Our Final Day Together

Our last day for our travel seminar was bittersweet- not just because it would be our last day all together, but because our first stop was to Maui Ku’ia Estate Chocolate Farm! We departed from our hotel for the beautiful costal drive to first meet David McPherson, Farm Manager of Maui Ku’ia Estate Chocolate. As … Read more

ALP Class XVII Hawaii/Maui Trip Day Four – UpCountry Maui

“Upcountry Maui”

Laura Rieber

It has been a tough year for our cohort due to covid, but what we have learned is priceless. True leaders learn to pivot continuously and act as if it was effortless. They never give up and learn to go with the flow, mitigate confrontation, inspire change, and continue to grow. Agriculture is difficult to begin with and throw in the inability to connect face to face and work together makes the industry extremely challenging… a challenge that our hosts in each of our site visits today have proven true leaders of.

Oko’a Farms 

We started off by driving “upcountry”.  Our first visit was to meet with Ryan Earehart of Oko’a Farms a pioneer in the straight to the consumer movement. With 14 employees (20 if you include the family), Oko’a farms is Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) at its finest. We went to a farmers’ market, but not the typical farmers market that comes to mind – this market is now centered around one farmer. The farmer that continues to impress his customers with eye catching and beautiful fresh produce immaculately displayed on several tables. This matters to the consumer and it is something Ryan actively trains his staff to notice. Who wants second grade produce?

There were a few other vendors at this market, but the lines were for Oko’a Farm stand. Ryan is the leader of this family farming business. They have been leasing the land that they grow a variety of fruit, vegetables, and root crops  (over 30). However, COVID has brought with them enough success that they are in the process of purchasing the land. They have grown their customer base up so that they are also finalizing plans to move into a permanent brick and mortar location as to be able to better meet the demands of their customers.

Ryan shared with us the struggles and triumphs of being an organic farmer in Hawaii. He doesn’t believe in undercutting his own farm to fulfill the demands of big box stores single item purchases. His customers come to him for the variety that he continually has available for purchase. It is a struggle to have such a variety, but the customers repeat purchase and constant support makes the labor-intensiveness of some crops like parsnips worth it. As no one just gets parsnips, they get carrots, eggplant, kale, bananas, oranges etc. But without the parsnips… he would be like every other vendor. Not only does he have the variety, but he also has the enthusiastic customer service to back it up. With COVID, the farm stand had to pivot from the traditional, “pick your own produce” to an awkward “no touchy” of the produce. Rather than make it problematic, the staff began to provide a true one to one service. The staff brought over several produce for their customers to choose from and in the end… the customer feels good about the purchase and often would buy more.

Ocean Vodka 

4051 Omaopio Road Kula, HI 96790

808-877-0009 | 866-776-2326

After we too purchased some produce, we headed to another organic operation… Hawaii Sea Spirts the creators of Ocean Vodka. What an amazing 80 acre “upcountry” farm. We walked out of the gravel parking lot to an immaculate and inviting grass lawn that dropped off like an infinity pool to the view of the vast ocean, west Maui mountains and the valley floor. Perfect setting to grab a chase lounge chair, cocktail and talk story. Which we did after we enjoyed an amazing lunch at their on-site diner Café at the Point.

We sat down with the founder and president, Shay Smith himself who revealed how Ocean Vodka got started and how COVID is influencing their current decisions. Shay shared that agriculture was not his “core competency” and learning from others has proven to be the anchor of his success. What started out as a small-family start-up is now becoming a leader in Hawaii’s growing alcohol industry. For Ocean Vodka it is about high quality. From the fact that the sugar cane is grown organically in a small farm setting, to utilizing ocean water which contains minerals that other alcohols just don’t have and the base of the awards that it has received. The unique bottle came with its own set of hurdles… but have you noticed how often you see the iridescent, ocean blue mooring buoy look alike? The Ocean Vodka bottle is everywhere… including at the cash register in WholeFoods  Throughout the conversation, pivoting seemed to be the key to a successful farm business.


Malolo Farms 



We made it back up that curvy road and further down to Kula. As we made the last turn and looked up. The once blue skies were had darkened with heavy clouds, and the rain sputtered. We went down a small driveway to what looked like a residential area and ended at a small house. At that moment, a storm broke out with heavy rains immediately causing rivers in the driveway, small ponds, and moisture. Ali Minney of Malolo Farms came out to greet us and soothingly told us, “it will pass, we’re in Kula”. She welcomed us into her garage / flower packing area / wood workshop / dry space. The rain pounded outside so hard that it was hard to hear each other speak just six feet away. We were reminded calmly and sincerely… “it will pass, we’re in Kula”.

We gave our introductions, and she shared the history behind Malolo Protea Farms. COVID brought a subtle stop in business alongside the sudden stop in tourism, large events, weddings etc. Malolo Farms is just under six acres and focuses on an array of cut flowers including protea. Even through the shutdown she and her all-female team remained optimistic and knew eventually that this too shall pass, just like the Kula rain. Work went to other ventures while maintaining the plants. Over the last year, and with the help of her daughter, the farm made a  pivot with the new growing demand for agritourism and desire to see firsthand the flower farm… the rain did pass. The sun came back out and we were able to walk around this beautiful, unique flower farm learning about the different varieties, pruning practices and flower care… no wonder her agritourism venture is growing and providing additional income.

