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.

Education

Garden-Based Professional Development Programs Go Virtual

Image: Kū ʻĀina Pā

Hawaiʻi Island School Garden Network, Mālaʻai Culinary Garden, and the Center for Getting Things Started (C4GTS) had already planned the Kū ʻĀina Pā school garden teacher training program and professional development education (PDE3) course. When the pandemic hit, all content was converted to an online learning format that took place during June 2020, and teacher enrollment tripled. 

To help meet the demand for online teacher professional development during Summer 2020, the Aloha ‘Āina Academy: Food Systems project-based learning online workshop and PDE3 course was launched, facilitated by Arizona State University, Mid-Pacific Institute Kupu Hou Academy, and the Hawaiʻi Farm to School Hui. This new opportunity also attracted record levels of teacher interest.

“Switching to online learning enabled us to reach teachers across the whole state. In the past, it was more difficult to work with a larger group of people because of the expense of in-person travel,” said Koh Ming Wei, Ecoliteracy Educator with C4GTS. Koh said that it was a huge learning curve for many of the facilitators who had to learn new online platforms such as Thinglink, Padlet and Mentimeter, make Zoom break out sessions more interesting, and build connectivity and collaboration through a virtual setting.

During the online courses, 10-15 percent of teachers said they were newly inspired to learn more about gardening. Nearly 20 percent of teachers who were already gardeners expressed interest in expanding their skills. “Because people are staying at home, they have more time to learn and practice gardening with their families,” Koh said. Visit Mid-Pacific Institute’s Kupu Hou Academy website for updates on new project-based learning courses, and Hawaiʻi Island School Garden Network for Kū ‘Āina Pā school garden teacher trainings.

Kōkua Hawaiʻi Foundation Filming ʻĀINA in Schools Lessons, Funding Project Grants

Image: Kōkua Hawaiʻi Foundation

ʻĀINA In Schools is a farm to school initiative launched in 2006 that connects children to their local land, waters, and food to grow a healthier Hawaiʻi. In addition to encouraging the use of locally grown fruits and vegetables in school meals and snacks, the program includes a standards-based nutrition, garden, and compost curriculum that empowers children to grow their own food, make informed food decisions, and reduce waste. 

Kōkua Hawaiʻi Foundation is developing a series of videos to compliment their ʻĀINA In Schools curriculum for online educator training and resource sharing with teachers and families in support of distance learning. 

Teachers from Hawaiʻi public schools can also apply for Kōkua Hawaiʻi Foundation Project Grants to help advance their environmental education goals. Previous grantees have used KHF funds for garden supplies, eco-footprint workshops, vermicompost trainings, and more.

For more updates, sign up for the ʻĀINA mailing list.

Additional Support for School Gardens and Distance Learning from the Hawai‘i Farm to School Hui

Image: Hawaiʻi Public Health Institute

Teachers and families are encouraged to visit the new Farm to School Events and Resources webpage, containing ideas for home gardening, cooking, composting, and invasive species control, along with event announcements and other links to local and national resources. Stay tuned for many more helpful resources to come! 

Food Systems Workforce Development for Food Security and Resiliency

When the Hawai‘i State Legislature recessed indefinitely on March 17, 2020 due to the COVID-19 crisis, members of the Hawai‘i Farm to School Hui Legislation & Policy Committee proactively began working to transition the 2020 Policy Agenda for food systems education into a proposal to support Hawai‘i’s economic, social, and environmental recovery and resiliency.

The result is a plan to significantly amplify existing food systems education and workforce development initiatives for the regeneration of sustainable community food systems, food security, food self-sufficiency, and total wellbeing for all people and places of Hawai‘i. The proposal focuses on substantially increasing youth leadership and student interest in college and careers in agriculture and food systems through expansion of support for farm to school, Hawai‘i FFA (Future Farmers of America), Hawai‘i Youth Food Council, and the Aloha ‘Āina Educational Pathway in Sustainable Food Systems from preschool through PhD levels. These efforts are also part of a broader food systems transformation initiative called the ‘Ike ʻAi Consortium on Sustainable Food Systems.

As a member of Hawai‘i Green Growth (HGG) United Nations Local2030 Hub, Hawai‘i Public Health Institute participated in HGG’s Network COVID-19 Recovery Survey. Over 300 responses to this survey were received from across six sectors statewide, identifying over 200 green growth projects, 150 education and job training opportunities, and diverse policy priorities. Importantly, a focus on local food systems and agriculture was identified by respondents as the top priority for integration into Hawaiʻi’s economic recovery.

“Hawai‘i’s farm to school movement shines a guiding light on the path toward a more resilient future,” says Bernal. “The time is now to shift our collective focus toward ensuring food security for all of Hawai‘i’s people, and to significantly increase our food self-sufficiency through the development of community food systems. We aim to strengthen student engagement, youth voice, and community leadership in this critical, kākou effort through farm to school.”

Image: Hawaiʻi Farm to School Hui