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Episode 59: The birth of Sust‘?inable Moloka‘i with Malia Akutagawa

In 2008 Malia Akutagawa was thinking about creating an organization dedicated to changing the narrative about her home island of Moloka‘i. She heard the island referred to as anti-jobs, anti-progress, the poverty island. What she saw was that Moloka‘i was actually the greenest of all the Hawaiian Islands, the most rural, where people still fished and hunted and grew food to feed their families.

“For me it was realizing that no one was going to write that narrative for us and we had to do that ourselves: that’s why I founded Sust‘?inable Moloka‘i. The way we spell it is Sust‘?inable Moloka‘i, because we really wanted to hone in on that word ‘?ina as part of our mission—that really the core of our values is understanding aloha ‘?ina and m?lama ‘?ina.”

Since its founding in 2010 Sust‘?inable Moloka‘i has brought renowned permaculture experts to the island to train farmers. It has set up garden programs in the schools and on Hawaiian Homelands. It has conducted energy audits to make homes more efficient, trading out old refrigerators and traditional light bulbs for better alternatives. It has leased land and planted bamboo, which will be harvested in coming years to produce green buildings.

“We have to be inventive, we have to create our own jobs. We know that what the island prefers as its number-one industry is agriculture. What we’re doing is just listening to what the people want and then trying to help remove obstacles and barriers for their success.”

researcher, writter, and narrator of Aloha Aina. She is currently an editor at Hawai‘i’s largest magazine, Hana Hou!, where she has written and edited numerous award-winning articles about Hawai‘i. She was the founding editor of Honolulu Weekly. She holds a BA in Pacific history and journalism from the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa and a JD from Stanford Law School.
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