We left each with a bouquet of flowers in which made each of us individually feel special, unique and happy… the overall feeling of Malolo Farms. Mahalo

Maui Wine

+1 (808) 878-6058

14815 Piilani Hwy, Kula, HI 96790

Our last stop of the day was another half hour down the narrow curvaceous street to mile market 20.5. Turning off the narrow highway we followed our host past another eight-foot-high deer fencing. Maui is inundated with deer. Deer that devastate farms and ranches. Eating foliage off ornamentals, natives, vegetables, young trees etc. Those who practice rotational grazing are losing their next rotations feed to the deer who move just ahead of the ranchers. The only way to prevent them is a deer fence. Tall, expensive yet a necessity.

The Maui Wine vineyards were an amazing sight. The backdrop to the estate was nothing short of impressive. The vineyard sits on high enough elevation to see the entire island of Kahoolawe and all Kihei Town. The bright blue skies accented the green grass and grapevines. Straight out of a picture book of when dreams come true. Perhaps that is why Paula Hegele, President of Maui Wine is so enthusiastic. Her energy was enlightening, motivating, and enticing. Exactly what you need to ensure a successful winery in “upcountry” Kula. People drive from all around the island to experience this… and it is worth it. Agritourism is a difficult venture for most farmers, especially with the regulations that are emerging and to inspire a continuous flow of visitors takes people like Paula and her two sons Joe and Henry Hegele. Joe shared his inspiration on how to keep positive during difficult times, adapting to the ever-changing environment, failing varieties, successful harvest, regulations, people and the times.

We were then welcomed to taste the array of wine grown and offered by Maui Wine. We met Henry an aspiring wine maker who shared passionately about the different varieties of wine offered including the Syrah, Malbec, Grenache, Chenin Blanc, Viognier and Gewurztraminer.  Not only was the wine amazing but so was the food. Each dish that we sampled was as divine as the wine. The truffle chips were addictive. The spicy popcorn was amazing. The care and innovation combined with the family’s passion feels like the backbone to the entire enterprise. Its worth the drive… its worth the time.

The theme of the day seemed to be that COVID strengthened each of these businesses because they continually pivoted with the curves that came ahead of them. Just like the roads to and from “upcountry”. You can’t go straight… if you do… you won’t find yourself on the road… but in a ditch. You must keep turning as the road curves, you must keep alert looking far enough ahead to be prepared for what just may come. You must learn to be patient through the downpours knowing they are frequent yet temporary. You must remain optimistic, learn from the mistakes yet keep experimenting until you find what works successfully for your business and your consumer. This seems like a definition of a leader that is relatable across many agriculture ventures.  We also learned that sometimes, when the curves become overwhelming, you must stop on the side of the road and let nausea pass. A positive to CoViD 19… we can easily see who the true leaders are.

Thanks for reading along…

ALP Class XVII Hawaii/Maui Trip Day Three

Greenwell Farms


We visited Greenwell farms located in Kona on our third day.
Greenwell farms has a long history on island as an abundant farm but we focused mostly on the most recent timeline involving coffee.
In the 1980s some of property was sold and 400 acres were kept for coffee by Tom Greenwell. He is 4th generation of the Greenwell family. Tom says that his most successful square footage is a stand of coffee which includes a diversified fruit orchard.

Most of his workers come from the HTO program which is an agreement with Mexico to bring in workers from Mexico. He has been able to increase the number of workers through this program.

Greenwell Farms is the first mechanical farm in Hawaii which used machines to mass-produce coffee.

Cutting coffee trees down to a stump helps with coffee borer pest.

He is starting to cultivate black pepper which has become a lucrative plant at Greenwell Farms.

Black pepper bushes
Black Pepper
Coffee seedlings
Final product coffee roasted at the farm.
Rejected beans
The sorting and cleaning processing pools
Coffee seedlings. Ready to plant.
The roaster



Ocean Era


Ocean Era – formerly Kampachi Farms – is a Hawaii-based mariculture company focused on expanding the environmentally sound production of the ocean’s finest fish.

Through innovative research and application of the best available science, Ocean Era will remain on the cutting edge of healthy, environmentally responsible seafood.



Ocean Era formerly Kampachi Farms has successfully conducted two state-of-the-art offshore aquaculture trials in Federal waters around Hawaii. These trials tested numerous technologies necessary to take aquaculture “over-the-horizon.” The Velella Beta test involved the use of an unmoored, copper-alloy meshed Aquapod®, stocked with around 2,000 kampachi, attached only to a feed barge / tender vessel, which drifted with the currents, between 3 – 75 miles offshore of the Big Island. This was the world’s first unanchored net-pen trial, and was awarded one of TIME Magazine’s “25 Best Inventions of the Year” for 2012.

