Protecting the environment is pono
Na Hoaloha Ekolu, comprised of Michael Moore, Robert Aguilar and Tim Moore, has been an integral part of the Maui community for over thirty years. The Old Lahaina Luau, the first endeavor for the partners, opened in 1986. Since then, the luau has grown from a small operation open just a few nights a week, to a successful and award-winning venue with a full-house every night of the week. Over the years, the partners have added Aloha Mixed Plate, Star Noodle, Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop, Hoaloha Bakeshop and Hoaloha Farms to diversify their offerings and to strengthen their commitment to the Maui community.
“When we started our business thirty years ago, you could not buy locally grown food,” he says. “For all of the woes of development, there are good things. We’re growing more of our own food than ever.” What’s more, is that the partners have cultivated a strong sense of community within their businesses. These are businesses that give back.
Michael Moore can’t remember a time when the environment wasn’t a passion of his. “My father loved the outdoors, the drive to respect and protect the environment has always been a part of who I am and who my family is.” So, when Susan Bradford, a Board Member for the newly formed Maui Coastal Land Trust approached Moore in 2000, it was natural for him to want to be part of what they were doing. “I was inspired by what she had to say about what the group was doing and I felt like it was the right thing to support.” Shortly after their conversation, the concept of a signature fundraising event was born. Buy Back the Beach: Malama Kipuka has been held each January at The Old Lahaina Luau since 2001, and according to Moore, it will continue there for as long as the event continues to serve the organization. Each year, the employees at The Old Lahaina Luau vote on which nonprofits they will support with their labor, and each year, they have voted to support Buy Back the Beach.
Moore acknowledges the benefits of land conservation are somewhat intangible. Experiencing natural landscapes has been scientifically proven to improve mental, emotional and physical health. However, in Hawaii the benefit of land conservation can be seen in our economy.
“Think about the visitors who come here. They come for the extraordinary natural environment and the host culture. You can’t have one without the other. Protecting the environment is pono. It’s the right thing to do.”
Moore is interested in exploring sustainable agriculture and believes it’s extremely important to Hawaii’s future. He has partnered with Bobby and Juanita Pahia to open Hoaloha Farms where they are cultivating dryland taro on approximately 300 acres in Waikapu. “Our vision is to get poi back on the table.” Na Hoaloha Ekolu uses the taro they cultivate in their restaurants for poi and ingredients in other dishes such as laulau, luau stew and taro chips. It is also sold at the market for reasonable prices, including special pricing for kupuna to help get this important staple back into their hands.
“As a community we have to focus more on how we create ways to feed ourselves. How do we provide ways for working families to sustain themselves - to be able to live on the land they farm and build equity in that land?”
Every year or so, a group of Na Hoaloha Ekolu employees visit the Waihee Coastal Dunes and Wetlands Refuge. Moore says he has witnessed employees becoming emotional on the visit. “When you’re there and look mauka, there is no evidence of human interference. There are no roads, no buildings, nothing. They know what a privilege it is to be there and to share it with their family.” HILT is valuable because not only is it protecting the land, it is interpreting it, and providing access for the community.”