John Kaiahua Mentorship Award

In 2017, one of Kansas City’s beloved organic farmers, John Kaiahua, passed away.  In recognition of his unique leadership in the local farming community, the John Kaiahua Mentorship Award was established. This award honors farmers in our region who exemplify John’s finest qualities: 

Mentorship:  As a self-taught gardener and farmer, John knew the importance of passing on his knowledge. John always taught and mentored the growers he met. In the Cultivate KC community greenhouse, he was an advisor to everyone. Lending his decades of experience, he trained the folks at the Troostwood Youth Garden, he was a founding farmer at the Barstow Organic Farmers Market, he helped set up a market at Linwood and Troost, and he helped start the Raytown Farmers Market. John was one of the founding host farmers for the Growing Growers Training Program and he was an original member of the board of directors of Cultivate KC. He trained other native Hawaiians in growing taro and contributed to a growing movement of Polynesians celebrating their cultural and agricultural heritage.   

Inspiration:  John was an excellent farmer. He had high standards for his growing practices. His fields were immaculate, and his produce was beautiful. He inspired other farmers to be as good. 

John often shared the history of his poi pounder* with visitors, along with stories of how to grow taro, Hawaiian fishing and agriculture, and how he became a farmer. The poi pounder award that we share today was made expressly for the John Kaiahua Mentorship Award by Hawaiian craftsmen and cultural teachers and leaders. It is loaned to each new awardee, to be returned and given out again, sharing the spirit of mentorship and caring.   

The collaborators who created the original poi pounder award are Ryan Lazear, Jerry Konanui, Duffy Chang, Shayne Keahi Tomas, and Daron Makaiwi with special thanks to Lono Logan.

Former awardees:

2018 Recipient: Linda Hezel, Prairie Birthday Farm

2019 Recipient: Alicia Ellingsworth, KC Food Hub & The Farm School at Gibbs Road

2020 Recipient: Dre Taylor, Nile Valley Aquaponics

2021 Recipient: Katherine Kelly, Cultivate KC

2022 Recipient: Dina Newman, UMKC Center for Neighborhoods

*Poi Pounders or Pohaku’ai are tools that are used to break the poi (taro or kalo) down from a cooked fibrous root into an edible paste that is a staple of a traditional Hawaiian diet. They are often passed down from generation to generation- and represent Polynesian strength and cultural identity in a uniquely powerful way. They are intimately connected to the agriculture of growing taro and Hawaiian agriculture.