How the Hāna Farmers Market became the piko of the town, reinvigorating self-reliance and kokua in East Maui as food security waned throughout the county
Once the agricultural heart of the island, East Maui has grown dependent upon the same food supply tropes that the county’s residents know too well. (Lanai residents toting heavy boxes of oversize Costco goods on the ferry-ride home might know them best.) For decades, Costco runs have been a mainstay for Hāna residents; once or twice a month, (mostly) parents make the five-hour round-trip trek to “the other side” to load up on staples, spending hundreds of dollars at Costco, supplementing specialty items at Mana, Tamura’s, or Foodland.
For some, hunting boar and pounding paʻiai is still integral to the East Maui way of life, but for many, food has been commodified and increasingly imported. Informal marketplaces have always sprung up: the Hāna fisherman selling fillets from his truck on Haneoʻo road, homemade sausage sales by word of mouth, and fruit stands piled high with avocados and mangos. But the majority of food comes from ʻoutside’.
Food sovereignty, food security, self-sufficiency, food sustainability—what do these words mean when their intricacies are laid bare in confluence with one another? The arrival of the pandemic offered a fresh perspective on Maui Nui’s relationship with food, with need, with scarcity, and with the flow of food: from our ports and our farms to our stores and our plates.
Just before the pandemic, the Hāna Farmers Market came to fruition, giving locals the option to spend some of their grocery money a little closer to home, ultimately keeping hundreds of thousands of dollars in the community. Pandemic relief funds that the county was slated to give to Maui Foodbank’s Hāna division were instead injected back into the community in $5,000 weekly allotments of “scrip”—as they came to be called—tickets given to residents to spend at the weekly farmers market.