Omidyar-backed sustainable-ag group takes over Maui's Kapalua Farms
By Harry Eagar
The Maui News
Pierre Omidyar, who invested in Maui Land & Pineapple Co. stock when the company was being pushed in a greener direction, is now supporting a for-profit/charitable combination that is taking over ML&P's Kapalua Farms, one of the largest organic farms in the state.
Since ML&P also closed its Maui Pineapple Co. subsidiary, then leased much of its land and equipment to the upstart Haliimaile Pineapple Co. this month, the handover takes ML&P completely out of agriculture.
On Friday, Ulupono Sustainable Agriculture Development LLC, a subsidiary of the Ulupono Initiative, announced it would be assuming operations of Kapalua Farms, which not only supplies vegetables and eggs to ML&P's Kapalua Resort but also conducts research into new methods of producing food on Maui. Ulupono Initiative is a Hawaii-focused social investment organization founded in June with backing from Omidyar and his wife, Pam. He was a founder of eBay, and they now live in Hawaii.
Warren Haruki, chairman and interim chief executive officer of ML&P, said, "We are pleased to partner with Ulupono Sustainable Agriculture Development as they assume operations of Kapalua Farms. Our desire was to find an operational partner that would be able to continue organic farming operations and to maintain Kapalua Farms as a community resource, employer and provider."
Robin Campaniano, a general partner of Ulupono Initiative, said, "We also plan to maintain the farm as a resource to the community by expanding its community gardens, continuing to provide educational opportunities for local schools, such as Lahainaluna High School and Maui Preparatory Academy, and partnering with the universities to do innovative research and crop development."
Kyle Datta, a general partner of Ulupono Initiative, said it will take over equipment and 158 acres of land near the entrance to the resort. The company has plans to eventually expand operations.
"Our business plan for Kapalua Farms is to demonstrate that commercial-scale organic vegetable farming can be competitive with imported, conventionally grown produce," Datta said.
That could add as many as 20 jobs at the farms over the next two or three years.
The initiative is structured to operate both for-profit businesses and nonprofit ventures to improve sustainability and the quality of life for Hawaii residents in three main areas: renewable energy, food production and waste reduction.
Ulupono's first investment was in Reuse Hawaii, which demolishes buildings on Oahu and reclaims fixtures and materials.
It also is supporting Sopogy, a solar energy business.
Datta said both sides, profit-making businesses and grants, have the same entrepreneurial orientation. What all ventures share is "really good managers" who will "in future decades, we hope, change the direction of our society."
Ulupono is not so much an operator as a supporter of operating businesses, Datta said. Also, it intends to foster collaboration among like-minded ventures to get the benefit "of all of us working together."
It plans to support the ventures it sponsors for a long time. "This is not a sprint," Datta said Friday.
He said many people for a long time have been working hard to try to bring the state to where it is on sustainability. Ulupono wants "to help in that direction," Datta said.