Cultivating community-led change: huiMAU’s mission to promote health, well-being, and opportunity in rural Hawaiʻi

For over a decade, Hui Mālama i ke Ala ʻŪlili (huiMAU) has worked with fellow community members on Hawaiʻi Island to restore and cultivate hundreds of acres of land using the knowledge and cultural practices that sustained their Native Hawaiian ancestors for centuries.

Today, fields of breadfruit, taro, and bananas — staple foods in Hawaiʻi — once again dot the landscape of Hāmākua Hikina (East Hāmākua), which is located on the island’s northeast coast. Acre by acre, huiMAU is reversing the damage from the sugar plantations of the Hāmākua Sugar Company, which depleted the soil and almost destroyed native plants and trees. The organization is also clearing away invasive eucalyptus trees that have replaced some of the sugarcane since the company closed in 1994 — and now present a fire hazard.

These efforts, as well as huiMAU’s food and educational programs, aim to promote the health and well-being of the surrounding community and help increase opportunity on an island where over 50% of residents struggle to make ends meet. The Weinberg Foundation supports huiMAU and several other organizations in rural areas as they strive to bring more resources to their communities; build partnerships across sectors to address local needs; and, ultimately, further advance their mission.

Founded in 2011 by No‘eau Peralto, Haley Kailiehu, and other community members, huiMAU seeks to demonstrate that the people who call Hāmākua home — especially Native Hawaiians — can find opportunities and thrive where they are. The Foundation’s latest grant will help the nonprofit expand its work to a 1,000-acre parcel leased from Hawaiʻi County and located next to its current 105 acres.

“Hui Mālama i ke Ala ʻŪlili has an extraordinary vision to feed and care for people today and enable an entire community to draw on its history, knowledge, and natural resources to support and sustain itself,” said Kelly Miyamura, who leads the Foundation’s grantmaking focused on education and jobs in Hawaiʻi. “This has the potential to become a statewide model for Indigenous-led efforts to foster the well-being and resilience of rural communities.”

Together with Hāmākua community members, huiMAU has cleared and planted native crops — including banana and breadfruit trees — on land once covered in sugarcane and invasive eucalyptus trees.
Together with Hāmākua community members, huiMAU has cleared and planted native crops — including banana and breadfruit trees — on land once covered in sugarcane and invasive eucalyptus trees.

Meeting community needs while planting seeds for the next generation

In addition to clearing land and cultivating native crops with the help of over 1,200 community members of all ages each year, huiMAU runs a food-distribution program that connects over 85% of Hāmākua families and older adults with local fresh produce and prepared meals. To nurture the next generation of stewards, it also provides educational and mentoring programs grounded in Native Hawaiian culture. These programs, which serve 30% of community youth ages 5–17, are the only ones for young people in the Hāmākua region, creating safe learning environments for them to develop strong relationships and support networks.

Over the next five years, huiMAU will build on its progress in restoring and sustaining a thriving, multigenerational Hāmākua community. Plans include expanding its breadfruit agroforestry project — currently the largest in the state — to 100 acres, further increasing food security and strengthening the region’s economy. (Agroforestry uses trees to provide additional sources of food while also shading and nourishing ground crops, creating a healthy food system.) The nonprofit also will grow its food-distribution program, build an education and community resource center, and develop on-site housing for agricultural workers, which will provide affordable living options for these local individuals and families.

“No‘eau and the huiMAU team are demonstrating that it is possible to rebuild and restore healthy regions across the state. They are bringing back the diverse food systems that once fed the region and can do so again,” said Marisa Hayase, who leads the Foundation’s grantmaking in Hawaiʻi. “We are proud to support their work to build kīpuka — safe, regenerative spaces — that will enable their community and future generations to thrive.”

Over the next five years, huiMAU will expand its efforts to restore and sustain a thriving, multigenerational community, leasing a 1,000-acre parcel from Hawaiʻi County located next to its current 105 acres. Plans include growing its food-distribution program and developing affordable, on-site housing for local agricultural workers.
Over the next five years, huiMAU will expand its efforts to restore and sustain a thriving, multigenerational community, leasing a 1,000-acre parcel from Hawaiʻi County located next to its current 105 acres. Plans include growing its food-distribution program and developing affordable, on-site housing for local agricultural workers.

Like and share:

More e-news

ExcelCenter-Blog
A new high school in Baltimore is unlocking doors to opportunity by helping adults finish their education and get their diploma. Opened last fall by Goodwill Industries of the Chesapeake with support from the Weinberg Foundation, the Excel Center is a first-of-its-kind program in the state and one of over...
HuiMAU-blog1
For over a decade, Hui Mālama i ke Ala ʻŪlili (huiMAU) has worked with fellow community members on Hawaiʻi Island to restore and cultivate hundreds of acres of land using the knowledge and cultural practices that sustained their Native Hawaiian ancestors for centuries. Today, fields of breadfruit, taro, and bananas...
Education
Education is one of the Foundation’s five focus areas for grantmaking. In this Q&A, the Foundation’s Education team explains our priorities and goals — and the difference Weinberg hopes these investments will make. Why does the Weinberg Foundation focus on education? Education is essential to breaking the cycle of poverty and unlocking opportunity....