Greg and Denise Safko had their hands in the dirt at the Kilauea Community Agricultural Center (KCAC) on Jan. 13 when a false ballistic missile alert was issued statewide.
They said it was the best place they could have been.
“We called our kids and put some flowers behind our ears,” Greg Safko said. “It would have been a pretty good place to call it a day.”
Every Saturday they head over to Kilauea Road where the community farm hosts volunteers that harvest fruits, vegetables and herbs for produce boxes sold throughout Kilauea.
“We’re so blessed and fortuante to have the garden,” he said. “We get to take home boxes, too, we just work for them instead of pay for them.”
Lately, volunteers at KCAC have been harvesting beets and beans, cilantro and basil, arugula and avocados. Pineapple and kale, eggplant and herbs are also among the manicured rows of dark soil and raised beds.
Greenhouses host seedlings, and chalkboards outline chores for the 25-30 people who show up every week to volunteer on the farm.
It’s a vision started three years ago by Aina Hookupu o Kilauea (AHK), a nonprofit that was created in 2015 and is celebrating its third anniversary of supporting and connecting North Shore communities.
AHK “is meant to develop the collaboration between government and community to provide a safe haven,” said Yoshito L’Hote, director of the nonprofit. “A place where community can feel as their own since our communities are changing rapidly.”
AHK has also gained statewide recognition for creating a space for community members to work and communicate.
“Since its inception, AHK has dedicated itself to developing the Kilauea Community Agricultural Center and supporting a more sustainable future for Kauai’s North Shore community,” said Gov. David Ige in a happy birthday wish to the organization.
KCAC is the nonprofit’s most visible endeavor, situated on former sugar plantation land along Kilauea Road on the way to the lighthouse and Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge.
AHK accepted stewardship from the county in 2015 and since then, volunteers have been farming 1.5 acres of land with a current production of about 30,000 pounds of vegetables.
Those veggies are sold through the Community Supported Agriculture box program, started in 2016.
The current season of CSA boxes ends mid-December. KCAC has maxed out vegetable sales with 37 people signed up to get boxes of produce, with four people on standby for the next season.
“Any excess we produce we give it away to the community,” L’Hote said. “Then community members have access to fresh organic produce with out breaking the bank.”
In addition to the KCAC, the nonprofit is engaged in conversations about the potential North Shore shuttle system and is taking part in conversations about Kauai’s systemic challenges — things like traffic, the impact of the visitor industry and economic diversity.
AHK jumped on the scene in April when torrential rains flooded parts of the island, by assisting with cleanup, helping with data collection and being a listening ear for the community.
“A lot of people after the trauma needed the emotional support,” L’Hote said.
He said the next step is to instill the concept of connection to the aina with residents and volunteers — and then spread the idea around the island.
“Now I am on a mission to turn land into aina,” L’Hote said. “I believe the land feeds you in many ways, not just through your belly.”
It’s been a busy third year for AHK, and L’Hote says that’s a good thing.
“For nonprofits, it’s the third-year mark and the fifth-year mark that’s sink or swim,” L’Hote said. “We never did sink.”
Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or at firstname.lastname@example.org