In celebration of October as Farm to School Month in Hawai‘i, a Perspectives trip hosted by Hawai‘i Public Health Institute took participants to several model farm to school sites on O‘ahu. All three core elements of successful farm to school programs were showcased, including 1) school gardens, 2) education (agriculture, culinary, nutrition, food systems), and 3) school food improvements through local food procurement.

At Mililani Uka Elementary School, visitors received an overview of the statewide farm to school movement, the Hawai‘i Farm to School Hui, and the ‘ĀINA In Schools Program of the Kōkua Hawai‘i Foundation, and observed a hands-on garden lesson for kindergarteners. Principal Heather Wilhelm shared about her school’s strong commitment to the program and the positive impacts it has had around health, academic achievement, and community engagement.

At Mari’s Gardens, we enjoyed an excellent guided tour through their aquaponics and hydroponics farm on 18 acres in Mililani. Here, they regularly host workshops, private events, and school field trips through which students increase their “agricultural literacy” by visiting active farms and meeting farmers.

The tour concluded at Mililani High School, where participants learned about the ‘Aina Pono Hawai‘i State Farm to School Program and enjoyed a scratch-cooked school lunch. Principal Fred Murphy shared his enthusiasm for farm to school, stating that “this can be a part of a food revolution in Hawai‘i.”

In 2018, the Hawai‘i State Legislature approved funding for a Farm to School Coordinator position in the Hawai‘i Department of Education (HIDOE) School Food Services Branch (SFSB). The new coordinator, Dexter Kishida, is tasked with leading the expansion of ‘Aina Pono and was also in attendance at the event. He shared that HIDOE requires an estimated 12,000 pounds per day for each fresh food item served to supply 100,000 school meals daily. Farm to School is positioned to greatly impact Hawaii’s agricultural economy, while growing future farmers and conscious consumers through education and hands-on, garden-based learning in grades PreK-12. As Mililani High School student leader, Ariana, shared, “this is really important and it’s a big step for our future.”