Three sisters Miki, U’ilani, and Sheila Arasato – are empowered as they reconnect to their heritage through their work at MA`O Organic Farms in the community of Wai`anae in O`ahu, Hawai`i. Its groundbreaking youth leadership program combines a revival of pre-colonial Hawaiian food practices with a path to a college degree. MA`O offers all three a way to escape from stereotypes of underachievement and crime into an environmentally and socially sustainable future for their family and community.
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In an area with the highest rate of unemployment, and lowest numbers of college graduates, MA’O Organic Farms provides opportunities that support the local youth. The program at MA’O addresses five critical areas of need: out-of-school youth, sustainable economic development, agriculture, health, and Hawaiian culture. The cultural values, and receive a high-quality education. The interns in the Youth Leadership Training (YLT) make a two-year commitment to working on the farm pastime and going to school full time. In exchange they receive $500 in their first year and $600 in their second year and also tuition for college. For many of these students, they are the first in their families to attend college. This program represents more then just an educational opportunity. It means local food sovereignty; it means a healthier family and community; and it means greater sustainability.
Situated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii is one of the most isolated geographical location in the world with the majority of its food coming from imported dependency on the import of food has brought the issues of food security to a new level of all of the the people living on the island, especially those facing economic hardship. Despite Hawaii plentiful agricultural land and year-round growing conditions, it still imports more then 85% of its food and has to 4 to 7 day supply of food in stores at nay given time. Many of Hawaii residents are concerned about their access to food due to the food distribution system’s vulnerability to major economic downturns and environmental disasters.