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Living to Serve, Local Style

Kahua Pa‘a Mua
November 3, 2020

“You want ‘em, you make ‘em; you broke ‘em, you fix ‘em.”
That’s the saying David Fuertes grew up hearing on the plantation, and that spirit of pride in self- sufficiency has served him well. He lives by another motto, too, one that’s about the links between learning, skill- building, and community: “The model I grew up on is: learning to do, doing to learn, learning to live, and living to serve,” he says.

As the plantations and their way of life disappeared, he passed on those values as an agriculture teacher with the Hawai‘i State Department of Education. He watched many of his students grow into leaders of the community. Says David, “When you look at those leaders you go, ‘Wow, we were happy we could contribute to them.”

When David retired in 2010, he and his wife Carol, a fourth-generation Hawai‘i Island resident, founded Kahua Pa‘a Mua, a nonprofit with its roots in the earth and a mission to enhance the strength and resilience of Kohala’s communities through agriculture. Their programs include education and mentorship for youth, adults, and whole families.

When the pandemic arrived and the need for food security, local knowledge, and community strength took on a new urgency, Kahua Pa‘a Mua was already training its first cohort of ten families for its ‘Ohana Agricultural Resilience (OAR) program. Each family chose produce to grow, and were trained in the raising of chickens, pigs, or fish. Over the course of the year, OAR families learned how to plant, weed, harvest, tend—and how to work together.

During a time of great challenge, this was something the OAR families could do for themselves, and it also became something they could do for the community. OAR farming families have distributed hundreds of pounds of produce in the North Kohala Community.

In August, the Hawai‘i Community Foundation (HCF) announced that nearly 40 nonprofits will receive a total of $721,739 in grants, funded by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, to support community-based food security efforts in Native Hawaiian communities statewide. The grants support HCF Strong Funds for each county, including Kaua‘i Strong, O‘ahu Strong, Maui County Strong, and Hawai‘i Island Strong.

David’s organization was one of the grantees. In the last three months, Kahua Pa‘a Mua has been able to amplify this funding, distributing more than 3,000 pounds of produce that finds its way into more than 500 food distributions and hot meals each week.

But, as David says, “this was not only about growing vegetables or animals. What happened was, the families come together. There is a lot of work that has to be done.” Parents worked shoulder to shoulder with kids and grandparents. Over the course of a year, the program also bonded community newcomers with old-timers, says David. “You’re building a microcosm of a community, and they learn from each other. Newcomers come in, they’ve been here for two years, and they say, ‘Wow, now I understand what’s local style.”

Kahua Pa‘a Mua