Meet Vincent & Irene Min’a
Kahanu ‘Aina GreensMaui, Hawaii
“Being a regenerative farmer is not an exclusive club. I have deep respect for any farmer.”
Meet Vincent & Irene Min’a of Kahanu ‘Aina Greens. Their story is one you won’t forget. Their energy and connection to the soil is contagious and they are breaking the mold of what a “farm” looks like. When most people think about a farm they think of needing to own a vast amount of acreage and produce at scale to be profitable. Well, friends, Kahanu ‘Aina Greens is proof that isn’t true. At just 2,500 square feet, they are thriving and growing as a profitable business.
When Irene was pregnant with her daughter, she had this relentless craving for sunflower greens. And as everyone pretty much knows, when a pregnant woman has a craving you don’t want to get in the way. So Irene would make a daily trip to the local health food store and clean out the entire shelf of these greens until one fateful day – the day they looked at each other and said, “why don’t we just grow our own?” And they did. They grew their own sunflower greens in their home and quickly realized it wasn’t only Irene’s craving, local neighbors in the community wanted them too. And just like that, more seeds were planted. And just like that, more seeds were planted. The microgreens grew, as did the demand, which would ultimately become Kahanu ‘Aina Greens (Breath of the Land), the homestead urban farm named after their daughter Kahanulani (Breath of Heaven), who started it all in utero.
“We grow the soil before we grow the plants.”
Vincent and Irene have continued to keep family at the core of their operation which has become even more of a core value due to the tragedy the family experienced last year with the loss of their 35 year old son, Noah “Kekai” Min’a nearly one year ago. His deceased body was found in the Hawaiian forest yet still brings light, purpose and voice to the farm. His presence and spirit was the inspiration for the Community Cart Irene opened just a couple weeks ago where people can contribute what they can and take what they need at no cost. Fresh fruit, vegetables, baked goods, face masks and toiletries are shared at this new gathering place for the community. You can see in this caricature of the Kahanu ‘Aina Greens operation, a farm he worked on since he was 10 yrs old and loved so very much, he is still alive in the spirit of the farm and family. His life continues to enrich the community as inspiration for Irene’s latest endeavor which she calls Kekai Community Cart. The cart is a center point in the community and is a tribute to their late son. It is purely a gift where neighbors can take what they need and also a place for them to give any abundance of food or supplies they might have. The giving spirit of Kekai lives on within the heart of the community. Vincent considers their setup a blessing because the farm is part of their home so the entire family is connected and together more because of it.
What makes Kahanu ‘Aina Greens different?
What makes Kahanu ‘Aina Greens so different from other farms is the size compared to the output. Vince always thought he would have to work acres of land to have a “farm” be a “farmer” but when he started growing small batches of micro greens on their own property, he realized he didn’t have to own vast amounts of land to be a farmer.
What does this operation look like now?
“What this has turned into over the past 26 years, is making a living on 2500 sq ft. urban farm growing micro greens. We now have the infrastructure in place that we could potentially produce 1000 pounds a week and, yet, at this time we are producing 300 pounds a week with room for growth.”
He had to transform his state of mind and what he imagined a “farmer” to be. Ultimately he found it’s not the size, acreage or output that matters, it’s a matter of how you care for the soil from which everything grows then abundance follows. Just when you thought managing their own farm operation was enough, there’s more. “We grow the soil before we grow the plants.” With the vast majority of conventional farmers focused on the opposite – plants and output before the soil, there isn’t a natural collaboration between the farmer and the land. One is destroying the natural ecosystem within the soil for the sake of mass production which then produces food that is out of sync, full of petro-chemical inputs, and causes breakdown within the inner garden of the human body. Vincent asserts that if we, as farmers, are willing to work in cooperation with mother nature, everything has the capacity to do their best. Vincent went on to say, “There is an alchemy of relationship. I feel connected to the land in that the soil and the land is working with me in collaboration because I’m in alignment with how it works.” Not an ounce of soil is ever wasted, it is cherished and repurposed, every time. From the time the greens are cut, washed and bagged in their 400 sq ft processing area, they are ready within an hour to be delivered to local restaurants, grocery stores and hotels. The remaining bio mass and soil from harvested trays gets added to the compost to achieve a closed-loop sustainable system. Just when you thought managing their own farm operation was enough, there’s more.
Vincent walks the talk and has boldly stepped into leadership roles that are allowing him to teach and transform food systems in Hawai’i. He is the President & founding member of Hawai’i Farmers Union United (HFUU),a collective group of farmers implementing regenerative ecological techniques, by growing and raising food to create a resilient, vital and productive agricultural system to better feed the people of Hawai’i. He is also the Chair of Hawai’i Farmers Union Foundation (HFUF), and serves as a Maui County Rep. on the Hawai’i Dept of Agriculture and serves as Chair of the Natl. Farmers Union special committee “Regenerative Agriculture Local Food” (RALF)
What would your advice be to farmers and those who have a desire to start a farm someday?
Vincent is of the frame of mind that many farmers lose their farms or don’t transition because they just have too much land to manage and have no bandwidth to try something different to potentially lowering their inputs within their management system.
“I always tell people to get it right on a small scale and you can do it on any scale. So many conventional growers are taught that they need to manage a vast amount of land to be successful. It’s just not true.”
What is your vision for a regenerative future?
“My hope is that farmers will get paid for the nutrient density of the food they grow and not the volume. This alone will serve the farmers, the land, and every person who enjoys the fruits of this shift in labor.”
Soil is sacred to Vincent and Irene. When they saw the health of the plants growing from regenerative soil and tasted the food that grew in it, they knew it was due to the health and vitality of the soil. Sharing their experience and knowledge of soil health and its connection to human health and community vitality is a passion of theirs that they continue to share and give to their community in hopes of creating change and transformation. Vincent and Irene have an incredible operation and you can support them and learn more about what they are growing at the links below: