How can the coffee industry support communities in Maui? – Perfect Daily Grind

In early August 2023, a number of wildfires broke out in Hawaii – predominantly on the island of Maui. Referred to as “the Hawaii Firestorm” by the US government, the incident has been reported to be one of the worst natural disasters in the country since the early 1900s.
Damage from the fires has been devastating. As many as 115 people have been confirmed to have sadly passed away, with many others still missing. The fires also destroyed thousands of buildings, including residential homes and historic landmarks. Some national experts claim the “official” damage totals US $5.5 billion.
Many communities in Maui and other areas of Hawaii are still recovering from the fires, which is sure to take some time. To provide support to local coffee businesses and beyond, a number of fundraisers are helping to raise money and awareness.
To find out how the global coffee industry can support communities in Maui, I spoke to James “Kimo” Falconer, President of MauiGrown Coffee. Read on for more.
You may also like our guide to Hawaiian coffee production.
It’s important to emphasise that wildfires aren’t uncommon in Hawaii. But over the past few decades, the total area burned by wildfires has increased significantly.
The Maui wildfires in early August 2023, however, were the most devastating by far – exacerbated by the state’s lack of resources and a number of climatic factors. As far back as June 2014, the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization reported that most of the Lahaina area (located on the northwest coast of Maui) was “extremely” vulnerable to wildfire burning.
Throughout early August, intense winds from a nearby hurricane and ongoing drought conditions worsened the rapid spread of wildfires across Maui. The fires destroyed most of the historic town of Lahaina, as well as many other areas of the island like Olinda, Pulehu-Kihei, and Kula. Thousands of people have been displaced, with many fatalities and serious injuries also sadly reported.
“We lost power at 4am on 8 August, the fire had started in a bush in a residential area,” Kimo says. “The fire was out of control in no time and burned down the entire town of Lahaina.”
On the same day, local authorities signed an emergency declaration, which included activating the Hawaii National Guard. By 9 August, Hawaiian authorities announced a state of emergency. On 10 August, US President Joe Biden issued a federal major disaster declaration.
Every year, Hawaii produces around five million pounds (2.3 million kg) of green coffee. While Kona is one of the most well-known growing regions, the island of Maui accounts for roughly one-sixth of the state’s total coffee production.
Hawaiian coffee producers have been facing a number of challenges in recent years. These include the emergence of coffee leaf rust on several islands and legal battles over mislabelling of Kona coffee. But despite these difficulties, coffee production has been steadily rising over the last few years.
The wildfires in August, however, caused significant damage to coffee farms in Maui, as Kimo explains.
“We lost our mill, processing facilities, store, and most of our warehoused coffee,” he says. “Because of this, we won’t harvest any coffee this year.”
Other local coffee brands have also been impacted. The Maui Coffee Company, which is a family-owned and operated business, said in an Instagram post on 12 August 2023:
Maui Coffee and our family are okay. Lahaina is destroyed and it is heartbreaking. We have several employees who lost their homes and some of our operations were severely impacted, but we are trying our best to get things up and running for our employees, our customers, and our family.”
Sadly, even if coffee producers or local companies didn’t experience direct damage to their property, the majority of businesses had to close following hazardous conditions caused by the wildfires.
Many communities and businesses are still recovering from the ongoing effects of the wildfires. In response, several fundraisers have been launched to provide support and resources:
The GoFundMe campaign is organised by Christina Pundyke, who is the owner of Alba’s Cuban Coladas in Maui. The campaign is raising funds to support coffee businesses in Lahaina.
Several coffee companies will receive a share of all donations, including:
The GoFundMe campaign is raising funds to help VigiLatte Artisan Coffee rebuild its business and support its staff, many of whom are now homeless and without work. Neighbouring businesses also affected by the wildfires will receive a share of the donations.
VigiLatte is also continuing to sell coffee online, and all sales proceeds will also go towards the fundraiser.
After three of its employees lost their homes due to the fires, the Maui Coffee Company launched a GoFundMe campaign. All three employees have worked for Maui Coffee Company for over two decades.
All funds raised through the campaign will be used to provide housing, food, and basic amenities to the employees.
In addition to fundraisers focusing on the Maui coffee sector, there are also several organisations working to support the wider community on the island.
Fundraisers and donations are incredibly important ways to help local communities and businesses in Maui rebuild from the devastating impact of the wildfires.
With some coffee companies managing to reopen in Lahaina, another way to provide support is to buy coffee.
For example, Hawaiian company Big Island Coffee Roasters launched a Lāhainā Maui Strong Blend, with 100% of in-store and online proceeds going directly to the Maui Strong Fund.
Unfortunately, following such significant loss of infrastructure in the Maui coffee sector, Big Island was unable to fulfill orders – leading the roaster to blend the coffee with Central and South American beans as a means of continuing sales.
Other local roasters who may be selling Maui-grown coffee include Maui Coffee Roasters, Maui Coffee Company, Origin Coffee Roasters, and Maui Oma.
Despite the many challenges ahead, Kimo remains hopeful that communities in Maui can steadily recover in time.
“‘Lahaina Strong’ is our motto and the town will rebuild,” he says. “[The ongoing support] touches everyone in the community.”
Enjoyed this? Then read our article on four things you should know about Hawaiian coffee.
Perfect Daily Grind
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Bhavi is a brand-building specialist, a dairy technologist, and a storyteller with a keen interest in coffee.

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