Aloha! 21 Degrees Estate is a veteran-owned and family operated cacao farm and event venue located on windward O`ahu in the ahupua`a of Kahalu`u (traditional Hawaiian land division).
After 22 years as a Navy aviator—and nearly half that time stationed on O`ahu--Michael was managing real estate investments and doing the occasional remodeling/building contract when he met Maria who was serving her last active duty assignment as an Air Force officer stationed at Hickam AFB. After getting married, they decided to make Hawai`i the permanent home for their young ohana.
Maria retired from the Air Force after 23 years and spent the next few years consulting for her communications company, working for a Honolulu PR firm, and also as a communications executive for aerospace manufacturer, Pratt & Whitney.
But both were restless to do something completely different for their “Second Act”….
“Both of us were looking to find a unique place to raise our young children that was beautiful and special in which they could thrive, said Maria.” “At the same time, we desired a place that would give us the opportunity to create a space and a vocation that was new to both of us but that also blended our mutual passion for Hawaii’s natural beauty with our respective skills sets. After looking for nearly a year, the lovely farm that is now called 21 Degrees Estate found us. And after nearly another year, we happily closed on this 10-acre piece of `aina (land) in September 2014.”
All who farm are keenly aware that we are but stewards of the land that nourishes and provides for not only this but future generations. It is the farmer’s kuleana to practice "malama ka `aina," conserve and preserve what is there and hopefully to contribute further to it. In the Hawaiian language, kuleana can be defined as accepting responsibility with understanding and intent. It is a value or a way of thinking that gives one a sense of ownership and accountability for carrying out certain responsibilities, and it becomes one’s privilege to do so. At 21 Degrees Estate, we believe in sustainable practices and we understand and accept that it is our kuleana to malama (care for) and cultivate the land, grow single-origin cacao and cultivate some of the world’s best cacao right here is our little corner of paradise.
Already a farm with mature agriculture like apple-bananas, coconut, starfruit, turmeric, avocado, mango, guava, breadfruit, lychee and kukui as well beautiful heliconia, red, blue, pink, “shampoo,” awapuhi, and “torch” ginger flowers, we decided to grow cacao--a new and burgeoning niche segment in the Hawaii agricultural industry. Not only are we excited to be part of this growing segment and its equally growing reputation for excellence around the world, but we both love great chocolate!
Our stated mission from the beginning has been to grow “best in class” cacao to make “best in class” craft chocolate. We began by planting a superior high-flavor profile cacao for artisan craft chocolate with approximately 650 trees over three orchards. After the excitement of our first harvest in 2016, we enjoyed our first real production year in 2017--harvesting approximately 2500 pods yielding some 1200 special batch chocolate bars. We anticipate that we will be harvesting well over 10,000 pods this year and still more through 2020.
Equally important to us is to share the beauty of this land. To that end, we set about creating the “most charming cacao farm in America” to make a place that is accessible to visitors of all ages who might enjoy experiencing the lovely rain forest environs of Kahalu’u and to learn about how cacao is grown and fine chocolate is made. In particular, we enjoy hosting keiki and young people, school groups and scouts to hopefully inspire future farmers and to learn about the importance of preserving precious farm land for farming use and of cultivating pollinators like honeybees and butterflies.
Finally, through our love of hosting, we wanted to create a venue where people can come together to celebrate food, family and friends in a beautiful natural setting.
The windward coast of O`ahu is sometimes referred to by chocolate makers and bean-to-bar chocophiles as the "Napa Valley" of chocolate due to its unique micro-climate, soil and moisture terroir. In this respect, cacao is most similar to the wine-grape cultivation where location and each new season and climate ultimately impact the final flavor profiles of the chocolate. We are excited to be joining other Hawaii cacao farmers in cultivating this novel and unique fruit and have christened our farm "21 Degrees Estate" due to the latitude location of O`ahu, Hawai`i.
Michael has worked the farm 12 hours a day/7 days a week for the past four years and has literally honed his farming, civil engineering, plant science, animal husbandry, landscaping, cottage renovation and all around fix-it skills through the “on-the-job” training! His mobile phone regularly reports an average of 16,000 steps a day. Early days on the farm included clearing and preparing the land for the orchards, creating water management pathways to accommodate the more than 100” of annual rainfall in Kahalu`u, and adding 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.
Maria is passionate to help position Hawai`i as a "Napa Valley" for chocolate--an eco/edu/agri alternative to Waikiki-centric tourism--and as a reproducible business model of socially just and fair cocoa farming for other regions of the world. As an officer on the Board of Directors, and the President of the Hawaii Chocolate and Cacao Association, Maria builds on her 30-year career in communications, public relations & marketing with new graduate degrees in international agriculture and "agripreneurship" (OSU, 2019), sustainability leadership (HPU, 2014) and practical experience growing cacao on her own farm to help shape the young cacao and chocolate industry in Hawai`i. She is also responsible for the miniature goats on the farm whose primary duty is to be “cute” and secondarily to serve as farm weed management technicians.
21 Degrees is a labor of love and a work in progress. Our “to do” list is long and we always seem to be adding more projects and ideas! But we believe the journey is as important as the destination and are looking forward to the continued serendipity of events that have brought us to this point. We invite you to join us on the journey going forward and follow our progress.
Our vision? "To create a delightfully diverse, safe, healthy, and just space with clean air, water, soil and power --economically, equitably, ecologically, and elegantly enjoyed!"