Hawaiʻi Nonprofit Leverages Farming To Serve Homeless And Disabled

Food & Drink

At 10 a.m., the hot sun already has spilled in over the Waiʻanae Range, warming up the notoriously toasty Lualualei Valley. Tour guide Kristen Jamieson welcomes a group of servers and cooks from a local restaurant who have driven an hour from town for a tour of Kahumana Farms. 

Soon this group will meet the farm’s chickens, learn about its nutrient-dense (and painstaking to manage) soil – vertisol – and sample sweet carrots freshly ripped from the ground. 

But only after Jamieson explains the mission that the farm powers.  

Kahumana Farms, officially called Alternative Structures International, uses farming to help the people in its community who need it most. The nonprofit organization operates nourishing ventures to fund impactful programs to fulfill its overall mission: to create healthy communities by creating healthy people. Its sustainable and continually evolving model can inspire aspiring or struggling nonprofits worldwide to achieve service and success. 

After covering its costs, Kahumana Farms uses the profits from its social ventures – its farm, tours, retreat center and café – to provide various social programs for the homeless and disabled. In essence, everything is tied to the farm, which creates a culturally and spiritually rich platform for multiple opportunities. 

Government grants and Department of Housing and Urban Development and Medicaid Waiver programs supplement its social programs and new projects.

When the organization was first assessing how to drive its mission, it identified farming as a critical component. Farming could accomplish various aims, including empowering people to get grounded and to reconnect with the land. 

The 31-acre certified organic farm produced an estimated 100,000 pounds of food for the local community in 2019, retreat manager and event coordinator Jordon Joern said.

The farm’s regenerative farming practices enrich the soil, sequester carbon, and produce nutritious, chemical-free food. It also employs homeless and disabled people as well as teaches them job and nutrition skills. 

“We are a farm-based community working with homelessness and people with disabilities,” said Christian Zuckerman, farm manager and director of social ventures. “That’s always been at the heart of our organization.” 

Part of the beauty of Kahumana Farms’ mission is that it allows the organization to focus on many areas of need, Zuckerman said. 

The result is an impressive web of social ventures and programs that are seamlessly woven together to serve the community:

The organization’s farm hub offers aspiring local farmers and backyard growers an outlet to sell their crops at a price higher than what they would receive from a grocery store. 

It also organizes a variety of events, such as an annual farm festival and seed exchange and the quarterly “Feast For Farms” fundraiser dinners that highlight local chefs and auction goods and experiences donated by local businesses to support the farm and its social programs.

A 30-person retreat center hosts farm tours and wellness retreats. People from all over the world can come experience what it is like to live on a farm. They can eat breakfast with the farmers in the morning, take a tour and volunteer on the farm in the afternoon, and see up close the machine that runs the farm’s programs. 

For example, local yoga teacher Yoko Fujiwara draws groups from Japan multiple times a year to practice ashtanga yoga on a sustainable farm. 

Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday, the farm cafe offers a Mediterranean-inspired menu using ingredients freshly harvested from the farm. Hummus and pita plates; hearty soups of the day; and large salads brimming with its special mix of mustard greens, kale, tatsoi and amaranth, topped with shaved watermelon radish and golden beets, and served with toasted bread from a local bakery are common offerings.

The farm combines its profits with the government funding to run its social programs:

The organization has constructed 48 homes for the homeless in a complex that includes a community center, child care and job coaching. It also manages an additional 80 units of transitional housing nearby. It operates a commercial kitchen that pumps out 900 school lunches a day for low-income children on the Leeward Coast. 

Moreover, it runs two learning centers for the developmentally disabled – one at Kahumana Farms and the other in Kailua. It also offers a buddy program called Personal Assistance and Behavior that assists disabled adults with running errands and performing daily household chores while giving them a friendly pal to connect with.

You can learn more about the nonprofit’s journey and impact since 1974 here

Inspiring missions attract inspiring staff. Behind Kahumana Farms’ model is a group of selfless beings who live to nurture the land and its people. Zuckerman encourages nonprofits to establish a mission that can entice dedicated and passionate individuals to keep propelling it forward.

For a remote strip of islands that constantly is thinking about ways to increase food security and to help one another, this model nurtures both. In addition to nourishing its community, Kahumana Farms offers inspiration for nonprofits in Hawaiʻi and around the world. 

Kahumana Organic Farm and Cafe Community

Kahumana Organic Farm and Cafe Community

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