Mahi‘ai Scale-up launches: Partnership helps local farmers, food distributors grow businesses

  • Dana Shapiro of Mala Kalu‘ulu, left, and Brandon Lee of Kaunamano Farm represent the winners of the 2017 Mahi‘ai Scale-up competition. Both farms are located on Hawaii island. (Kamehameha Schools/Special to West Hawaii Today)

Kamehameha Schools has launched Mahi‘ai Scale-up, an agricultural business plan competition that helps established local farms and food system organizations grow their businesses. The Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement and The Kohala Center are partnering with Kamehameha Schools to provide participants with business training and wraparound services.

“Kamehameha Schools is focused on supporting Hawaii’s food system, aiming to produce more healthy, affordable local food for all and develop career pathways for oiwi leaders to foster a resilient economy. With this year’s Mahi‘ai Scale-up, we plan to support agricultural businesses to expand their operations in areas that will increase production and connect products with consumers,” said Kamehameha Schools (KS) Vice President of Community and Aina Resiliency Ka‘eo Duarte.


Mahi‘ai Scale-up is a component of Kamehameha Schools’ Mahi‘ai a Ola program, which seeks to improve Hawaii’s food resiliency and security. The competition invites established farmers, distributors, processors and aggregators, our “growers” and “gatherers,” to submit proposals that will expand their businesses in new and creative ways. All food systems businesses are welcome to apply. The application deadline is Feb. 11.

“In pursuit of a thriving lahui, this effort reinforces our commitment to connecting farmers, communities and the lands we steward. From hands-in-the-dirt farmers to post-harvest packaging and distribution, our goal is to support local food production throughout the pae aina,” Duarte said.

The Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement (CNHA) will provide participants with business training through a special edition of its KuHana Business Program focused on food system businesses. The 10-week intensive program will offer technical assistance services and various courses to help participants grow and strengthen their businesses.

“The Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement is proud to be a partner with Kamehameha Schools’ Mahi‘ai Scale-Up competition. As we leverage our community resources, we are thrilled to be able to support the KūHana — Food Systems Edition Cohort in an effort to uplift our ag economy, which is of great importance now more than ever,” CNHA CEO Kuhio Lewis said.

The Kohala Center (TKC) will collaborate with the Mahi‘ai Scale-up cohort and walk them through wraparound business services to support their operations and business plan development.

“Like our partners at KS, we seek deeper pilina with the aina by working with and as mahi‘ai,” said TKC president and CEO Cheryl Ka‘uhane Lupenui. “As part of a caring and supportive community food system, we assist local food producers in making a living that is firmly grounded in and of Hawaii.”

Mahi‘ai a Ola is an initiative that provides an opportunity to increase agricultural awareness in support of the farming industry, while reinvigorating innovation, community connections and a commitment to future generations. Mahi‘ai a Ola is made up of three programs:

• Mahiʻai Match-up and Scale-up: Business plan competitions to start or scale agricultural businesses.

• Mahi‘ai a Ao: Scholarship awards for various agriculture-related educational programs, in partnership with the Pauahi Foundation.


• MahiX: An open innovation challenge seeking cooperative solutions to Hawaii’s most pressing agricultural issues.

To apply, visit