Online platform to help farmers sell locally | News, Sports, Jobs

Mahi’ai Project Director Theresa Hi’ilei Martinson poses on Thursday morning with Kewalo tomatoes grown by Keokea neighbors John and Victoria Keanaaina of Keanaaina Farm. Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Keokea owner Theresa Hi’ilei Martinson has high hopes for a future where the Maui community can live and support a farm-to-fork way of life.

After being appointed director of the Mahi’ai Project, where Martinson will help design and operate a “Like Amazon” distribution system that connects consumers to locally grown produce, she said, “I am incredibly excited” and “Humiliated” to have the opportunity to work towards that vision.

“I know a lot of farmers are selling to family and friends, you know, word of mouth, so being able to launch this idea on a bigger platform is really exciting.” she said on Wednesday afternoon. “Empowering more people to grow and produce their own food, be self-sufficient and empower our community – I’m really passionate about this part. “

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs has provided a grant of $ 58,395 to fund the online platform, which will allow local suppliers, especially indigenous Hawaiian farmers and ranchers, to sell their products independently.

The Maui-based Pa’upena Community Development Corporation is helping execute the grant for the project.

The director of the Mahi’ai project, Theresa Hi’ilei Martinson, holds a head of cabbage freshly picked and grown at Keanaaina Farm on Thursday. Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

The name of the project has a dual purpose: mahi’ai is the Hawaiian word for farmer and is an acronym for “mea ‘ai Hawaii in the ingestion’ aina,” resulting in “Farm-to-table Hawaiian cuisine” or interpreted as “Cultivated by the indigenous community”, Martinson explained.

Participating farmers can publish their seasonal products on the future Mahi’ai Project website along with their personalized registration price; 100 percent of the profits go to the seller in the form of a paycheck every two weeks or so.

Customers will be able to purchase items online with a credit card and coordinate a pickup or return with the seller “While being able to take social distances and take care of ourselves and our community”, she said.

“We have already generated enormous interest in both buying and selling”, Martinson said, adding that this program is also targeting backyard or family farmers and other small ranchers who are interested in entrepreneurship.

“I think it will give them the opportunity”, she said. “Even a small yard can produce so much food and give them a chance to start a business. “

Martinson owns freshly picked produce from Keanaaina Farm, including beets, onions and eggplants. Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Inspiration for the project came from a desire to motivate other native Hawaiian cultivators and help fulfill the goals of Governor David Ige “Priority for food sovereignty”, as well as pushing the Hawaii State Department of Lands to provide more farmland to Maui, she said Thursday.

The nature of the COVID-19 pandemic has also created a need for some type of program that could help tackle food insecurity while maintaining social distancing and other safety measures.

Once launched, the Mahi’ai project will include items like vegetables, fruits, meat, eggs and dairy products. For farmers who may not have the capacity of the land to cultivate, one option might be to sell starters for lettuce or tomato plants or tree seedlings.

In the future, Martinson hopes to expand the program to offer items higher in the production process, such as jams, jellies and bread.

So far, a veteran Hawaiian farmer on the Waiohuli estate has already shown interest in offering fresh garden produce, such as mangoes and dragon fruit, and a Keokea homelands grower has eggplants and tomatoes.

Thomas Emmsley of Waiehu Kou 4 Farm, Kihapai Horticultural LLC, said in a press release that his beekeeping family are planning to provide honey.

Emmsley added that “Indigenous farmers need an initiative like the Mahi’ai project” because the pandemic “Changed the economic landscape”.

Martinson plans to list some of her items that she also grows on the property, such as taro, bananas, squash and native mamaki tea.

Finally, all products purchased from the website will carry the “Cultivated by the Aboriginal community” label.

She anticipates that students from Ke Kula ‘o Maui ma Kekaulike, the Hawaiian-language immersion program at King Kekaulike High School, will participate in the development of the logo.

Long-term, “I think it can have a change in our future generations and involve our keiki in the growth of things”, she said.

She considers that this “Much needed” The program will encourage people to support and buy from their neighbors and to depend less on big box stores.

Maui’s year-round program is scheduled to go live on or after October 1 and will be open to consumers across the island, including visitors.

Martinson said they are working with different web designers to lock down a platform for Project Mahi’ai and will post the link later this month. The project website will likely be a subdomain of the Pa’upena website, which can be accessed at

“We are in the process of making this a three year project right now and hope to secure additional funding to make it a permanent resource,” she said.

For more information, call Martinson at 779-5143 or email

* Dakota Grossman can be contacted at

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