With the official opening of a new facility, Maui hopes to charge ahead with plans for greater food security.

The University of Hawaii Maui College has officially cut the ribbon on a new $8.5 million facility dedicated to injecting life into the islands’ food and agricultural economy following more than a decade of development.

The Maui Food Innovation Center is the first facility of its kind in the islands and has been in development for almost a decade, intended to foster local agriculture and food entrepreneurs by providing a turnkey suite of appliances and kitchens and education opportunities.

The facility’s opening comes after several days of agriculture and food focused events on Maui, all aiming to highlight the work of Maui farmers and food producers in the county’s economic future.

Maui Food Innovation Hub chef Douglas Paul conducted a tour of the new facility for several dignitaries at the opening ceremony, including Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke, for whome he is showing a bottling a machine. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

Investing in local agriculture and supporting local food production has become seen as a way to diversify the county’s tourism-dependent economy in recent years. Maui last year formed its own agriculture department, the only county to do so to date.

The lack of facilities for value-adding to agricultural products is seen as a key chokepoint in Hawaii’s food supply chain.

So developing such a center, which acts as a turnkey facility that allows agriculture and food entrepreneurs to develop products in commercial kitchens, is seen as a major step in developing a robust agricultural economy.

It is intended to help develop “farm-to-shelf” products, as opposed to farm-to-table, according to Karen Hanada, UHMC director of extended learning and workforce development.

  • ‘Hawaii Grown’ Special Series

With over 50 machines that can do everything from pasteurize to bottle and wrap, the center “takes the risk out of trying to scale a business,” Hanada said.

Value-adding facilities and courses are available to entrepreneurs who have an idea, to business owners wanting to increase their own production.

The facility will supplement the already established courses that UHMC has offered since 2015, which apply to entrepreneurs who have an idea to for businesses wanting to scale up.

Hot sauce company HI Spice co-owner Justin Orr was part of the fourth cohort to pass through the acceleration course at UHMC and went on to take part in the Mana Up program.

Taking the UHMC course gave businesses a level of “street cred” with larger customers, who appeared more wiling to work with them because they had done it, Orr said.

The new facility presents a “massive new advantage” for new companies, he added.

And while it is the first of its kind in Hawaii, the 33,327-square-foot Wahiawa Value-Added Product Development Center is scheduled to open this year on Oahu.

Getting Food Secure

The Maui Nui Food Alliance held a summit on Friday to continue deliberating on how to remove the litany of hurdles they face in doing business and pave the way for a more self-sufficient and food secure county.

The gathering included community discussions about the Maui County Food and Nutrition Security Plan, a plan being developed to help stem hunger and the county’s reliance on the U.S. mainland for food.

Hawaii Farmers Union United President Kaipo Kekona speaks at the Maui Nui Food Summit on Friday. (Thomas Heaton/Civil Beat/2023)

The Project Locavore’s Eat Local Maui Challenge was also launched, which officially begins on Sunday.

With the Aug. 8 fires firmly in view, Summit attendees shared a sense of urgency in increasing self-sufficiency and responsible land and water use, in light of lacking land management being blamed as a contributing factor to the wildfires.

Hawaii Farmers Union United President Kaipo Kekona, who farms in Lahaina, underscored the need to look to the past to understand how to create a more resilient food system in the future.

Using more climate-friendly agricultural techniques was part of the solution, such as taking lessons from ahupuaa food production systems of the past, Kekona said.

The Maui Nui Food Alliance Food Summit on Friday was entirely catered using local produce. (Thomas Heaton/Civil Beat/2023)

But it also relied upon taking care of the ever present water and soil issues that Hawaii has faced over the course of its history.

“Soil is our equity,” Kekona said at the summit.

Grassroots and community efforts had been underway for years to address those issues, but the higher-level political conversations were also raised.

Kekona said it was important to see all islands’ agriculture systems receive support.

“If we could get Oahu’s policymakers and legislation behind the collective of Hawaii and have an equal system in place… we would be in a better situation,” Kekona said.

“Hawaii Grown” is funded in part by grants from Ulupono Fund at the Hawaii Community Foundation and the Frost Family Foundation.

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