in the New Year by relocating their business to Ha‘iku , the heart of Maui’s farmland.

Maui Executive CateringThe small space in Ha‘iku Town Center was a shambles; the men transformed it into a gourmet laboratory. They painted the walls persimmon and rewired the electrical outlets to handle the commercial equipment they’d acquired. Among their investments: an enormous deck oven with steam-injection and a stone baking surface. “It cost a fortune to get it here,” says Hacker.

It was worth every penny: Scheer’s sourdough baguettes and loaves of multi-grain—made with fresh-milled flour—will make artisan bread fans weep with gratitude.

Today, Maui Executive Catering is the go-to choice for event planners with clients who are serious about food. It’s the primary caterer for Ha‘iku Mill, one of the island’s prettiest, most exclusive wedding venues. Catering allows Scheer to be more responsive than a typical restaurant chef. He can craft meals entirely around a client’s desires and neighboring farms’ freshest produce. His commitment to quality is impeccable; he makes everything from scratch. In the hinterlands of Ha‘iku , he’s crafting hyper-local cuisine that could easily compete with the most sophisticated plates in Manhattan.

A single dinner takes Scheer around three days to prepare. Often he’ll start with a Flintstone-sized slab of organic beef from Beef & Blooms, which he expertly breaks down into recognizable cuts: ribeye, short rib, chuck. He grinds the extra bits for dumplings and sliders, simmers the bones into stock and gives the scraps to Kupa‘a Farms. This semester he’s teaching Maui Culinary Academy students how to do the same: not just to carve perfect cuts, but also to purchase meat directly from local ranchers and maximize every morsel.

Maui Executive CateringSo what compelled this ambitious young chef to summon the sharpest knives on the island over for dinner? He explained over dessert—a complex affair involving fresh-spun cardamom ice cream, mint gelée, coffee cake and passion fruit leather.

“We’re all passionate and have our own styles, but I think we agree that restaurants need to change the way they source food,” said Scheer, having just served a meal that amply backed his argument. “It’s important to stay connected. One person doesn’t have that much power, but together we have influence.”

He had invited his colleagues to share his kitchen and collaborate on chef’s table dinners; their response was one of giddy enthusiasm. Everyone talked at once about raising the bar within the island’s culinary industry, rallying support for small, local farms and, essentially, starting a food-driven revolution. The evening began to take on historic overtones. What will result from this meeting of culinary minds? Impossible to say. But when a chef’s imagination is stirred, everyone’s palate wins.

To experience the magic yourself, book a seat at Maui Executive Catering chef’s table. Scheer, or perhaps one of his new comrades, will wow you with the best Maui has to offer.


Get Fresh: Produce Boxes Across Hawai‘i

Boxes full of fresh, seasonal produce direct from your local farms are available across Hawai‘i. While some subscription services act as brokers, and others are traditional CSAs (short for Community-Supported Agriculture, in which you are technically purchasing a harvest share from a certain farm) the benefits to you are the same—the freshest, 100 percent local ingredients to your table at a great value, all while showing direct support to your local growers. This is also a great gift idea!

Things to consider: Check on the volume, or amount of produce, the box will come with to ensure it meets your needs. If organic is a priority, be sure your box is certified. All boxes are not confined to produce; ask whether you can include items like flowers, honey, eggs, bread, or jams and syrups. Another important detail is whether there is a delivery or if you’ll have to pick up the boxes yourself.

Boxes are available from dozens of sources; depending on which island you are on, here are a few good places to start:

Hawai‘i Island is so vast—and fertile! Hawaii Homegrown Food Network keeps a thorough island-wide listing of the dozens of CSAs available. Visit their website and look in their Resources tab for full listing.

Kula Fields Farmshop services Maui, O‘ahu, and Lāna‘i with home delivery of a variety of different produce boxes and specialty items. Visit for more information.

MA‘O Organic Farm’s traditional CSA box also helps support their socially-driven farming projects. O‘ahu Fresh brokers produce and specialty items from island farmers with delivery and pick-up available.

Kauai Farm Connection is a consortium of organic farmers that offers a subscription produce box; pick-up available in Kilauea and Kapa‘a.

