HONOLULU – The Hawaii Farm to School Initiative is celebrating Farm to School Week by highlighting its pilot project at the Kohala Complex. From October 2 to 5, the cafeteria is featuring local ingredients in its serving “Island Fresh First” lunch menu. Students at the Kohala Elementary, Intermediate and High schools will enjoy delicious, fresh scratch-cooked meals that will feature local ingredients such as Big Island ground beef, apple bananas, sweet potatoes and pineapple.
The Initiative’s Farm to School Week coincides with Farm to School Month, which is being celebrated in October across the nation and here in Hawaii. The celebration brings an awareness to the growing importance of farm to school programs as a means to improve child nutrition, encourage diverse careers in agriculture, support local economies, and educate children about the origins of food.
Lt. Governor Shan Tsutsui spearheads the initiative and works collaboratively with the Hawaii State Department of Education (HIDOE), The Kohala Center and the Hawaii State Department of Agriculture (HDOA). The Hawaii Farm to School Initiative is the officially the first State-run farm to school program in the HIDOE system.
“Farm to School Week highlights a major milestone that was accomplished for the Farm to School Initiative. This celebration drives home the message of encouraging students to eat healthy and eat locally produced food,” said Tsutsui. “With Hawaii importing about 85 percent of our food, the Farm to School Initiative is influencing generations in helping the State to move towards becoming food sustainable.”
Launched in the fall of 2016, the Farm to School Pilot Project reaffirms the State’s commitment to improving student wellness and intends to further invigorate Hawaii’s agricultural communities. It aims to increase the purchase of local food for school cafeterias by working with local farms and markets to source fresh, seasonal ingredients. The project also seeks to encourage more students to eat school meals by creating menus that will motivate more of our children to have the desire to eat school meals, among other goals.
Along with creating a menu, Beyond Green Partners Chef Greg Christian and his team are also collecting data, analyzing costs, inventory and purchasing systems as well analyzing kitchen staff efficiencies versus inefficiencies, among other things.
As an ideal “learning and menu creating lab,” a single kitchen serves all three schools in the complex — Kohala Elementary, Kohala Intermediate and Kohala High Schools. As a rural community, they are committed to increasing their local food production. Kohala students actively help create the menu by participating in taste tests conducted by Beyond Green Chef Greg and Kohala Cafeteria Manager Priscilla Galan, who work together to develop recipes that incorporate more freshly cooked food that students both love and are familiar with into the daily menu. They also revamp favorites such as pizza and kalua pig with cabbage. Laulau made with local beef, local luau and ti leaves has been added to the menu. Produce for the experimental menu is being sourced from various local farms and markets when available.
“The quality of our lunches has been impressive during the pilot and we’ve received a lot of positive feedback from our students,” said Kohala Elementary Principal Danny Garcia. “The integration of more local menu items has also provided opportunities for our students to learn more about where our foods come from and how it arrives at our tables.”
As a result the Pilot Project team’s work, local food purchasing for the Kohala Complex has increased to 42 percent, up from 20 percent. More Kohala students are also eating school meals. Student participation has seen a slight bump to 54 percent, from 51 percent. While a significant milestone has been reached with the initial data, more data is being collected to help refine the implementation and expansion of the Farm to School Initiative.
“The Farm to School pilot at Kohala Elementary has created a lot of excitement from our students and the transition to locally sourced foods is challenging, but going smoothly,” said Assistant Superintendent Dann Carlson. “The benefits of a successful program would be tremendous for our local agriculture, community and keiki, and we are in the process of expanding the program to other communities.”
HIDOE has 256 public schools and its School Food Services Branch feeds approximately 100,000 students and staff each day.
While executing farm to school strategies that improve student nutrition, supports local businesses and expands agricultural career opportunities for our students, the pilot project serves as a learning laboratory that conceptualizes a statewide farm to school program within the HIDOE by December 2020. The next phase of the project includes expanding to additional schools on Hawaii and Maui islands during the 2017 to 2019 school years.
The Farm to School Initiative is a public-private partnership with the Lt. Governor’s office, HDOA, Hawaii State Department of Health, HIDOE, Dorrance Family Foundation, Hawaii Appleseed, Johnson Ohana Charitable Foundation, Kaiser Permanente, HMSA, The Kohala Center and Ulupono Initiative.
For more information, go to http://ltgov.hawaii.gov/farm-to-school-initiative/