Imagine a place where the community reflects what is important and precious in each member. Then imagine that the meaningful work that each individual contributes to the community is healing and inspirational, improving body, mind and soul.
La'a Kea Farm Community on Baldwin Avenue above Pa'ia is that extraordinary place. Sitting on 12 acres overlooking the ocean, adorned with double rainbows and majestic white clouds, it is easy to see its enchantment.
"However, its visual beauty does not even compare with the magic taking place in the hearts and deeds of those who live, work and volunteer to help the community center thrive," said Farm Manager Colleen Curran.
“Neighbors and visitors stopping to shop find themselves entering a community paradise that provides the nutrition of the finest organic local fruits and vegetables,” said Farm Manager Colleen Curran. From left to right: Ian Joya, Phyllis O’Reilly, Moki Slonim, Paul Texeira, Colleen Curran, Andrea Hall Rodgers, Ne‘Carvalho, Seth Goldblatt, Shannon Ryan and Jennifer Llanes.
Photo: Cindy Schumacher
La'a Kea Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization founded in June 2000, is a dream come true. Now offering day and residential programs for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, it is the first of its kind in the State of Hawai'i.
"The farm was created to serve as a sanctuary for those whom society has overlooked--those with special needs," said Curran. "Here, all participants have a place and home where they laugh, learn, love and contribute to something greater than themselves."
"Our mission is to create wholeness through education and therapy in extended family living," said La'a Kea Executive Director Andrea Hall Rodgers. "Being part of a thriving 'ohana community enables the members to fully unfold their potential and inspire each other."
"La'a Kea's programs include farming, economic ventures and the activities of daily living that come alive in a community with homes, farm buildings, a farmers market, craft studio and multipurpose buildings," said Rodgers.
Inspired by the international Camphill Village model (www.camphill.org), La'a Kea offers a unique alternative to conventional care. Coworkers, residents and day-program participants, regardless of their ability or disability, work in a supportive social environment. They are all dedicated to discovering and enhancing what each individual has to offer through productive work.
Rodgers, the mother of a developmentally disabled son, Ian Joya, maintains a commitment to creating an adult life for him where he is safe, happy and a participant in the community.
Ian was a participant at a Camphill Village. The original village, inspired by Rudolph Steiner, was founded in Scotland in 1939. Today, this international movement includes hundreds of communities around the world.
"In 2004, we moved back to Maui to anchor the development of La'a Kea Farm Community," Rodgers said.
In 2005, Rodgers found herself in Mayor Alan Arakawa's office explaining her vision for a Camphill-style farm community. She presented the project, which included participants with special needs and co-workers as their partners to comprise the farm crew.
"It is an exceptional model of biodynamic farming and equitable community living designed specifically for the special-needs community," she told the mayor.
Recognizing the critical need for a community serving one of our most overlooked populations, Mayor Arakawa arranged the first long-term lease ever given to a nonprofit in the history of Maui County. The county donated the land in Pa'ia across from the gym.
"During my first administration, we realized there was a gap in service when it came to assisting adults with physical and mental challenges," said Mayor Arakawa. "As children, there were many programs they could access, but once they turned 18, almost all the services that the state provides terminated."
"The premise," the Mayor said, "is that the residents would work on a farm in order to learn life skills and lead productive lives."
"I believe that a society is judged on the basis of how it treats it's most vulnerable members," said Mayor Arakawa. "For that reason, I am very glad that we have programs like La'a Kea and the Lokelani 'Ohana in Waihe'e that care for our most vulnerable residents of Maui County."
La'a Kea's Day Program creates an inclusive, nurturing and fun routine. Beginning 8:30 a.m. when the gates open, signs are posted, animals are fed, the farm stand is washed, and the organic fruits and vegetables are put out for sale.
"Our farm stand, open for business Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., offers locally grown organic produce that is healthy and actually more affordable as well," said Rodgers.
In season, the stand offers mangoes, tangerines, limes, kale, chard, green beans, onions, tomatoes, herbs, avocados, lemons, passion fruit, cucumbers, red leaf lettuce, butter lettuce, eggplant, strawberry papaya, Molokai purple sweet potatoes, broccoli, organic corn and more.
"I love the beautiful fresh produce, supporting a wonderful cause and coming to a sweet farm," said Pa'ia resident Carla Jalbert. "I came when La'a Kea first opened and I have seen it grow and flourish."
La'a Kea depends in large measure on the charitable contributions from individuals, foundations and corporations.
"We welcome your support," said Rodgers.
For more information, visit www.laakea.org or call (808) 281-3463.