How Kim & Jack Johnson Get Their Hands Dirty to Grow a Healthier Hawaii

Local and organic with a major dose of aloha.

By Camille Styles

On last month’s trip to Oahu, the most unexpected shoot of our trip turned out to be the one I’ll never forget. We’d been chatting with Kim Johnson (visionary behind Kokua Hawaii Foundation and wife of platinum-selling singer-songwriter, Jack) about doing a story on how she lives and entertains at their home on the North Shore. It soon became evident that Kim had little interest in being interviewed for a lifestyle piece… but we barely noticed as we were carried along by her wholehearted vision for what became quite a different story idea. Though the concept was a little outside the realm of our typical shoots, our entire team was quickly sold on her vision for the important story that she knew could be brought to life.

kim johnson harvesting basil

Kim and Jack live with their three kids on the North Shore of Oahu, home to (we discovered) some of the world’s best poke bowls, shaved ice, and surf breaks. To say that it’s a “laid-back” place is putting it mildly; no shirt, no shoes in the North Shore is a way of life. And although the family embraces the sun-drenched vibes of island life, they’re also passionate advocates for the causes close to their heart – and don’t hesitate to dive in and become active players in enacting change.

We quickly learned that Kim’s go-with-the-flow attitude belies a warrior spirit that’s a continued force in bringing about environmental change in Hawaii.

kim and jack johnson kokua foundation hawaii

The morning after our initial phone call, we found ourselves at a local elementary school, rain jackets pulled over our heads against the drizzle that had rolled in with the fog. With the mountains and ocean as our backdrop, we talked with the kids who excitedly shared which crops they were currently tending as well as a remarkably insightful explanation of photosynthesis, and we all worked to harvest fresh basil for the macadamia nut pesto we’d be making with Kim’s friend, the renowned Honolulu-based chef Ed Kenney, later that day.

kim johnson teaching kids to harvest basil

We were there to learn about Kokua Hawaii Foundation’s AINA In Schools initiative, a farm-to-school movement founded in 2006 to empower children to grown their own food and reduce waste. As we roamed the garden plots, I chatted with Kim and was moved to learn about the real changes that AINA In Schools was making in thousands of kids lives around the island. I wanted to learn as much as I could and find out how I could enact some of these same positive influences back home, both in my own family and in my kids schools. A few of my biggest takeaways about the initiative, along with some simple ways that anyone can get involved:

Kokua foundation plastic free hawaii

Nutrition education empowers students to try new foods and make healthy choices that will last a lifetime.

What you can do: Download and print the Foundation’s Healthy & Waste Free Lunches bookmarks so you always have this handy resource available when you – or your kids’ – lunches are feeling stale. I love their practical ideas for packing lunches that are nutritious and kind to the environment.

kim and jack johnson teaching kids to garden

Garden-based learning transforms the school gardens (now in 23 schools in Hawaii!) into a learning laboratory where all subjects are explored.

What you can do: Support a garden club, volunteer at a local school garden, or plant a garden at home and harvest your own produce – here’s a great guide to building a raised garden bed.

kim and jack johnson kokua foundation gardening

Healthy food on campus increases local produce in school lunches and snacks to provide healthy choices and support local farms.

What you can do: Make it a weekly goal to shop the farmer’s market or subscribe to a CSA box of local produce. Supporting local farmers is not only an important way to support the environment; the produce you bring home is fresher, healthier, and more flavorful.

To cap off this special day, we took our fresh herbs straight to Ed Kenney’s kitchen at his light-filled casual spot, Kaimuki Superette. He took a break from cooking that day’s offerings (think seared tuna club, and watermelon with chile-lime salt & jalapeño) to show the kids how to whip up a batch of pesto using the basil they’d picked just an hour before.

Kim johnson teaching kids to cook

garden basil pesto pasta with kim and jack johnson and ed kenney

As we all sat down to savor it tossed with fresh pasta and cherry tomatoes, it was a reminder that food is better is when it’s truly fresh and harvested with love. Chef Kenney’s mantra summed up the day pretty perfectly:

Local first, organic whenever possible, with aloha always.

Garden Fresh Basil Pesto with pasta and cherry tomatoes

Garden Fresh Pesto

Serves 4

How Kim & Jack Johnson Get Their Hands Dirty to Grow a Healthier Hawaii

By Camille Styles


1 cup fresh basil

3 cloves roasted garlic

1/4 cup macadamia nuts

1/8 cup nutritional yeast or parmesan cheese

1/4 cup olive oil

a pinch of salt and pepper


Put all ingredients above in the blender or food processor and blend.

Add more salt and pepper to taste.

Add on to fresh pasta and garnish with cherry tomatoes.