KONA — Almost 15 years ago, Kollette and Jason Stith had a dream of someday running a sustainable organic farm in Kona. Today, their Mahina Mele Farm is a fulfillment of their fantasy and a productive success.
But they’re not done.
They continue to expand their dream beyond coffee and mac nuts into specialty products created from local input. In the process they have stayed true to their dedication to principles of sustainability on the farm as well as in their lives.
When Kollette is making decisions about the farm, her business, her family and her work in the community, she remembers what’s important.
“It’s the journey not the destination,” she said. “Decisions made with truth, intention and integrity make even hard decisions clear.”
Perhaps these principles were what motivated Kollette and Jason to make the decision to join the Peace Corps 18 years ago.
With some farming experience in their youth, they were sent to El Salvador’s Zona Alta to work with organic farmers. They helped the farmers find markets for their crops including coffee.
At the 5,000-foot elevation in Zona Alta, the coffee was delicious with a complex flavor profile. The deep volcanic soil in the area and year-round access to water meant the farmers could also grow lots of vegetables. The crop diversity was impressive.
Toward the end of their Peace Corps term, they found a way to continue working with the Zona Alta community by starting a local coffee company. The company bought coffee cherry from the farmers, had it processed in the community and shipped it to the U.S. for sale. They became exporters of green coffee from El Salvador to the U.S. At a time when coffee prices were at a low point, this company encouraged the local farmers to continue growing coffee.
PEACE CORPS LESSONS
Both Jason and Kollette credit the experience with giving them ideas about ways to make a farm successful. A few years after their stint in the Peace Corps, they decided to leave their jobs in California and start their own coffee farm.
Hawaii was a natural choice for them. It didn’t take them long to find the ideal spot to get started.
Local fruit maven Ken Love was selling his 10-acre farm in Opihale. He had moved off the farm a few years earlier and the coffee and mac nut trees along with assorted exotic fruit trees were overgrown. The location at 1,600 feet elevation in South Kona was ideal for the Stith’s dream but getting it into production was definitely an ordeal. Throughout, they remained dedicated to applying sustainable practices to all their work on the farm.
After many months spent clearing the undergrowth and removing vines from the trees, they realized that coffee and mac nuts were sharing much of the land. This meant that lots of the coffee trees were in the shadow of mac nut trees. Truly shade grown.
Soon, they began to nurture their plants and harvest their crops while controlling weeds and pests in ways that protected the earth. Early on, they decided to pursue organic certification for their coffee and nuts and to process them in ways that maintained the vitality of the crop and took care of the aina. Jason was always interested in the ways to use the principles of Korean Natural Farming.
“By adapting KNF principles to local inputs, I found a way to farm organically that was in line with the way I’d always wanted to farm,” Jason said.
Jason also found ways to process their mac nuts that retained their vitality making them uniquely tasty and highly desirable. Their delicious nuts sell easily to foodies, raw foodies and people with health concerns. They appeal to anyone who loves the taste of macadamia nuts in their most natural form. Actually, they are the only mac nut growers in the US who sell mac nuts that are organically grown and dehydrated.
TIME TO EXPAND
As success began to materialize for the Stiths, they decided to acquire more acreage and grow more nuts and coffee. They now own two farms and manage another five. They succeeded in rehabilitating nearly 60 acres of land in South Kona and were able to expand their production.
Always open to new ideas, Kollette connected with her best friend, Sue Mandini, to explore the natural healing properties of macadamia nut oil for the skin. Both were mothers of three young children and had a lot in common.
“We were using the macadamia nut oil on our skin and our friends were noticing that our skin was looking more youthful,” Sue, a local homesteader and design artist, said.
They both started learning about mac nut oil and all its amazing qualities and soon began pressing oil from the farm’s “seconds” as a value-added product. When Jason’s father, a doctor in Virginia, mentioned that mac nut oil was in the products he was using on patients in hospice care, Kollette was further inspired to create a skin care products utilizing mac nut oil.
She and Sue began working together toward launching their skin care line, Pure Mana. They found that macadamia nut oil was not only rich in essential fatty acids but also contained squalane, which nourishes the skin while also neutralizing free radicals and reducing the effects of environmental toxins. Squalane is often used in beauty products as a moisturizer and anti-aging agent. The two continued exploring ways to create “farm-to-face” products that could feed and protect their skin.
After five years of research and testing, they opened a lab where they could create skin care products using locally grown inputs, including coffee, kukui and avocado as well as mac nut oils. Of course, Pure Mana buys the high quality oils from Mahina Mele Farm.
