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I kicked the mud from my shoes before following Kākoʻo ʻŌiwi Executive Director Jonathan Kanekoa Kukea Shultz inside the new Hoʻolauana Wash Pack Station. The space opened for operation this month and is relatively spotless for a farm facility. But take away the fresh coats of paint and concrete floors yet to be stained by the coming and going of work boots, and it still feels welcoming and familiar. 

Shultz later gave reasoning to my response: the Hoʻolauana Wash Pack Station was designed by the community, built by the community and will meet a need to help feed the community. The project was made possible by a $109,500 grant given to the nonprofit by the Hawaiian Airlines Foundation in August 2022, and Shultz and his team have big dreams for their new facility.

Meeting the Need

The 4000-square-foot building is fully equipped with wash tubs and tumblers, air-tight storage spaces and temperature-controlled chillers. Its floorplan is roomy, built for both working and gathering. The doorless entrances invite the breeze from the Koʻolau Mountains and expansive views of the 405 acres of land that Kākoʻo ʻŌiwi manages flank a partially unenclosed communal area. 

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The Hoʻolauana Wash Pack Station


Shultz explained that the Hoʻolauana Wash Pack Station will play a critical role in improving the efficiency of community food production efforts. “A few years ago, we opened a commercial kitchen and poi mill to prepare our product. But when you have a 405-acre farm, those kitchens get overwhelmed pretty quickly – especially when other farms and friends are asking to use them too,” he said.

“With the support of the Hawaiian Airlines Foundation, we were able to build this wash pack area, which will allow us to free up space, streamline our production and process not only our materials but other small farms’ too.”

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A beautiful sign made of Kamani tree wood was recently hung to mark the completion of the Hoʻolauana Wash Pack Station.


Shultz also shared that the Hoʻolauana Wash Pack Station will make it easier for farmers to sell their products by acting as a hub of sorts. Kākoʻo ʻŌiwi is situated in the ahupuaʻa (land division) of Heʻeia and accessible by four major transportation arteries – the Likelike Highway, the Pali Highway, Interstate H-3 and the Kamehameha Highway. When traffic is mellow, the farm is only about a 30-minute drive from the Oʻahu’s urban neighborhoods.

“Instead of having farmers from further away communities drive, they can just drop off at Kākoʻo. We can then aggregate, combine and hotels, restaurants, etc. can pick up here,” he explained. 

Nonprofits like the KEY Project, which Hawaiian also closely supports, are already planning to leverage the Hoʻolauana Wash Pack Station. Shultz shared that the facility would help these organizations by reducing their workload to focus on their other community programs.

A Long-Time Partnership

Our airline has admired Kākoʻo ʻŌiwi since its inception in 2011. Debbie Nakanelua-Richards, director of community and cultural relations at Hawaiian Airlines, and her team took interest in the organization after learning about a group of young, up-and-coming Native Hawaiian leaders who wanted to restore the Heʻeia ahupuaʻa, which extends from the proximate peak of the Koʻolau Mountains, across hundreds of acres of forests and wetlands, and to the fishponds and coral reefs of Kāneʻohe Bay.

The wetlands of Heʻeia on Oʻahu's Windward side. I captured this photo while volunteering on a gorgeous day with five other Team Kōkua colleagues in August.


That group resulted in the founding of Kākoʻo ʻŌiwi, Paepae o Heʻeia and Papahana Kuaola, all of which continue to work together to restore the ahupuaʻa to its productive pastime and rekindle the reciprocal connection between the community, land and sea.

“It was fascinating to see young people plan for land and water and management of these gifts. We wanted to be a part of their beginning, and that's when our relationship started,” Nakanelua-Richards said. Since then, our Team Kōkua employee volunteers have regularly participated in workdays at all three nonprofits. 

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Employees this week helped harvest kalo (taro) from a loʻi (taro patch) to celebrate the completion of the Hoʻolauana Wash Pack Station.


“We’ve always volunteered on Kākoʻo ʻŌiwi’s farm, but when we learned it wanted to expand and create this food hub for its community, we knew there was a meaningful opportunity to take our relationship to the next level and go beyond our sweat equity,” Nakanelua-Richards explained.

“What Kākoʻo ʻŌiwi is trying to do is create opportunities for others, not just themselves, to grow food and build more sustainable communities," she continued. "One of the plights of smaller farmers is not having the wherewithal to scale their product for the market, so what has always been so attractive about this project is how it's rooted in mindfulness. Kākoʻo ʻŌiwi hopes to grow through this wash pack facility, but to them, that success needs to be inclusive of their partners, neighborhood and community."

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Employees this week helped harvest kalo (taro) from a loʻi (taro patch) to celebrate the completion of the Hoʻolauana Wash Pack Station.

Passing the Pōhaku

Before Shultz and I finished touring the Hoʻolauana Wash Pack Station, I questioned how he juggles his many hats on and off the farm. With a humble nature, he responded, “I’ve had great advisors and people who have taught me. I don’t feel I am that old yet, but I see myself as part of the continuum of growing more people. Hopefully, when my time has passed, I can say that I’ve left it better than when I received it for our children, and they can take the pōhaku (stone) and carry it further.”

Shultz educating Team Kōkua volunteers about the history of Heʻeia and how it represented one of the most extensive areas of wetland taro cultivation on Oʻahu.


Asked about the future of Kākoʻo ʻŌiwi, he pointed to three young staff members whom I could see working through the windows of the nearby commercial kitchen. He encouraged me to talk to them and gather their thoughts on being young farmers. So, I did. I knocked on the door and introduced myself. We circled a stainless-steel table and each shared why they chose to grow their career at Kākoʻo ʻŌiwi.

Dochin, Kiakona and Damaso (L to R) gather around a sheet of delicious taro crunch cake made with ingredients from the farm for our Team Kōkua volunteers.


“Working here in particular is meaningful because if this land wasn’t farmed, it would probably turn into something else,” said 34-year-old Cullen Dochin from Waimea, Hawaiʻi Island “I think that’s true of a lot of land that’s not zoned as agriculture or conservation. Everything is worth more money when you develop it or turn it toward tourism. So, doing this isn’t just a job, it’s conserving this land and protecting it from being something else.”

Mya Damaso, a 23-year-old from Mililani, Oʻahu, shared, “For me, it’s an identity thing. I needed to find a way to ground myself and that comes with being connected to your kūpuna (elders, ancestors) to seek guidance and connect back to your roots. And I feel a responsibility that I need to give back to the community. That’s my goal.”

Kāneʻohe resident Makana Kiakona, 22, agreed. “It’s also an identity thing for me. I went out of state for college and that opened my eyes to the fact that I wanted to work in Hawaiʻi. In this field, you can get your hands and feet dirty. To me, this work helps me walk the same way that my kūpuna walked.”

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At the end of this week's volunteer day, Team Kōkua gathered to commemorate the new Hoʻolauana Wash Pack Station, made possible by the Hawaiian Airlines Foundation.


As Hawaiʻi’s hometown carrier, we are proud to call Kākoʻo ʻŌiwi a partner and support its vision for the future of food production and community building in Hawaiʻi. Through the Hawaiian Airlines Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charitable arm of Hawaiian Airlines, our company can invest in impactful initiatives that benefit the community. Our focus areas include programs that seek to improve student achievement in Hawai‘i, perpetuate Hawaiian cultural knowledge and awareness, and protect and preserve ecosystems throughout the state.

To learn more about Kākoʻo ʻŌiwi, including how to get involved or donate, visit www.kakoooiwi.org