Published: July 26, 2019 By

CU Boulder environmental studies alumnus helps make Maui sustainable

Dane DostertCU Boulder alumnus Dane Dostert

You grow up in Oregon. You head “east” to college, to study in a nationally respected environmental policy at the University of Colorado Boulder, where you also indulge your love for snowboarding, camping and every imaginable activity in the Rocky Mountains.

Not a bad start to life, right? But then, you accept your diploma in 2008, just as the United States and world economies are beginning to slide toward collapse, in what would come to be known as the Great Recession.

“Yeah, I graduated into a pretty tough economy,” Dane Dostert (EnvSt’08) says. “I went back to Oregon and started looking for work. But it was a saturated market for environmental professionals. I couldn’t get an interview.”

Then, to Dostert’s surprise and delight, he was accepted into a unique partnership between the nonprofit Nature Conservancy and the federal AmeriCorps program, and spent the next year doing volunteer outreach and field work on a 33,000-acre bunchgrass prairie preserve in northwest Oregon.

Fast forward a decade, and Dostert’s business card tells a story that many (including Dostert) would consider a dream come true. He is officially—try to quell your envy—sustainability coordinator and head bartender for Maui Tropical Plantation, a unique business that is a mélange of restaurant and bar, coffee roaster, retail and sustainable agriculture on the western lobe of one of Hawaii’s most beloved islands.

He created the plantation’s craft-cocktail program and still works two nights a week behind the bar. The rest of the time, he’s building sustainability programs and working in the field.

“I’m really thankful to CU, which game me this sort of cross-pollination and promotion of interdisciplinary skills,” he says. “I’m able to engage in these seemingly disconnected pursuits in one place. That’s kind of cool.”

Kind of.

There were, of course, a few steps between Dostert’s first job and working in his field in a place many consider a virtual Eden on earth. He also worked as a residential environmental technician retrofitting, weatherizing and mitigating radon in Portland and for a consulting firm for petroleum giant British Petroleum (BP) in the wake of the disastrous Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010.

shovel full of dirt

Dostert is proud of the plantation's composting program, which now composts half of all food waste at the restaurant. Photo courtesy of Dane Dostert.

“It was like, I can live in the middle of nowhere making $9 an hour, or make a better living with BP,” he says. “But Portland wasn’t the right fit for me, weather-wise. I didn’t know what to do, so I decided to (move) back to Boulder, where I was happy.”

Back in the shadow of the Flatirons, he took a job as a bartender with Japango restaurant on the Pearl Street Mall, and ended up serving as bar manager for three years.

“That gave me a different skill set that was fun, I could travel and make pretty good money,” he says.

But then his parents moved to Maui, and after his first visit, he was smitten. He knew he had to move to the Valley Isle. He soon found a job bartending for the nascent Maui Tropical Plantation.

“When I started, it was brand-new. We were getting 100 people a day. Now, 800 people a day come through,” Dostert says.

Feeling a need to work outside while tending bar, he took a short-term paid position with the West Maui Mountains Watershed Partnership working on the preservation of native forests through control of feral pigs that have devastated much of the island’s natural habitats. The pigs not only root up the ground, but also deposit seeds of invasive plants, so Dostert assisted in a program to snare and remove the animals as well as re-plant native species to help regenerate the forest. The program has been remarkably successful, removing almost all pigs from that part of the island and keeping them out with vigorous fencing.

“Maui has a really strong network of environmental organizations and they’ve seen a lot of successes. It’s a depressing field, often, but I’ve been to these sites and seen the photos from 15 years ago,” Dostert says. “The native forest has come back to health.”

Energized by that experience, Dostert was excited when the management at the plantation asked him and another employee to design a robust composting program, which now composts half of all food waste produced at the restaurant. The plantation recently planted its first sugar-cane crop—which is rendered into cane syrup—in a compost-infused field.

That project led to his being named sustainability coordinator for the entire, 2,000-acre property. Since then, he has worked with the Surfrider Foundation on a massive beach cleanup; the effort collected 8,000 pounds of plastic in a single day, slated to be processed and used by the Adidas athletic shoe company in production.

He also has created an unusual series of craft cocktails using invasive fruits, such as strawberry guava and java plum. Meanwhile, the restaurant serves axis deer (or chital), another invasive species, and sustainably raised Kona kompachi, aka “the wonder fish.”

“That’s the majority of fish we serve, because of the depletion of mahi-mahi” and other species, he says. “The biggest impact I have at this point is dealing with our waste stream, through compost. … I still bartend a day or two a week, but most days I spend on the property getting dirty.”

If that sounds like paradise, Dostert isn’t about to disagree.

“It’s been a long road,” he says. “But now my view is of the Waikupu Valley, the culture is healthy, and I tell whoever visits me that I’m about a month away from paying off my student loans. And CU played an integral part in exposing me to the kind of expansive thought that brought me here.”