Work began on our Maui Ku’ia Estate Cacao Farm in 2013, when former biotech entrepreneur, Gunars Valkirs, decided to combine his family history of farming with his obsession for outstanding chocolate.
Located within the moku (traditional Hawaiian district) of Lahaina and the ahupua‘a (traditional Hawaiian land division) of Ku’ia, early days on the farm saw our team clearing the land, adding in irrigation and a system of windbreak and shade trees in order to create the tropical environment needed for Theobroma cacao (literally “cacao, food of the gods”) to flourish and produce its colorful pods, which contain the seeds from which chocolate is made.
Ten acres at a time, the hillside began to transform into a luxuriant green—helped greatly by the water that flows from the wao akua of Mauna Kahālāwai (West Maui Mountains), where the gods reside, to the wao kanaka, the realm of people where cacao is grown and crafted into chocolate.
Native to the South American rainforest, cacao was first introduced to Polynesia and Hawai‘i by Germans in the middle of the nineteenth century but it did not become a commercial success, unlike fellow imports sugar and pineapple, due to the somewhat tricky nature of growing the sensitive crop in a region with strong trade winds.
Our Ku’ia chocolate plantation is no stranger to farming for sweet-toothed purposes—intensive commercial sugar production began here in the late 19th century and continued for more than 100 years. This on land leased from Kamehameha Schools, the trust established by Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop to fund a school system for Hawaiian children. In 1999, Pioneer Mill harvested its last sugarcane crop from Ku’ia and the land became fallow, covered with dry grasses that became green only when rainfall was plentiful, a rare occurrence—perhaps due to deforestation—in Lahaina.
Maui Ku‘ia Estate Chocolate is proud to have regenerated the land in recent years, tending to our sustainable cacao from seedling to harvest-ready pod and harvested for the very first time in April 2018. We now have 15 fields and approximately 6-7000 cacao trees set across 20 acres, growing to 60 in the near future. Our dream of making one of the world’s finest chocolates, using cocoa beans produced on our own working chocolate farm, is now becoming a reality.
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