Right now, the organization is growing kalo on just about two acres of land, which the group of eight staff members and numerous volunteers had to clear entirely by hand.
The organization eventually wants to restore 180 acres and actively farm 150 acres of kalo, which would more than double the amount of taro produced on Oahu. Right now, 90 percent of Hawaii’s kalo is produced on Kauai, Kukea-Schultz said.
HCDA hosted a media event at the loi on Wednesday to emphasize that its work includes more than just managing development in Kakaako. The agency’s recent approval of several high-rise condos have been met with vocal resistance from residents who are concerned about the future of the urban district.
HCDA spokeswoman Lindsey Doi said that the work in Heeia is part of HCDA’s vision of building vibrant communities in all of its districts. In addition to Kakaako and Heeia, HCDA also owns land in Kalaeloa in West Oahu.
“It’s so different [from Kakaako] but the goal is the same — to build community,” Doi said of the agency’s Heeia land.
The land previously belonged to Kamehameha Schools and was slated for development until the state acquired it two decades ago in exchange for land in Kakaako. Kakoo Oiwi’s 38-year lease started in 2010.
The organization invites the public once a month to help farm the land and also has volunteers from different community organizations help out twice a week.
Kukea-Schultz emphasized that the organization considers itself to be developers — just not of high rises.
“We are developing land back into agriculture,” he said, adding that it’s important because the islands need to improve food sustainability.
Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui also joined the event on Wednesday, getting knee-deep in mud as he planted kalo alongside Kukea-Schultz.
“It’s good to see that HCDA is also focused on preserving some of the most precious land on Oahu,” Tsutsui said.