Kai McPhee’s environmental efforts to add a little bit of color back to Lahaina
Lahaina local Kai McPhee is the owner and founder of Punakea Palms, a small coconut farm in Maui that offers visitors an opportunity to learn about the cultural significance of coconuts, the health benefits, life cycle, and methods of processing (how to make coconut milk, oil, etc.). When visitors arrive, they quickly learn that everything grown at Punakea Palms is either consumed or sold. Guests also have the chance to tour the farm and visit their cafe and gift shop, which are open to the public. However, today, Punakea Palms is indefinitely closed after losing crops to the Lahaina fires.
Since the fires, McPhee’s efforts to care for the damaged plants in Lahaina have been a constant work in progress. He created his nonprofit organization, ReGreen Lahaina which KaiAloha Supply was happy to support and donate to.
Kai McPhee watering plants at Punakea Palms, his coconut farm that began in 2004 and became a business in 2017. (KaiAloha Supply / Kristin Solberg)
“I am a farmer. I have a deep passion for plants, trees and plants of Lahaina. It wasn’t my first thought to start this [nonprofit, ReGreen Lahaina],” McPhee shared.
He lived in Lahaina his whole life with very fond memories of Puamana and King Kamehameha Elementary School. ReGreen Lahaina stems from Kai’s passion of caring for the plants he learned to nurture growing up. After the fires, he ran into barriers that kept him from feeling productive or helpful to his community, but what sparked his vision to start his nonprofit was the coconut tree he planted in Lahaina with his son.
Kai attempting to bring a little bit more life to the trees and plants in Lahaina that were severely damaged from the fires and hurricane. (Photo courtesy of Kai McPhee)
McPhee shared that he had difficulty gaining access to the tree since the town was closed off to the public. Fortunately, he came across a police officer who listened to his story and agreed to look for the tree and water it for him. The coconut tree was alive, but was severely damaged, and had a very heavy heat load. It not only made Kai’s day when the police officer went out of his way to look for his coconut tree and water it, but he saw that it also gave the officer hope. “When I saw that in him, I knew that’s what we needed in our community: peace, some sprouts of green as something to give us hope for the future of Lahaina,” McPhee said.
Kai behind Maria Lanikila Church where many of the plants and trees were burnt and dry. (Photo courtesy of Kai McPhee)
ReGreen Lahaina is a 10-year-plan to bring life back to Lahaina. Kai’s project has evolved over the past 3 months and has progressed from a one-man job into a community-based effort organization. Now, he has a water truck and he has been able to consistently drive to Lahaina every single day. Through outreach, he has also gathered community members to help contribute to this part of the rebuilding process for Lahaina.
“I also want to emphasize that ReGreen Lahaina is not making, nor is interested in making, any decisions for the community. Rather, I want [ReGreen Lahaina] to be an implementation source. We’re just here to help achieve what the community decides is best,” he said. “There’s therapeutic value in bringing the trees back and seeing the color green again.”
In the beginning, with the resources he had, Kai was only able to fit 5 gallons of water into the back of his truck and attempt to get into Lahaina to water trees and plants. Some days were more successful than others, but during the time he did have, he made sure to provide as much water as he could to the affected areas. (Photo courtesy of Kai McPhee)
Joe, Kai's best friend helped piece his first truck together. In this photo, Treecovery Lahaina is blessing Kai's water truck. The truck was donated by Tropic Water and painted by Jessica Stackpoole. (Photo courtesy of Kai McPhee)
Kai driving his water truck which he takes to Lahaina in order to continue his work. He encourages all those who are interested in volunteering, to join him. (Photo courtesy of Kai McPhee)