A Lesson in Thanksgiving: Honoka‘a Students Host 8th Annual Community Dinner

Story by Sara I. Smith

Honoka‘a High School student leaders and community volunteers join hands and hearts to bring Thanksgiving to those who need it most.

How does an after school program host Thanksgiving for 800 guests? With a whole lot of heart.

As this magazine goes to print, the juniors and seniors in Honoka‘a High School’s Student Leadership Training Program are hard at work planning their 8th annual Thanksgiving Dinner, a festive and completely free meal offered to anyone in the community of need. Whether it’s a need of food, friendship or thanksgiving 174that warm feeling resulting from a community coming together, no one is turned away. After all, it is Thanksgiving and the students are determined to provide their neighbors an evening to feel grateful for.

The sweetness of the scene, the care with which the cafeteria is trimmed and the bright young smiles in the buffet line, somewhat belie the fact that this dinner really does make a difference to many in the town. Since Honoka‘a’s sugar plantation closed in 1994, making ends meet is still hard for many. Over 70 percent of students qualify for free and reduced-cost lunch, a definite indicator of financial hardship, and the bedroom community’s rising number of senior citizens are increasingly affected by the area’s economic stalemate.

No one is more aware of this than Angella Brandt, lifelong Honoka‘a resident and faculty coordinator for the high school leadership program. When presented with the opportunity to take the event over from the local chapter of the Salvation Army back in 2004, she jumped on it. Under her care it has grown nearly five-fold.

In talking about the dinner and the leadership program she runs at the school, she refers to a quote by Winston Churchill: “We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” Brandt says earnestly, “I want to make that real for the kids.”

thanksgiving 060At its essence, Thanksgiving is an opportunity to share the spirit of gratitude through generosity and compassion. The young leaders at Honoka‘a High achieve this in spades. Last year the community dinner tipped the scales at 806 guests. They even deliver to the home-bound with volunteer help from local police and Lion’s Club members—an additional 106 meals.What an amazing feat considering their entire budget is $2,500 (about $2.75 per person.).

The student group toils over details for the dinner, from reservations and logistics, to budgeting, cooking and decorating. For the kids who assist with the meal drop-offs, often to neighborhoods they’d not normally frequent, the experience is especially eye-opening. “It makes them realize just how needy some are,” says Brandt.

The reward for their work is getting to greet and serve the guests that night. They become sitting ducks, albeit willingly, for spontaneous hugs from many a Tutu overcome with gratitude.

Honoka‘a alumna Jana Carpio recalls people coming to the dinner looking relaxed and happy. “You feel really warm knowing you did a good thing,” she says. Now a UH-Manoa student, Carpio helped plan three events in her time at the high school.

It takes nothing less than the broad shoulders of a willing community to pull this dinner off and Brandt is quick to give thanks for the support the project has attracted. Major financial backing comes from Hamakua Energy Partners and a generous repeat donor who prefers to remain anonymous. Different classes, even down to the elementary school level, take on fundraising projects for the dinner throughout the year. Additionally, much support comes in the form of small donations handed over by fellow faculty, friends and neighbors.

“Without the community we wouldn’t be able to have the dinner,” Carpio states adamantly.

The turkeys are sold at a deep discount from Malama Market, a subsidiary of Foodland. Waimea town’s Paniolo Country Inn provides gravy and stuffing; the staff at Mauna Lani Bay Hotel come in early to roast all 25 turkeys, and Queen Lili‘uokalani Children’s Center pays for the pies. When yields allow, neighbor farms donate produce fresh from their fields, salad greens or ‘uala (sweet potato). Always a hit is Jim Cain’s King Lau Lau poi, which he donates every year.

If there’s a little money left over in the budget they splurge on luxuries most of us wouldn’t think twice about tossing in our shopping cart: whipped cream for the pies and fresh strawberries. Funds also go toward non-perishable goods for edible door prizes—almost everyone gets one, they proudly report—things like granola bars, cans of SPAM, and boxes of cereal. Last year they started making special goodie bags just for the little kids.

thanksgiving 004Even with full bellies and warm hearts, their dinner guests do not leave empty-handed. Leftovers are bagged and handed out, centerpieces, balloons and the rest of the decorations are taken down and sent back out to bring cheer into people’s homes. With all the volunteers’ work now undone, it becomes an exercise in impermanence and a lesson in the true spirit of Thanksgiving.

