why kalo?

A highly nutritious staple food considered sacred by Hawaiians, kalo was arguably the foundation of Hawaiian society and enabled a culture isolated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean to thrive. Until the early 19th Century, Maunawili Valley was considered the breadbasket of the whole Koʻolaupoko region of O‘ahu because of the prolific amount kalo that was cultivated there. Now with 23 kalo patches in production, Hoʻokuaʻāina is bringing this nutritious resource back to the community and helping to restore traditional agricultural systems in Kailua.

what is kalo?

Kalo, also know as Taro (Colocasia Esculenta), is a root vegetable and one of the most complex carbohydrates on the planet. It is the sixteenth most cultivated plant being grown globally in more than 60 countries. From early times, kalo was the primary food of the Hawaiʻi people, supplemented by other principal and traditional foods such as ulu (breadfruit), uala (sweet potato), fish, ferns, limu (seaweed) and fruits. In ancient times there were more than 300 varieties of taro. Approximately 87 of these varieties are still recognized today. The variety primarily grown at Kapalai is Moi.

Poi, the most common preparation of kalo in Hawaiʻi, is often fed to babies as their first whole and naturally healthy food, as well as to the elderly for its ease of digestion and high vitamin content. Poi can be eaten fresh or allowed to ferment for a few days, often for longer, creating a sour taste considered pleasant. In the old days, a person might consume up to five pounds of poi per day.


Today with a resurgence of families pounding their own poi (kuʻi ʻai), small kalo farms are emerging across the state as it is a desire of many to grow their own kalo. The arduous task to open up lo’i (taro field) in wetland conditions and create irrigation systems off of streams or springs to prepare for planting is something that draws a community together. When we started our journey in 2007 and began to clear 7 acres that hadn’t been touched in over 100 years, the Hui Kalo gang showed up in force to help us clear much of the vegetation needed to get started. Since then, thousands of volunteers continue to come annually to help us maintain the 23 patches we have in production.

the story of hāloa

Wakea, Father Sky, and Papa, Mother Earth, had a beautiful daughter named Hoʻohōkūkalani. Hoʻohōkūkalani gave birth to a baby boy. Can you imagine her sadness when the child was stillborn? This child, a son, was named Hāloa which means long, eternal breath. The kupuna (elders) whispered, “the child looks like a root.” The family wrapped Hāloa in kapa, placed him in a basket of woven lauhala, and buried him in the ʻāina.

Hoʻohōkūlani grieved the loss of her son, crying and mourning and watering the grave with her tears. Before long, a plant started growing from the same spot where the baby was buried. This plant with itʻs long stalk and heart-shaped leaf was named Hāloanakalaukapalili for its leaves that fluttered in the wind. It was the first kalo plant.

Hoʻohōkūkalani became pregnant again. This time, a healthy, thriving baby boy was born. He was given the name “Hāloa” in honor of his older brother, the kalo. Hāloa was the first Hawaiian person.

Hawaiians trace their roots back to Hāloa, thus stating that we are all “mamo nā Hāloa,” or descendants of Hāloa. This creation story shows Hawaiian’s reverence to this primary food source and speaks to the sacred human relationship to the kalo plant, the ʻāina, and the rest of the natural world.

nani ke kalo

Nani ke kalo, beautiful the taro, is our foundational lesson at Hoʻokuaʻāina that sets the tone for everything that takes place at Kapalai. As the main staple and elder sibling of the Hawaiian people, kalo (taro) was considered sacred. Hence, when working with or preparing kalo to be eaten, great respect must be given and demonstrated.