Lani Weigert, co-owner and partner of AKL, explained that AKL is the for-profit branch of the larger work they do.
“It is important to keep [AKL] thriving because it allows us to do our true work in the community,” said Lani.
Part of the “true work” they do is a nonprofit community campaign called “Sustainable Aloha.”
The folks at Ali‘i Kula Lavender (AKL) are partnering with Maui High School (MHS) to rejuvenate the agriculture program. (Left to right) MHS teacher Ian Lowland, AKL’s Lani Weigert, Ali‘i Chang and Pomai Weigert discuss their next collaborative project.
“We realize that we have a responsibility to be an example for the rest of the community,” said Lani. “Through Sustainable Aloha, we aim to share knowledge with others so that they, too, can become sustainable. It’s about inclusion, and this type of inclusion is Hawaiian to its core.”
Under the umbrella of Sustainable Aloha, Lani and her daughter, Pomai, are spearheading an exciting new project to boost interest in agriculture amongst high schoolers.
“We want to rejuvenate the high school ag program,” said AKL Marketing and Community Relations Coordinator Pomai. “We’re finding such a lack of interest in agriculture. The program is becoming a destination for kids who don’t know what they want to do.”
Despite the challenge of lackluster teens, the Weigerts have a vision of new beginnings for the program.
“We have to start somewhere,” said Lani. “We have a vision of possibilities that is moving us forward to action.”
“We are going to start a grown-on-Maui fresh food bus, incorporating the high school agricultural programs to serve as the farmers,” Pomai explained. “The bus will basically be a mobile farmers market, and all vocational tracks will be involved.”
Maui High School has been chosen as the pilot school for the project. Principal Randy Yamanuha and agriculture teacher Ian Lowland are onboard to start utilizing their nine acres of largely unproductive agriculture land.
“We’re going to use agriculture as the main catalyst for rejuvenating all vocational tracks,” explained Lani.
For example, Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA) can run the business aspect, wood- and auto-shop can maintain the bus, tourism can head the marketing campaign, and film and photo can document the journey. All proceeds will go directly back into the programs.
“The project will showcase community collaboration—that you need everybody to make something work,” said Pomai.
In this way, the project is designed to arm the children with the skills and the understanding of how to create a real localized community, which is the trend in current agricultural practices.
Part of the Weigerts’ mission to rejuvenate agriculture is to show teens how the agriculture model is changing.
“There is a stigma surrounding agriculture here on Maui,” said Pomai. “Parents don’t want their children working on plantations, but it’s important to realize that agriculture is diversifying—it’s politics, it’s marketing, it’s tourism, it’s environmental science, it’s conservation.”
“The focus of the project is teaching the students the business of agriculture and how it [interfaces with all of the other tracks] at Maui High…. This project is vertically integrated and will develop a generation of new farmers similar to the model of Future Farmers of America,” explained Lani.
The Weigerts have a special ally on their side, the island’s cherished Ali‘i Chang of AKL. Chang is the horticulturist master that tends to the lavender farm, and his agricultural experience is extraordinary.
“He’s been farming for over 40 years and is ready to pass on his knowledge to the next generation,” said Lani.
The hope, then, is to also bridge the generation gap by bringing in experts in the field to share their wisdom with the students. This addresses yet another important farming paradigm shift.
“Conventionally, farmers stay to themselves; this outreach, where people share knowledge, is, in a sense, new,” said Lani.
But, ironically, the outreach seems to be older than it is new and Hawaiian at its roots.
“There used to be a time when Hawai‘i lived by the saying ‘It takes a village,’” said Lani. “We say that now, but it doesn’t have the same meaning. There wasn’t competition back then. If you needed something, it was provided within the village. Everyone felt very safe… We want that type of existence back. We see agriculture as the catalyst… We can start from the soil.”
Funding for the project is through private donations and grants, and both AKL and Maui High School hope the community will get involved. Specifically, they need a functioning bus, bulldozers and operators to clear the nine acres of diseased farmland, and replacement of the PVC irrigation system that has recently been destroyed by arson.
“The project is a vessel for the community to give back,” explained Pomai.