‘Wonderful partnership’

MOLOAA — Seven years ago, Mary Ellen Pearlman was just starting her education and nature-based nonprofit organization, Retro Farms, on 14 acres overlooking Moloaa Bay.

At that same time Ku’uleialoha Punua, president of the nonprofit Kukulu Kumuhana O Anahola, and her husband, Yossi Johnson, were up to their ears in foxtail palm trees.

“They’d been growing them from seed and they didn’t have enough room for all of them so they gave us 100 trees,” Pearlman said. “They were a foot tall when we put them in the ground and now, seven years later, they’re 20 feet tall.”

When she received those 100 foxtail palm trees, Pearlman said she promised the first $1,000 generated from their sale to KKOA as a way of supporting their organization.

On Saturday, she delivered that check to KKOA’s Anahola community clubhouse during the monthly movie night the organization hosts during the summers.

“She kept her word and invested back into our nonprofit, which serves the same kids that she does, except she’s expanded to include Girl Scouts and the Boys and Girls Club,” Punua said. “We’re completely focused on the Native Hawaiian community in Anahola.”

KKOA, which formed in 2008 out of a desire to create positive opportunities in the community, started hosting community movie nights in 2009.

Punua said the organization is “growing into a mentorship program” and has started making a difference in the lives of the keiki in their area through a small homework and tutoring program that ended in May.

“It was very successful and we’re planning to restart that in September,” Punua said.

Retro Farms also focuses on connecting kids to the land and to each other.

“We’re all about connecting kids to nature and teaching them about the environment and how to make a difference,” Pearlman said. “We teach them how to love nature.”

The farm has a grove of mahogany trees, as well as various student-planted gardens and a fully functional outdoor classroom.

“We’re trying to make it a significant community resource, where children take ownership of the land and see the plants they’ve planted grow,” Pearlman said.

That mission is mirrored by KKOA, and Punua said she’s delighted with the mutual relationship between the two organizations.

“It’s a beautiful picture and we have a really sweet partnership,” Punua said. “We also have community support and that’s great.”

The money generated from the trees sold to a private individual in Hanalei for landscaping and will help KKOA, but Pearlman said the remainder of the trees will be sold to help Retro Farms.

She said as they clear out the remaining trees, the plan is to continue to produce foxtail palms on that land.

“Most of our events are just a donation to the community, so any purchase of these trees go straight to Retro Farms for our support,” Pearlman said. “So right now, all of the proceeds are going toward building a second outdoor classroom and then for shovels and supplies for the kids to plant.”

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