“We really have to teach the kids how to volunteer,” Brandt says. “We provide them opportunities to be of service, then they get the bug.”

Former-student Carpio hopes the event continues to grow to feed even more people. To help make that happen, cash and food donations are gladly accepted. This year the students will be at it again on Wednesday, November 27 as the Community Thanksgiving Dinner at Honoka‘a High begins at 5 p.m. To make a reservation, arrange a home delivery, or donate, call the Student Leadership Program at (808) 775-8800 ext. 264.


Keiki in the Kitchen: Working Parents Guy Hagi and Kim Gennaula Make Family Dinner

Photos and story by Ed Morita

Kim & Guy in the Kitchen

For working parents, making dinner can be the bane of the day. Conversely, it can be just the occasion needed to bring the family together to share some precious time. That’s how local TV personalities Guy Hagi and Kim Gennaula view it.

Though their schedules are hectic, they’ve got a good system down. “Monday through Friday I do the cooking,” explains Guy, who has a dinner breakin between anchoring the weather on Hawaii News Now KGMB9. Kim, now busy as philanthropy director for Kapiolani Health Foundation, helps prep then tends to the duty of getting the kids to their many after-school activities.

They experimented with theme nights: Meatloaf Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, Whatever Wednesdays, Thursday Leftovers, and Friday Free-choice. “We just try to make it fun, something the kids can look forward to and have some input on.”

Kim & Guy Cooking FreshTaco night became a tradition, a meal where the kids can interact from start to finish. “They get to choose the ingredients when we’re at the market: chicken or beef, the vegetables; they get to feel for a good tomato, a ripe tomato.” Alia, 9, likes to make the guacamole and prep the fixings, while Luke, 11, likes to cook the meat.

“At this age, they just want to get involved in any way. Whatever duties we can assign to them, they’re more than willing to do: wash this, chop that, they have that curiosity. It’s not a chore, they want to help,” says Guy.

The kids’ involvement in food is evident: Alia jokes that caviar is her favorite food, while Luke’s vote is filet mignon. Both agree on Spam musubi as a close second.

“The challenge for me as a parent is to stop being so…Type-A,” he chuckles. “Slow down and let them get involved, even though it’ll be messier. It’s okay.”

Sometimes there’s a mishap. Then, it’s pizza night.


Preserving a Fishpond—and a Food Source, and History

by Tim Ryan

Bordered by a busy boat harbor, sheltered exclusive hilltop residences and exposed to vast Kaneohe Bay, He`eia Fishpond is all but hidden in this niche of windward O`ahu—known as He`eia Uli, Ko`olaupoko. This seclusion may well have both protected the 88-acre cultural treasure from overfishing and contributed to its deterioration, because no one noticed its relentless punishment by wind, waves, neglect and invasive mangrove.

“Even I wasn’t aware of this pond and my `ohana is from this community in Kahalu`u,” said Hi`ilei Kawelo, executive director of Paepae o He`eia since 2007. The organization works in partnership with the landowner, Kamehameha Schools, to manage and maintain He`eia Fishpond for the community. “I was blown away when I was introduced to this place.”

But not completely in a good way.

As important to Kawelo and the group of young Hawaiian friends was “the lack of Hawaiian presence” at such a significant cultural structure. It wasn’t long after that first visit that that the group of idealists created the nonprofit Paepae o He`eia “dedicated to caring for He`eia Fishpond.”

“I was young and full of energy,” she said. “Nothing is impossible when you’re in your early 20s. My closest and best friends were in this with me. It was really an ohana effort.”

Heeia Fishpond fish farmingOn this typical windward cloudy and drippy spring day, a large truck from Nanakuli delivers a load of coral and lava rocks, many weighing more than 100 pounds. The bimonthly deliveries are used to replenish the fishpond’s walls where rocks have tumbled into the shallow pond and are buried by sediment or washed into the ocean only to disappear or, in the case of coral, pounded into sand.

