One of the goals for Lieutenant Governor Doug Chin has been to ensure that the ‘Aina Pono Hawaii State Farm to School Program expands and becomes sustainable for future generations.
Here is his September 9th opinion piece in the Honolulu Star Advertiser:
During preparations for Hurricane Lane recently, Hawaii was ordered to close its waters to cargo ships and all incoming vessels. Moments like this remind Hawaii of its dependence on imported food. Approximately 85 percent of our food is grown on the mainland or abroad and we have only weeks of food available if our ports ever close.
Achieving food security is a key motivation for the ‘Aina Pono Hawai‘i State Farm to School Program. Launched by former Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui in 2015, ‘Aina Pono is the state’s innovative program to stimulate local food production and improve childhood health by purchasing 40 percent local food for school meals statewide.
With 197 cafeterias serving more than 100,000 meals per day, or 18 million plus meals a year, Hawaii’s Department of Education (HIDOE) is the largest restaurant in Hawaii. HIDOE’s annual school food budget is approximately $108 million, of which about $35 million is spent on food.
By replacing imported food with local produce, beef, milk and more, ‘Aina Pono may expand local food production, boost farmer earnings and the local economy by tens of millions of dollars and create hundreds of new jobs.
To test the feasibility of sourcing local food for school meals, the ‘Aina Pono executive committee oversaw two pilot projects from 2016 through 2018. Both were successful in training cafeteria staff, local farmer outreach, developing new recipes/menus, and tracking data points. The cafeterias went from serving primarily processed foods to delicious scratch-cooked meals with fresh, local food while decreasing food waste and costs.
The pilots exceeded expectations, but taking ‘Aina Pono into statewide implementation may require significant shifts in school food programs in Hawaii, including increasing HIDOE’s administrative bandwidth to: train cafeteria staff statewide; network with the agricultural community to follow trends in local food production and provide guidance on government contracting; track data; create localized USDA-approved menus and recipes; manage multiple local food contracts; and more.
Hawaii now has an incredible opportunity to increase federal funding for public school food to the tune of $15 million per year. Currently, the federal government funds 50 percent of Hawaii’s food programs, with cash sales (25 percent) and state tax revenues (25 percent) covering the balance. However, Hawaii loses approximately $15 million annually because the feds use outdated costs of living statistics from 1979 to determine our federal school food reimbursement.
To update our federal allocation to 2018 levels, HIDOE must provide details of current food program costs to the federal government. Thanks to Superintendent Christina Kishimoto’s commitment to ‘Aina Pono, HIDOE’s School Food Services Branch is developing a new financial management system to track ‘Aina Pono’s goals of purchasing 40 percent local food, purchasing 60 percent fresh food, and achieving cost neutrality by reducing food waste and increasing efficiencies. The new system will also generate the data needed by the feds to consider increasing Hawaii’s funding allocation.
By reinvesting tax dollars into local communities, sustainable practices and nutrition education for students, ‘Aina Pono can ignite the next generation of “citizen eaters,” who understand and value the connection between food, health and agriculture.
HIDOE has committed to harnessing its tremendous buying power to make ‘Aina Pono a reality statewide. We can all help. Contact your state and federal legislators and school officials in support of updating the federal reimbursement rate to reflect 2018 costs of living.
By supporting the ‘Aina Pono Hawai‘i State Farm to School Program, we’re investing in Hawaii’s keiki, school cafeteria workers, and local farmers to ensure food security and a healthier future.