In 2017, the Hawaiʻi’s Food System: Food for All report was completed after an analysis of state-wide economic data, a review of literature, and dozens of interviews with food system practitioners and stakeholders from the main islands in Hawaiʻi. The report’s findings suggest that while strengthening our community food system will require that we grow more food, it will also take a focused and locally-targeted effort from leaders of diverse backgrounds to ensure that this food feeds those who need it the most.
As part of this effort, in 2018, Hawai‘i’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education, known as SNAP-Ed, an outreach program of the Hawaiʻi Department of Health (HDOH), sought to support a community-based approach where communities take an active role and participate in highlighting the issues around food access while working to address these challenges. From this vision, the Food Access Capacity Building Project came about. To support the project, the SNAP-Ed program works with external partners to fund a Food Access Coordinator in each county. These Food Access Coordinators work to expand capacity in each county to establish and support specific efforts, including farm to school, that facilitate food access within each island’s low-income communities.
Each county’s Food Access Coordinator and their employers are listed here:
- Hawaiʻi County: Sarah Freeman, Hawaiʻi County Department of Research and Development
- Maui County: Lauren Loor, Hawaiʻi Public Health Institute
- Kaua‘i County: Joell Edwards, Mālama Kaua‘i
- City & County of Honolulu: Dexter Kishida, City and County of Honolulu Office of Climate Change, Sustainability, and Resiliency
SNAP-Ed is also committed to supporting the farm to school movement. As one branch of the food system, farm to school is able to improve student access to fresh fruits and vegetables. As part of the Food Access Capacity Building Project, all of the Food Access Coordinators participate in the Hawai‘i Farm to School Hui, and SNAP-Ed has worked with community partners to fund several farm to school pilot projects as well as Farm to Early Care and Education (ECE). In order to expand healthy food access for Hawaiʻi residents, especially those most in need, we must invest in creating a sustainable food system, including in schools and ECE settings.
SNAP-eligible (low-income) individuals make up 41.2% of the population in Hawaiʻi, are more likely to be overweight or obese, and have two or more chronic conditions. Low-income communities are disproportionately impacted by chronic disease and it is important to prioritize addressing these environmental and policy gaps. Poor nutrition increases risk for chronic diseases like obesity. The accessibility, availability, and affordability of healthy and varied food options in the community increases the likelihood that residents will have a balanced and nutritious diet. A major contributor to low food access in Hawaiʻi is the high cost of living. Hawaiʻi has the highest cost of living of all 50 states, with food costs 61% higher than the rest of the United States. The HDOH Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Division (CDPHPD) SNAP-Ed Program seeks to create policy, systems, and environmental changes that ensure affordable healthy food access in SNAP-eligible populations.