Pod on surface splitview.png

The Velella Gamma test used the same net pen, species, and number of fish, but included a single-point mooring located in 6,000 ft deep water, some 6 nautical miles offshore of the Kona Coast. This trial used a remotely-controlled, unmanned feed barge to facilitate “over-the-horizon aquaculture”. Technicians could run the farm remotely, using an iPhone or iPad, and only needed to visit the site once a week to top up the feed in the hopper and the fuel in the generator.   

We visited ALP alumn, 


Jennica was introduced to marine aquaculture after high school, and immediately believed in its potential to mitigate many of the challenges our oceans face. She received her Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology from Florida Atlantic University in 1999 and her Master of Science (focusing on fish health in aquaculture) from the University of Florida in 2002. She worked with Florida’s Cooperative Extension Service after graduate school, then spent two years raising marine ornamental fish in Florida and Puerto Rico. In 2006 Jennica joined Kona Blue Water Farms as a hatchery technician, then assumed the role of Research and Fish Health Manager. KBWF’s research team explored new species for aquaculture, new product development and processing, novel disease treatments and fish nutrition. In 2012 she joined Blue Ocean Mariculture (Kona, HI) to focus on commercial food fish production and helped lead the company’s successful offshore permitting and expansion efforts. From 2013 – 2014, Jennica was also a member of the Hawaii Agriculture Leadership Foundation’s Class XIV. This experience imparted on her a greater appreciation of Hawai’i’s history and its uniqueness.

Jennica spent four years as a contractor with the Coastal Aquaculture Siting and Sustainability (CASS) gr

oup, part of NOAA’s National Ocean Service, in Beaufort, North Carolina. Here she was part of a team that provides science, guidance, and technical support to coastal managers so communities can grow a sustainable aquaculture industry, while maintaining and improving ecosystem health. Working with CASS, Jennica gained insight into the processes that much of the industry struggles with. She also gained respect for the people who chose to serve our Nation in often complicated roles.

In early 2021 Jennica joined Ocean Era. She is excited to be part of a company whose focus is on the research and expansion of responsibly practiced aquaculture.

We also visited with


Dr. Simona Augyte has over 10 years of experience working with macroalgal cultivation, genetics, and reproduction. She has conducted extensive research on the ecophysiology and breeding of brown, green, and red seaweeds in both tropical and temperate marine systems. Her Ph.D. work at the University of Connecticut focused on the domestication of unique kelp for aquaculture. Overall, she is passionate and dedicated to fostering sustainable mariculture development in the US for food, feed, and bioenergy production.


For more detailed information about the incredible work they are doing to create sustainable and native food systems, please go to this link:











ALP Class XVII Hawaii / Maui Trip Day Two

Bird&Bee Suited

Waking up at The Kamuela Inn Waimea is a great way to start a day full of adventure. Continental breakfast was available with coffee, yogurt, muffins and granola. The schedule had us departing from the hotel for Bird and Bee Hawai’i at 8am. Arriving at the gate with the shark on it, we head up … Read more

ALP Class XVII Hawaii/Maui Trip Day One

Aloha! My name is Stephanie Mock, participant of the Ag Leadership Class XVII and this is my first blog post for our class detailing the first day of our Hawaii Island & Maui travel seminar during September 2021. You’ll see that links have been included that provide more background information on each of the sites … Read more

ALP Class XVII Explores Ag in Urban Honolulu

  The last day of our first in person seminar was another whirlwind of tours around the town side of O’ahu. After completing a two-day training with the famous Donna Ching, we were all too eager to utilize our new skills in the real world.                     … Read more

Legitimize Immediately and Often!

Facilitation Training Facilitation Activity in Progress View from ALP Alumni Dinner After our first day together in the field, class XVII had a 2-day in-class facilitation training with Donna R. Ching of The Pacific Center for Collaboration (https://www.pacificcollaboration.com/). Although the original plan was to utilize Plant Quarantine’s boardroom, a faulty A/C made us seek refuge … Read more

ALP Class XVII In-Person at Last!

ALP Class XVI at Corteva Agriscience

After over 8 months of meeting virtually due to COVID restrictions, ALP Class XVII met in person from July 20-23, 2021 on the island of O‘ahu. The seminar began with a day of site visits on the North Shore. I hope you enjoy following along with our adventures! Three cars pulled up outside Hawai‘i Agriculture … Read more

T- 3…2…1…Liftoff…ALP Class XVII has launched!

“T- 3…2…1…Liftoff!” ALP Class XVII has begun their journey into the realm of agricultural leadership and network building. While the initial launch window was adjusted due to the pandemic, and the entire approach was reprogrammed to begin with virtual learning, ALP Class XVII is now well on their way. Meet the adaptive leaders who were … Read more

Final Day: Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources

The morning began in our fourth hotel in six nights. It was great to wake up in the Hampton Inn — Boston Logan Airport hotel, rested and ready for our last day, especially after that nightmarish traffic jam in the tunnels yesterday afternoon. We lost Pauline (didn’t really lose her as we knew where she … Read more

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Agricultural Leadership Foundation of Hawai‘i
P. O. Box 342066
Kailua, HI 96734