Several beefy men and some not so big separate the coral and lava rocks, stacking them into massive piles. The material will be placed on small flatbed trucks, then driven around the Kailua side of the wall for rebuilding. Where road access is not available, the rocks are delivered on small, floating barges. These are taken to the makai wall where the greatest deterioration has occurred—a 200-foot section of fishpond wall that’s been collapsing for decades.

He`eia Fishpond is a walled-style (kuapā) fishpond enclosing brackish water. The kuapā is built on the fringing reef that extends from the shoreline, surrounding the pond out into Kaneohe Bay.

Built approximately 600 to 800 years ago by the residents of the area, the kuapā is possibly the longest in the island chain, measuring about 1.3 miles (7,000 feet), and forms a complete circle around the pond. This is unique, since most other fishpond walls are either straight lines or half circles connecting one point of shoreline to another, Kawelo said.

“It’s like a kapuna presented us with the biggest challenge,” she said, laughing. “The fishpond with the most amount of wall that needs to be restored.”

In the 12 years since the organization was founded, about 3,000 feet of wall has been restored at a rate of 300 to 400 feet per year. First stage was to remove thousands of invasive and tangled mangroves. The plant not only destroys the walls when its roots entangle in the rocks and coral but also collects sediment around the perimeter.

Removing the mangrove is backbreaking work and all done by hand with the use of the chainsaws and muscle.

According to Kawelo, mangrove was introduced in Hawai`i on Moloka`i around 1900 and then on O`ahu in 1922. The Hawaii Sugar Growers Association brought it here after it saw the effects of large-scale agriculture on the land and ocean from the runoff.

The windward side of O`ahu “gets a lot of rain and anytime you get rain and exposed sediment it all goes straight into the ocean,” said Kawelo. HSGA “planted mangrove to mitigate that.”

The buildup of sediment in the fishpond also diminished the amount of oxygen there.

The pukas in the fishpond walls negated the pond’s purpose as well.

“Tides go in and out and if your pond can’t hold water [within its walls] you also can’t hold fish,” Kawelo explained.

At low tide workers are able to cut the mangrove near its base. Fortunately, the aggressive plant doesn’t grow back. No herbicides are used.

Since He`eia Fishpond is a designated historic site, there are restrictions on the kind of equipment that can be used in the restoration process.

“Paepae o He`eia prides itself in making use of the community with volunteers, which may mean doing things a bit slower but it ensures that we are investing in the community stakeholders of this pond,” Kawelo said. “We are only place holders here for a small window of time. When we’re gone we want to make sure this place is set up so we know the next generation is going to push it forward.”

The wall is composed of two separate volcanic rock walls parallel to one another on the outer edges, with the eight-foot area between them filled up with mostly coral and in some places rock and dirt. This compact style of wall slows water flow, allows the pond to maintain a base water level even at the lowest tides, and forces more water to the six mākāhā or sluice gates. Three of the mākāhā are along the seaward edge to regulate saltwater input; three more along He`eia Stream regulate fresh water input.

On this day about a dozen Nanakuli High School students are moving dozens of mangrove branches from a just-cleared makai section of the pond to be used for a Hawaiian structure on the leeward campus.

Covered in dirt and mud and noticeably tired but smiling, some walk atop the wall itself while others trek through the pond which on an average tide is about two and a half feet deep.

Hawaiian fishponds are unique and sophisticated forms of aquaculture found nowhere else in the world, Kawelo said.

The techniques of trapping adult fish with rocks in shallow tidal areas is found elsewhere but the six styles of Hawaiian fishponds, especially large walled ponds, were technologically advanced and efficient as their purpose was to cultivate baby fish to maturity.

This invention resulted from Hawaiians’ understanding of the environmental processes specific to the islands as well as their connection and observation of the food resources on the āina and in the ocean.

In Hawaiian literature, fishponds were associated with events during the 14th through 19th centuries. So it is possible that fishponds appeared in the Hawaiian Islands prior to the 14th century.

“Ocean fishing is dependent largely on weather and ocean conditions,” Kawelo said.

Since big surf, storms and other weather conditions influence and can interrupt fishing practices, fishponds provided Hawaiians with a regular supply of fish when ocean fishing was not possible or did not yield sufficient numbers.

