Rebuilding a Local Food Economy: Oahu, Hawai'i

Architect: University of Arkansas Community Design Center

Owner: Hawaii Department of Agriculture, Agribusiness Development Corporation

Location: Oahu Island, Hawai'i

Despite being the most inhabited remote landmass in the world, Hawaii imports more than 93% of its food. This plan aims to rebuild the local food systems on Oahu, the third largest of the Hawaiian Islands and home to nearly one million people. Working closely with the state's department of agriculture, a diverse team of architects, urban designers, farmers, landscape architects, and food scientists embraced the idea of "thinking like an island" to create an innovative platform for developing value-added short food supply chains on Oahu.

While food planning is often viewed as a rural issue and is conspicuously absent in American planning and policy, food access is intrinsically linked to problems and health issues found in urban settings. Before the rise of industrial agriculture, local food processing and distribution centers were plentiful in American cities, ensuring both essential nutrition and farm prosperity. With food hubs, markets, and processors now absent, our cities have become less resilient and prone to significant nutritional deficits.

To address these challenges, the team developed a new regional food production system, conducted foodshed analyses, and shaped a portfolio of production facilities for the island. The plan's key components include a regional hub that can handle the wholesale processing of products from small growers, a food makerspace at the University of Hawaii, and post-harvest processing prototypes on remote farms.

Before the rise of industrial agriculture, local food processing and distribution centers were plentiful in American cities, ensuring both essential nutrition and farm prosperity.

The average age of a Hawaiian farmer is 61, so to incentivize younger, small-grower startup operations, the state is providing land and irrigation infrastructure reclaimed from corporate plantations. The plan also seeks to address relevant food business incubation issues, ecotourism, equitable distribution, and neighborhood redevelopment to demonstrate that urban agriculture can support a wide range of community needs.

The team’s vision for Oahu's food production landscape is expressed in several fundamental principles that support a healthy and resilient island. The primary aim is to reduce food insecurity by boosting the availability of local products in place of those shipped from more than 3,000 miles away. By incubating the island's legacy food ecosystem—coffee, tropical juices, kimchee, taro, and breadfruit—economic development would be nurtured and a workforce once responsible for Hawaiian prosperity would be rekindled.

Much more than just a plan, this model for rebuilding short food supply chains demonstrates concrete methods for reclaiming the middle agricultural infrastructure that has disappeared in America. Even more importantly, it clearly articulates how such chains can provide vital support to our communities.

Additional information

Project lead: University of Arkansas Community Design Center (UACDC)

Stephen Luoni, Assoc. AIA, director

Francisco Mejias Villatoro, PhD

Michela Cupello, AIA

Claude M. Terral III, AIA, project architect

Garrett Grelle, project designer

Colby Leding, project designer

Raheel Ahmad, Assoc. AIA

Jonathan Martinez, Assoc. AIA

Kay Curry, ASLA, LEED AP, landscape designer

Kenneth C. Hiley

Ethan G. Kaplan

Victor Lorenzo, RA

Maranda Gerga, student intern

Brian Hernandez-Dimas, student intern

Linda Komlos, administrative analyst

UACDC Students:

Austin Autrey

Caitlin Caum

Chelsea Garrison

Derek Hukill

William Pendleton

Joshua Powell

Rafael Segura

Collaborator: Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design Department of Landscape Architecture (LARCH)

Ken McCown, Assoc. AIA, ASLA, IFLI, professor and head

LARCH students:

Anna Gwaltney

Alexander Holyfield

Alexis Pacheco

Addison Warren

Collaborator: University of Arkansas Resiliency Center

Marty Matlock, PhD, PE, BCEE, professor and executive director

Eric Cummings, program associate

Eric Boles, director, Office for Sustainability

OFS students:

Deanna Mantooth-Hendrix

Kristina Ala-Kokko

Brittany Jurgens Gothard

Brandon Wayerski

Olivia Morgan

Sam Lahodny

Associate architect: Urban Works Architecture

Lorrin Matsunaga, AIA, LEED AP, principal

Vu Le, LEED AP, project architect

James Noh, project designer

Collaborator: University of Arkansas Food Innovation Center

John Swenson, manager

Jean Francois-Meullenet, director, Division of Agriculture Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station

Collaborator: Brightwater: A Center for the Study of Food

Glenn Mack, executive director

Collaborator: High Technology and Development Corporation

Robbie Melton, executive director and CEO

Collaborator: Hawaii Housing Finance Development Corporation

Craig Hirai, executive director

Janice Takahashi, chief planner

Collaborator: Mari’s Gardens

Fred Lau, owner

Collaborator: University of Hawaii Community Colleges

Mike Unebasami, associate vice president for administrative affairs

Denise Yoshimori-Yamamoto, director of facilities and environmental health

Collaborator: University of Hawaii Maui College

David Tamanaha, vice chancellor for administrative services

Consultant: University of Hawaii at Manoa, School of Architecture

Daniel Friedman, FAIA, dean and professor

Consultant: University of Hawaii Community Design Center

Cathi Ho Schar, AIA, director


Mark Gardner, AIA, NOMA, Chair, Jaklistch Gardner, Brooklyn, New York

Lesley Bain, FAIA, Framework, Seattle, Washington

Katie Horak, ARG, Los Angeles, California

John Smoley, City of Minneapolis, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Dan Yudchitz, AIA, Leo A Daly, Mineapolis, Minnesota

Image credits


University of Arkansas, Community Design Center


University of Arkansas, Community Design Center


University of Arkansas Community Design Center


University of Arkansas, Community Design Center


University of Arkansas Community Design Center