In 2011, Koa Chang was living in Thailand, training (and competing) as a Muy Thai kickboxer. He had been living there for a few years already, as he had been studying martial arts and fought in Korea and Thailand. But then he got the call: His father, Ali’i, the founder of Ali’i Kula Lavender, had suddenly passed away.
“I threw my clothes into my backpack and caught the first flight home,” he said, when we first met at the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust fundraiser, Buy Back The Beach. “I left everything else I owned behind. Nothing else mattered.”
Boom. Just like that, he left his kickboxer life in Thailand, propelled across a couple time zones, and suddenly was back in upcountry Maui, running a 13.5-acre lavender farm and selling the relaxing benefits of the fragrant herb. Chang, now 29, has immersed himself in the philosophical, scientific, and financial aspects of running a farm ever since.
Two years ago — unbeknownst to me, shortly after Ali’i Chang had passed — my twitter friend Marilyn Jansen Lopes (@Jamarilyn) started Maui Country Farm Tours and took me up to Ali’i Kula Lavender. They had just started experimenting with growing olives on the land, diversifying their offerings with drought-proof crops that would do well at such a high elevation. Since then, Chang has infused more new ideas into the company to take it to another level, while maintaining the legacy to his father. In fact, when you sit with him, he’s friendly, fun, and laid back, but you can see the gears in his head are always moving, always grinding out new possibilities for the farm.
We talked about some of these new ideas in the video below, when I caught up with him at the Maui Ag Fest this past weekend. I apologize for the background noise, since the festival was already in full swing and this was actually the quietest spot to interview him.
Perhaps it’s time to make another visit to the farm. I should add that he’s encouraged his staff to be more active on social media, so the twitter account @AKLMaui now follows people back and engages, they do more on Facebook, and jumped on Instagram and Pinterest. Want to hear more about his story and what’s next? Visit HawaiiIRL.com for more.