Pandemic Jumpstarts Hawaiʻi Farm to School and Food Access Programs

When schools closed across the nation in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hawai‘i Farm to School Hui leaders sprang into action in service to communities across Hawai‘i.

“The relationships built and regional coordination provided by Hui members have been crucial during this time of crisis in helping meet real needs for food access, teacher professional development, and student engagement in home-based learning,” said Hawaiʻi Farm to School Hui Coordinator, Lydi Bernal. “Their heart for Hawai‘i’s keiki and communities is huge.” 

Here are some inspiring stories from farm to school movement leaders across the islands!

Image: National Farm to School Network. The three core elements of farm to school are: 1) school gardens and farms, 2) procurement/school food, and 3) education.

School Gardens & Farms

Grow Some Good and Maui Family YMCA Distribute Produce and Seedlings to Families

Image: Grow Some Good

“We immediately recognized the need to provide food in our community,” said Grow Some Good Executive Director, Kathy Becklin. Like many school garden programs, the organization quickly shifted focus from daily classes in the schools to improving food access for thousands of families affected by COVID-closures. “Many of our school garden coordinators started nurseries in their own homes to provide seedlings for students’ home gardens,” Becklin said. 

From April to July, Grow Some Good and Maui Family YMCA, sponsored by Goodfellow Brothers, distributed more than 680 pounds of produce from school gardens and 5,741 plant seedlings, including kalo (taro), basil, parsley, pigeon pea, cilantro, kale, arugula, sweet peppers and eggplant. 

The organization has also produced a series of garden care videos and recipe posts on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram to support families adding to or starting new gardens at home. While school garden access was limited over summer break, Grow Some Good recently partnered with Big Brothers Big Sisters to launch their first community garden program. For more information, visit Grow Some Good’s website.

Mālaʻai Culinary Garden & Hawaiʻi Island School Garden Network Deliver Kōkua Kits to Families

Image: Mālaʻai

When schools sent students home in mid-March, Mālaʻai: The Culinary Garden of Waimea Middle School and the Hawaiʻi Island School Garden Network (HISGN) quickly shifted focus to send weekly lessons from the garden to 260 students at home with their families. Waimea Middle School is a Title

I school on Hawai‘i Island with approximately 75 percent of students participating in free and reduced lunch programs, so food access is a major priority, according to the program’s lead garden teacher, Holly Sargeant-Green. 

In March the school garden was in full production mode, so Sargeant-Green, Zoe Kosmas, garden educator and development director, and Amanda Rieux, Mālaʻai’s executive director, organized socially distant volunteer harvest days and delivered “Kōkua Kits” filled with fresh tea bundles of māmaki, lemongrass, and African tree basil, as well as seeds, onions, avocados, loquats, ʻuala and slips for planting. Each Kōkua Kit also included a mini garden lesson for students to practice at home with their families.

“We wanted to make sure students had a chance to taste the produce they’d been growing at school, and that they felt loved and cared for during such a difficult time,” said Sargeant-Green. “Students also have learned through this experience that when they take small actions individually by growing food at home, they have the capacity to make great change.” 

The organization is also starting to develop new Kōkua Kits to include garden grown ingredients combined with simple recipes. Staff will virtually check in with the students to answer questions and make it easier for the entire family to participate. For more information, visit the Mālaʻai and HISGN websites.

Building Resilience Through School Garden Talk Story Sessions for Educators

Image: Hawaiʻi Island School Garden Network and Oʻahu Farm to School Network.

When schools closed and many gardens sat empty during the quarantine, ʻIolani School Sustainability Specialist Debbie Millikan and Wendy Baker, a teacher at Hawaiʻi Academy of Arts and Science Public Charter School, both members of the Hawai‘i Farm to School Hui Steering Committee, decided to start a Zoom support group for educators interested in helping each other build resilience for their school garden programs. More than 50 educators from across Hawai‘i shared their challenges and offered support every week through the end of the school year. “We’ve heard different stories about who had access to their gardens and who didn’t,” said Millikan. “We just couldn’t bear to learn about school gardens going unattended.” 

Millikan and Baker have started a School Garden Talk Story Facebook Group with information on upcoming talk story events and recordings from past discussions. Baker said the group has become a great resource for sharing best practices and navigating through all the changes happening at different school sites. Baker said plans are in the works for monthly sessions to continue during the upcoming 2020-2021 school year.

“By gathering teachers, we can learn more about the needs of each community,” said Baker. “Together, we can have more leverage in communicating those needs to the Hawai‘i Department of Education.”