A recent KITV4 interview quoted Dexter Kishida with the Department of Education (DOE), “Growing it and cooking it are two ways kids eating behaviors change.” The report also estimates the DOE imports more than 80 percent of produce in public school lunches. That number may be soon decreasing with the signing of this new bill.
The governor’s press release explains “SB 376, Act 218 established the Hawai’i farm-to-school program and funds a farm-to-school coordinator position. Across the nation, farm to school programs are reconnecting students to a better understanding of the food system and where their food comes from. Farm to school programs introduce students to healthier eating habits and help them become familiar with new vegetables and fruits that they and their families will then be more willing to incorporate into their own diets. The farm to school coordinator will negotiate the complicated process of procuring local agricultural for our schools.”
Local farmers have had tremendous challenges competing with mainland prices and Hawaii DOE volume restrictions that require one vendor to supply an entire 256-school system.
“I think one of the important insights is that it doesn’t have to be the exact same suppliers statewide,” said Kyle Datta, general partner at the Ulupono Initiative, in a recent Hawaii Tribune-Herald article. “You can let local agriculture scale up to the community.” He said one of the early missteps in launching statewide farm to school was trying to get local producers to support the needs of the entire state as opposed to their specific areas.
“Maui kids eating Maui pineapple, Oahu kids eating Dole pineapples,” he said. “There’s a lot of things we should have more of that are completely possible.” (Source: Hawaii Tribune-Herald)
Some local charter schools have successfully incorporated local produce into their lunch programs because they manage their own individual procurement. Food hubs, where farmers combine their harvests for higher volume distribution, are also gaining momentum in other school districts nationwide. Here is a recent article in from the St. Paul/Minneapolis Star-Tribune describing one example of this venture.
“We need to make sure students are connecting and understanding where their food comes from and why it matters,” said Lydi Morgan, Coordinator with Hawaii Farm to School & School Garden Hui.
School garden programs are an important part of supporting this initiative. When students grow, harvest and prepare their own dishes using school garden produce, they are more likely to eat fresh fruits and vegetables in school lunches and bring that enthusiasm home to the dinner table.
If you’d like to dig the school garden movement on Maui, visit our volunteer page and introduce yourself! We look forward to seeing you in the garden!