At one time there were about 400 fishponds in Hawai`i with O`ahu having the most—about 96—the largest being the 500-plus acres in what is now Koko Marina.

By allowing both fresh and salt water to enter a pond, the environment is brackish and conducive to certain types of limu. By cultivating limu, like a rancher growing grass, the pond caretaker could easily raise herbivorous fish and not have to feed them, Kawelo said.

The fish that live in He`eia Fishpond include `ama`ama, awa, pualu, palani, aholehole, moi, kokala, kākū and papio. The fishpond is also home to a different species of papa`i, `ōpae, puhi and pipi. There also are predatory fish here such as barracuda and crabs such as Samoan crab.

“People’s tastes have become accustomed to eating predator fish like ahi, ono and mahimahi that really are rather bland, but we’re hoping we can alter that a bit to the more flavorful herbivorous varieties,” she said.

(To produce one pound of herbivore fish takes much less energy than a pound of carnivorous fish, which constantly need to consume other fish so there’s a lot of energy loss.)

Kawelo is concerned that a state surrounded by water has to import more than 60% of its fish.

“Hawai`i is the largest consumer of seafood per capita in the United States,” she said. “Our ancestors created and made very good use of traditional aquaculture.”

There isn’t an accurate method at this point to calculate how many fish are in He`eia Fishpond since a section of wall is open to the ocean.

“Historically, the lower estimate was 200 pounds of fish per acre per year; the higher estimate was 500 pounds multiplied by He`eia’s 88 acres,” she said.

Paepae o He`eia recognizes that He`eia Pond will never “feed the state of Hawai`i.”

“The pond had been created to feed a very specific small geographic community that housed the ahupua`a of He`eia, about 2,000 people,” Kawelo said. “It wasn’t the sole source of protein but more of a supplement and they would stockpile fish in the pond, creating a reserve.”

The organization’s annual budget is $500,000 to $600,000, most of which pays 10 employees, including six full time. All monies come from fundraising.

“We’re really cheap when it comes to materials,” she said. “All we need is rock and coral.”

Kawelo estimates He`eia Fishpond’s remaining 4,000 feet of damaged wall will be restored within 15 years, including three to five years to repair the wall along He`eia Stream.

“We hope the Field of Dreams phenomena occurs,” she said. “We build it and the fish will come.”

Heeia Fishponds gate 2

Seeds of Hope: A Film About Farming in Hawai‘i

By Jon Letman

It’s a well-known fact that Hawai`i imports nearly 90% of its food. Owing to geographic isolation and a heavy reliance on these imports, people in the islands are keenly aware of what could happen to the state’s food supply if transportation lines were disrupted. Greater recognition of this vulnerability has fueled a movement of people who aren’t just talking about breaking Hawai`i’s import addiction, but are paving the way to a stronger, healthier, more food-secure tomorrow.

Now their story is being told in a feature length documentary called Seeds of Hope (Nā Kupu Mana`olana). Several years ago board members of the Hawai`i Rural Development Council (HRDC), a nonprofit that supports the economic and social welfare of rural communities, decided that the best way to raise awareness of the need for greater self-sufficiency was to make a film.

The 87-minute documentary was written and directed by Hawai`i Island–based filmmaker (and former HRDC member) Danny Miller. He describes Seeds as a vision of how 21st century Hawai`i is answering the challenges of food security by drawing upon its own traditions, historical understanding of the land, and people who recognize the need to cooperate with nature in order to survive.

In 2009, Miller began three years of speaking with dozens of farmers, ranchers, gardeners, educators and local food advocates across the state. He says he was moved by how many people in Hawai`i already “get it” and are making the shift toward food sovereignty.

A more sustainable food future for Hawai`i, Miller says, is rooted in its past. He points to the Hawaiian land management system based on ahupua`a land divisions that fed a pre-contact population comparable or greater than today.

HRDC Chair Alan Murakami says the making of Seeds helped him appreciate how Hawai`i’s resource base already contributes to sustaining small communities by growing their own crops, hunting and fishing. He hopes the film will advance the discussion of food security.

“We’ve got basically no warehousing except for those containers on the ocean between California and Hawai`i. If something happens to that pipeline, we’re out of food,” Murakami says.

