Kamehameha Schools’ initial investment in Hawaii’s food systems is in one of the oldest and most traditional staples: ulu.

The charitable trust has invested $300,000 into Hawaii Ulu Cooperative, a farmer-owned business trying to reinvigorate the market for ulu, or breadfruit.

The investment draws from the trust’s $10 million Food Systems Fund dedicated to bolstering the state’s food systems to increase self-sufficiency.

By 2024, the cooperative expects to be processing 500,000 pounds of breadfruit annually. Claire Caulfield/Civil Beat/2021

Started five years ago by five farmers on Big Island, the cooperative has since grown to have a membership of 105, with members also on Maui and Oahu. Their ulu is processed centrally and sold to consumers and the hospitality industry.

Kyle Datta, the cooperative’s board president, said the investment would have the business scale up to meet its increasing membership, crop yields and profits.

Farmers fetch 10,000 pounds of breadfruit per acre, at approximately $1 per pound, and by 2024 the cooperative would be processing 500,000 pounds annually. It is currently making a $550,000 profit on its membership’s behalf, and was projected to surpass $1 million in the next three years, Datta said.

The investment would help with machinery, capacity to process and package ulu — as well as taro and sweet potato — and hire more staff.

Kamehameha Schools’ Food Systems Fund focuses on programs and businesses in and around the food industry, with the hope of revitalizing and diversifying food systems in Hawaii, according to Kā‘eo Duarte, KS Community and Aina Resiliency vice president.

“Creation of this fund enables KS to more directly invest in enterprises that aim to provide healthy and accessible food to feed Hawaii and beyond, as part of a resilient economy with new jobs and career pathways,” Duarte said in a statement.

Datta said the investment had helped leverage funding from other institutions, and hoped that it would lead to further investments in the state’s food system.

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