I met some folks from Mahi Pono when they came to the island in January and left that meeting hopeful for Maui’s agricultural future. Knowing that there are so many unanswered questions and speculation about the new owners of the former A&B land I reached out to Allison Hoiberg, a mother of twins, wife to one of the Pomona Farming founders and VP of sales and marketing, to help explain more:
Who is Mahi Pono?
“Pomona Farming does commercial agriculture and invests in related food products. The capital to invest in agricultural properties and food brands comes from our financial partner, PSP (the Public Sector Pension Board). This is the Canadian pension fund that you’ve probably heard about.
Pomona Farming started under a different name nearly 12 years ago, when three friends got together and decided to buy some vacant land and grow almonds. One of those friends was my husband [Kirk Hoiberg] and another was my long-time mentor, Ryon Paton. From that 950-acre start in almonds we bought more land and eventually added new crops. Three years ago, we partnered with PSP and became Pomona. Now we have four farming hubs in California’s central valley, and we grow olives, raisins, tomatoes, alfalfa, onions, and forage crops in addition to conventional and organic almonds, plus the land on Maui.
We created the company Mahi Pono, LLC specifically to farm the land and manage our operations on Maui.”
What are your intentions?
“We plan to grow a set of agricultural crops on a commercially-viable scale. We are working on expanding our grass-fed beef partnership with Maui Cattle Company, but other than that, I do not know exactly what those foods will be yet. I’ve heard Larry Nixon (Mahi Pono’s new GM of Farming) talk about row crops, nuts, lilikoi, fingerling potatoes, white pineapples, other tropical fruits, citrus, taro, bananas, avocados, and coffee. I may be missing some, or we may not do everything on this list. We are still learning about possibilities, weighing options, and adjusting the plan.
We are planning to launch a community farm that would support local farmers growing fruits, vegetables, and other crops for local consumption. We will give local farmers access to our processing, distribution and marketing infrastructure (once they are developed), whether or not the crops were grown on our land, as we look for opportunities to invest in and scale existing food businesses already on Maui.
It is top priority to fix the crumbling water infrastructure. I’m from California, and it personally drives me crazy to see water wasted due to lack of maintenance and inability to invest capital. We are told that between leakage and evaporation, there’s a 30% loss of water from the irrigation system. We cannot get that number to 0% overnight, but there is a list of improvements (some relatively easy, many quite difficult), and we are starting on that list.
We will be “growing” renewable energy. We are leasing land for solar farming and plan to lease more. We are considering crops to be grown as bio-fuels and will recycle/reuse our production by-products and make every effort to minimize our carbon footprint.
We plan to care for this land for decades, if not longer. PSP has a very long time-horizon and they are excited, as are we, to create an amazing set of agricultural and food production opportunities here. We will therefore be prudent about how we regenerate the various soil types, protect trees from pests, irrigate the crops, and promote the long-term health of the soil and everything growing in it.”
What does this mean for the island’s economy and our children?
“Well, I worry that California is too expensive for my children to live after they finish college, and that they won’t be able to raise their families near home. I know that Maui has a similar problem, in that children go to college and often stay on the mainland as adults due to the lack of opportunities on Maui. Mahi Pono offers several exciting career paths. We will need people with skills in all fields of agronomy; in electrical, mechanical and chemical engineering; finance; technology; and business management. So, we will work with schools to design academic and experience-based programs to develop local talent who can put their skills to use restoring this land.”
Thank you, Allison. To learn more about Mahi Pono and to keep up with the latest developments go to www.mahipono.com. You can also reach out to them at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 808 213-0037. They are looking forward to turning vacant former sugar cane land into a thriving hub of diversified agriculture.