For Seeds co-executive producer Kevin Chang, one of the most poignant moments in the film is when Moloka`i activist Walter Ritte describes paddling away from the island until he can look back and see the physical limits to available resources.

“In a lot of ways people on the continent aren’t able to appreciate that perspective, but there’s a lot to learn about what a small system like Hawai`i is doing to deal with these issues. People say the Earth is an island … it’s just that you can’t see it until you actually look at an island on the Earth.”

Like her fellow HRDC board members, Seeds co-executive producer Mona Bernardino hopes the film drives home the point that everyone in Hawai`i needs to support the farmers by buying locally grown produce. The filmmakers hope the movie forces people in Hawai`i to consider what kind of agriculture they want to support.

Seeds brings together a diversity of voices from small family-owned farms and organic farmers to multi-national biotech giants like Monsanto and even a Hawaiian professor who led the production of GMO papayas. In doing so, the film raises questions about whether remaining agricultural lands, infrastructure and vital resources like water should be used strictly for growing food to feed people here or for producing experimental genetically engineered seeds for export and other crops for biofuels or other nonfood items.

“That balance is going to be critical to whether we achieve greater food security,” Murakami says.

Seeds of Hope is proof that talk of food security is not merely pie-in-the-sky. The more than 45 people Miller interviewed for the film—the farmers, ranchers, teachers and community leaders—are the real deal and they’re creating Hawai`i’s food future.

They are people like Kamuela Enos, a director at MA`O Organic Farms in Wai`anae. Enos says Seeds speaks to more than simple questions of sustainability but also examines the depth and complexity of Hawai`i’s community-based food systems. He believes the film can spark discussions about environmental and social justice and sovereignty—both cultural and community—and about revitalizing indigenous agricultural models.

On Kaua`i, lifelong farmer Jerry Ornellas says Seeds of Hope imparts a wealth of knowledge from people who aren’t just what he calls “Google experts” but from people who live and breathe agriculture. He says the film has broad appeal because its topics are universal and, in an increasingly urbanized world, “people everywhere are in interested where there food is coming from.”

During a recent visit to the East Coast, Ornellas noticed that people in large urban areas had the same interest in local food and farming as people in Hawai`i. A major difference, he says, is that in Hawai`i everyone can grow food year-round, even if it’s just something small in a backyard garden or on a lānai. “If nothing else, gardening teaches you what farmers have to deal with,” he says.

Director Danny Miller sees plenty of reason for optimism. “It’s happening now. This shift, away from imported food dependence to a future where we have control over our own food sources, is coming—and it will come—from the people. It’s really a grassroots movement, in every way.” Making this move will mean Hawai`i is better off economically, environmentally and socially, says Miller. “I believe the people will lead and, eventually, the government will follow.

Big Island farmer and educator Nancy Redfeather also appears in the film. She says support by State agencies like the Department of Education is imperative to the success of transitioning to a more sustainable food model. Redfeather, director of the Hawai`i Public Seed Initiative (a project of the Kohala Center), says the State has a key role in making sure land and water are available for small farmers and that it invests financial resources in the education of future farmers.

Besides maintaining higher standards of land stewardship, Redfeather says it’s critical to have children in school seed-to-table garden programs beginning in kindergarten and continuing through high school and college.

Redfeather believes part of the solution may be to, instead of having one 1,300-acre farm, strive for 1,300 one-acre farms which is closer to the traditional Hawaiian model.

“When Captain Cook sailed into Kealakekua Bay, his botanist recorded looking up on a hillside of green, small gardens where the Hawaiians grew food for what is thought to have been 100,000 people that might have lived on the Kona Coast of Hawai`i Island.”

Watching a film like Seeds of Hope is important, Redfeather says. “Sometimes when you know the story, it influences your behavior.” She hopes the film will inspire the government to support a farming renaissance that is rising from the community. “This is an opportunity now. It’s not something that needs to be created—it’s already there.”

“We don’t have to gather more research,” says Redfeather. “We just need to act and that takes will, intention, direction and focus. It seems like we should be able to do it. This is really a time to act.”

Learn more about Seeds of Hope (Nā Kupu Mana`olana)at and watch it on PBS Hawai`i in September 2013.

Seeds of Hope: A Film About Farming