Over 120 participants enjoyed five HIPHI Perspectives Trips on O‘ahu and Maui during October 2019, in celebration of National Farm to School Month. The trips were organized by the Hawai‘i Farm to School Hui (a program of HIPHI) and partners to invite community members “into the field” to learn how farm to school programs are increasing student health and regenerating Hawaii’s community food systems!
Farm to school programs are a powerful driver of policy, systems, and environmental changes in the areas of agriculture, education, and health. Successful programs encompass three core elements: 1) school gardens, 2) education, and 3) school food improvements through local food procurement.
Hawai‘i Farm to School Hui is a statewide network formed in 2010 to strengthen Hawaii’s farm to school movement, and is comprised of five Island Networks, community organizations, schools, food producers, and state agencies. In 2017, Act 10 was signed into law, designating October as Farm to School Month in Hawai‘i. This October’s Farm to School Month HIPHI Perspectives Trips were made possible in part by Whole Foods Market with locations on O‘ahu and Maui, where HIPHI was selected as a Community Giveback Day recipient in April 2019.
This year’s celebrations kicked off at Keiki and Plow in Hawai‘i Kai (O‘ahu) on October 5 with a day of service and fun on the farm! Keiki and Plow is an organic, family-run farm that offers unique experiences for families to explore nature, harvest produce, and build community. The event was co-hosted by The Bennett Foundation, a member of the Hawai‘i Farm to School Hui focusing on Farm to Early Childhood Education (ECE).
On October 14, HIPHI volunteers joined the entire faculty and staff of Leilehua High School in Wahiawa (O‘ahu) during a school-wide professional development workday on their 3-acre school farm, supporting the agriculture education program by harvesting kalo in the lo‘i and pulling weeds from the row crops. Hawai‘i Department of Education (HIDOE) Complex Area Superintendent Robert Davis attended the event, expressing support for ‘āina-based learning and agriculture education for students. A very special lunch was prepared for the group by students in the culinary arts program using produce from the school farm! With support from the Hawai‘i Farm to School Hui, Leilehua High School will be joining a small cohort of public schools piloting HIDOE’s Hawai‘i Garden to Cafeteria Program during the 2019-2020 school year, through which produce grown on campus will be served as part of the school meal program!
Next, it was on to Maui where Grow Some Good and Maui Farm to School Network partnered with HIPHI to gather community members and dignitaries on October 17; participants included Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino, HIDOE Complex Area Superintendent Kathleen Dimino, and representatives from Mahi Pono. Farmer Bobby Pahia hosted a tour for the group at Hoaloha Farms near Waikapū, where natural farming practices are being employed on former sugar cane land to regenerate living soil and grow food for local consumption.
Next, the group visited the school garden at Pu‘u Kukui Elementary School in Wailuku to observe a lesson during which fourth grade students learned – from nature – about the growth and use of important (living) canoe plants. Participants made the connection between school gardening, local agriculture, and long-term food security and self-sufficiency for our islands.
Back on O‘ahu, the fourth event was held in Wahiawā on October 18 with a tour of The Whitmore Project, a public-private partnership designed to revitalize local agriculture by supporting farmers and protecting agricultural lands. Senator Donovan Dela Cruz, a key legislative champion and driver of the project, provided an overview then led site visits to the former Galbraith Estate lands and Ho Farms, Green World Coffee Farm, and Whitmore Annex, a vacant warehouse with big plans in store for agricultural product development and education. Someday, local food hubs such as the one envisioned here will aggregate and supply large quantities of fresh locally grown foods to nearby communities and schools!
The month’s culminating event was held on October 21 in Mililani and began with a visit to Southern Turf Hawai‘i, our state’s largest commercial ‘ulu (breadfruit) farm! This tour was hosted by farmer Danny Green, who also led participants through the farm’s cacao grove.
The group then traveled to Mililani High School to participate in a student workday to help revitalize the agriculture education program through mulching, weeding, and fruit tree planting. Senator Michelle Kidani joined the group and shared about the importance of state and community investment in local food systems through agriculture education.
A delicious lunch was prepared by students in the culinary arts program. Mililani High School is one of the original pilot schools for ‘Aina Pono, HIDOE’s farm to school initiative to improve school food. During the 2019-2020 school year and for the first time ever, HIDOE School Food Services Branch will be offering locally-grown ‘ulu to all 256 public schools in Hawai‘i as part of the regular six-week menu cycle throughout the year, thanks to their partnership with the Hawai‘i ‘Ulu Cooperative!
School food improvements are effective when they lead to increased student consumption of fresh, locally-grown foods. Garden-based learning and other food-related educational opportunities are critical components of successful farm to school programs because they allow students to grow, prepare, taste, and develop a preference for fresh fruits and vegetables even before they appear on the cafeteria plate. By being directly involved in this way, students gain a deeper connection to where their food comes from and why it matters, leading to lifelong advocacy and involvement in the regeneration of thriving community food systems as food producers, culinary professionals, educators, policy makers, business leaders, and conscious consumers.
You can support Hawaii’s growing farm to school movement by volunteering at a school or farm near you, advocating for supportive policies, and staying connected with the Hawai‘i Farm to School Hui and HIPHI!