Kohala Aina Festival celebrates food abundance, local farming

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Eight years ago, Dash Kuhr and his wife, Erika, were working Uluwehi Farm in North Kohala, row cropping and caring for orchards that provided ample amounts of food.

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Eight years ago, Dash Kuhr and his wife, Erika, were working Uluwehi Farm in North Kohala, row cropping and caring for orchards that provided ample amounts of food.

“We just saw how abundant the land could be and we were farming and raising our three children,” he explained, “and realized that most people don’t have that kind of access to food.”

With the help of interns and high school students, a 2-acre organic vegetable, fruit and medicine garden and a 15-acre orchard became a community and educational space. The pair subsequently created the nonprofit Hawaii Youth Agriculture Program, providing field trips and tours of the farm and after-school and internship programs. In 2011, with a new farm site, located in Halawa gulch, the program became the Hawaii Institute of Pacific Agriculture.

Today, the institute offers four- and six-week residential programs, internships, farm tours, field trips, a campout and high school mentorship. It also hosts the Kohala Aina Festival, the nonprofit’s largest annual fundraiser.

“We created the event as a way to educate and inspire others in our community that they, too, could create food abundance,” he said. Food abundance occurs when 100 percent of a person’s diet comes from land surrounding their home. Kuhr also touted the importance for Hawaii to produce food locally to ensure food security should there be shortages, drought or crop loss on the mainland. According to the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, 85 to 90 percent of Hawaii’s food is imported.

Since its inception in 2010, the family friendly, alcohol- and drug-free festival has grown in popularity from about 200 attendees the first year to 700 in 2013 and about 1,400 last year. This year, Kuhr said, organizers are preparing for at least 2,000 people at Inhabit Farms in Kapaau.

“It is one of our key pillars, we focus on resident programs, youth education and then community events with Kohala Aina Festival being our main event of the year, it’s also our main fundraiser that supports the institute,” he said.

They hope to raise about $30,000 during the Saturday event to fund programs that immerse K-12 students in activities like field trips and a campout. During the campout, Kuhr explained, middle school students get to dig an earthen stove, prepare locally harvested food and, eventually, enjoy the fruits of their labor.

“We’ve been offering all these programs at no cost to our schools — we’ve received some funding in past years, but we basically do it in house with funding this event enables us to keep doing that,” he said.

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Headlining the musical talent at this year’s festival is Nahko and Medicine for the People. They will be joined by Mike Love, Chris Berry, Tubby Love, Hawane Rios and others. The six-hour event also boasts hula, African drumming, educational workshops and plenty of organic food and drinks.

Tickets are $35 in advance; $45 at the gate. Children younger than age 12 enter free. ■

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