“Pure Mana Hawaii is skin food, using the most nutrient rich macadamia nut oil. Your skin literally drinks it up,” Sue said.
Pure Mana Hawaii considers itself as part of the slow-beauty movement. They are eco-conscious in their manufacture, making their products with intention and integrity. They refer to their products as “from our soil to your soul.” Thinking of the bigger picture, Pure Mana also offers a recycling program for their violet glass.
Skin care products are available online at puremanahawaii.com and will soon be available at their new shop Mahina Mele Market in the Mango Court Plaza at 79-7460 Mamalahoa Highway in Kainaliu. They plan to offer their organic coffee, organic mac nuts, mac nut oil, as well as skincare products, seasonal fruit, and locally made eco-conscious gifts.
NEW OPENING, OLD PURSUITS
The space behind their new shop houses custom made macadamia nut dehydrators that Jason designed. The space is shared by Janel Panek’s bakery, Kona Sweets. Janel plans to use the dehydrated nuts to make daily treats that will also be available in the front shop along with a cup of Mahina Mele’s organic Kona Rose Coffee. Mahina Mele Market will be opening on Monday.
Not only are the industrious Stiths doing farming, processing, manufacturing and retailing but they each still pursue their chosen artistic endeavors when they can.
Jason still finds some time to play his bass and misses the days when he was part of the Maka band. Their 2016 CD “Let’s Dance” was released while the band was busy with gigs at many local restaurants and events. It was his musical interest that led him to add the “mele” to the farm name, which loosely translates as “melodious moon.”
Kollette was once an occupational therapist and fine art painter.
“With everything else going on, I barely have time to paint but I am using my creative talents in creating and marketing Pure Mana Hawaii, Mahina Mele Farm, and raising my three amazing children,” she said.
Both Jason and Kollette report feeling lucky every day. They truly love the work involved in their whole operation. They balance their busy life with breaks at the beach with their children and friends.
When asked what advice he might give to those considering farming in Hawaii, Jason’s response was to the point.
“You gotta love it,” he said. “It’s hard work but if you do it right, it can be very rewarding.”
Diana Duff is a plant adviser, educator and consultant living in a dryland forest north of Kailua-Kona.
Saturday: “Work Day at Amy Greenwell Garden” from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Meet at the Garden Visitor Center across from the Manago Hotel in Captain Cook. Volunteers will be able to help with garden maintenance and are invited to bring a brown bag lunch. Water and snacks provided. Call Peter at 323-3318 for more information.
Wednesday, May 29: “Spray Calibration Field Day” from 9 -11:30 a.m. at the UH Cooperative Extension Service office in Kainaliu at 79-7381 Mamalahoa Highway. Free. Limited to 30 participants. Call Gina at 322-4892 or go to https://www.hawaiicoffeeed.com/spray-calibration.html to register.
Saturday, June 1: “Pests and Diseases: natural prevention and organic control” from 10-11:30 a.m. at the Kailua-Kona Public Library at 75-138 Hualalai Road with Micha Barker owner of Bioscapes Hawaii. Learn to prevent and control garden problems.This workshop is part of a free series presented by the Community Seed Library. For more information, call the library at 327-4327.
Monday: “Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers” from 7-9 p.m. at the HTFG office, 81-6393 Mamalahoa Highway. Mango Medic, Stuart Johnson will discuss the upcoming mango season and a recent National Mango Board meeting. Free. Members and guests are encouraged to bring fruit for sharing. Non-members are welcome to attend. The HTFG office is a white wooden building on the makai side across from the Department of Transportation yard. Park in front or on the north side. For more information, contact President Brian Lievens at 895-8753 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Farmer Direct Markets
Wednesday: “Hooulu Farmers Market” 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Sheraton Kona Resort &Spa at Keauhou Bay
Saturday: “Keauhou Farmers Market” 8 a.m. to noon at Keauhou Shopping Center
“Kamuela Farmer’s Market” from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Pukalani Stables
“Waimea Town Market” from 7:30 a.m. to noon at the Parker School in central Waimea
“Waimea Homestead Farmers Market” from 7 a.m. to noon next to Thelma Parker Gym in front of Thelma Parker Library.
Sunday: “Pure Kona Green Market” 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Amy Greenwell Garden in Captain Cook
“Hamakua Harvest” 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Highway 19 and Mamane Street in Honokaa
Plant Advice Lines
Tuesdays and Thursdays: 9 a.m. to noon at UH-CES in Kainaliu – 322-4892
Mon., Tues. and Fri: 9 a.m. to noon at UH CES at Komohana in Hilo 981-5199 or email@example.com