Growing Farmers

Clockwise from top left: Rainbow trout require a constant supply of fresh, circulating water. Here, fingerling rainbow trout swim in Kulahaven Farms’ hatchery.

In 2013, Dobovan had moved to Maui with a plan of his own. “I came here to start an aquaponics movement,” says the seventy-one-year-old, who in 2012 cofounded an aquaponics farm on O‘ahu. He helped launch the FAM program, and currently serves as HFUU Haleakalā Chapter president. In 2016, he got to work clearing a wall of brush and trees to make room for his future farm. “I started doing the work on my own and I was like, ‘This is ridiculous, I need help,’” recalls Dobovan. I went through about five guys; none of them lasted more than two hours, before Max showed up. At the end of that first day with Max, I’m dragging my chainsaw up the hill with my tongue hanging out and he’s skipping. I thought yeah, I’ve found the right guy.”

A few months later, John suggested Max join the FAM program, which was in its second year.

Powell admits that he didn’t know what aquaponics was and didn’t know how to use a power tool before working with Dobovan. Thanks to FAM classes and Dobovan’s mentoring, Powell says he’s now confident in his skills. “FAM is a crash course in farming,” says Powell. “Through the program I learned the vocabulary of farming, and with that vocabulary I could really become fluent.”

Today, the pair are co-owners of Kulahaven Farm and are producing rainbow trout and watercress through an aquaponics system that uses fish waste to fertilize crops grown in raised beds. Each month, the half-acre farm produces 2,000 pounds of fish and 3,500 pounds of watercress, which it sells to Mama’s Fish House and directly to consumers via a monthly subscription program.

“I’m convinced that the only way we’re going to be sustainable is to farm smarter, and for me, aquaponics is one of those technologies,” says Dobovan, who adds that, “When I was Max’s age, if you were considered too stupid for an office job, you’d be a farmer. I’m sorry, but it’s just the opposite. We need the best and brightest as farmers, and the FAM program is attracting exactly that.”

Ready to cultivate your own farming skills?

The next FAM program begins  with an introductory event called “Am I Ready to be a Farmer?” on Thursday, October 4, 2018.   The program begins in  December,  with  online  applications  available in early  November.  To get on the event-alert mailing list,  contact Phyllis Robinson at


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