Sara Tekula and Joseph Imhoff were the 2017 recipients of the Mālama i ka ʻĀina Award, presented June 17th in a ceremony at the Maui Association of Landscape Professionals’ Maui Garden Expo held at the Maui Mall.
The annual award recognizes an individual or business working within the landscape or agricultural community to keep invasive species out of Maui County. It is sponsored by the Maui Association of Landscape Professionals, the County of Maui, and the Maui Invasive Species Committee.
Tekula and Imhoff are co-founders of “Plant a Wish,” a Maui-based native tree planting and stewardship project. Their mission is to encourage people to plant trees indigenous to the places they live and in doing so, bring communities together.
Plant a Wish began when Tekula and Imhoff married in 2007. At their wedding they asked friends to write down
wishes for them on slips of paper and deposit them into the earth. There, they planted a tree — in Upper Kula.
This one act grew into a project – people asked them to plant a wish tree for baby showers and birthdays. They began growing and promoting native trees as alternatives to importing Christmas trees on Maui, and then they decided to plant trees in all 50 states — species native to each place. They spread the word about their work as they traveled, explaining what has happened in Hawaii and how it is a microcosm for the rest of the world. They have become messengers in our community and across the United States about the importance of using native species.
“We believe that each individual has the power to make a difference,” said Imhoff in his acceptance speech. “We want to inspire others.”
“What is special about their story is that neither Joe nor Sara had any formal background in conservation. They learned of a need, developed a passion for protecting the place they love, and took action,” said Teya Penniman, presenting the award on behalf of the Maui Invasive Species Committee.
Outside of their Plant-a-Wish project, Tekula works as the communications and outreach director for The Merwin Conservancy, home to one of the most extensive palm collections in the world, and Imhoff is the program manager for Skyline Eco-Adventures conservation initiative.
Award presenters included Allison Wright from the Maui Association of Landscape Professionals and Jeremiah Savage for the County of Maui.
This year’s commemorative plaque featured a glass sculpture of an olapa branch, a native tree found in the rainforests of Hawai’i, by local artist Jupiter Nielsen.