Hawai‘i Farm to School Program Branches Out
There’s no doubt, our school gardens are growing. And so is the movement to bring more local agriculture and food into not only the classroom, but also the cafeteria.
The Hawai’i Farm to School Program sprouted roots in 2015, establishing goals to improve student nutrition and hands-on learning, expand large purchasing of local foods, and other topics you can learn about in our video above. But some new measures going through the state legislature would grow the program beyond the Department of Agriculture, branching out to more fully involve the Department of Education.
“Some of the great people that are working on this from the DOE, they’re holding down like five different jobs, which would all be full-time jobs,” explains Farm to School Program Coordinator Robyn Pfahl with the Department of Agriculture. “So our state employees are trying their best, but they really need some more help, they need dedicated positions.”
The Department of Agriculture is also proposing a funding bill that would switch over to general funds, which Pfal says are considered more stable. There’s also a measure to examine how our state can procure more Hawai‘i-based food, and create a grant pilot project to help groups that are supporting the program’s mission.
That includes groups like Maui’s own Grow Some Good, which provides an interactive way for students to learn about all things ag, by helping them establish and maintain their own school gardens.
“So it provides us with another funding mechanism for these nonprofits that are doing the work, and it leverages the investments their funders are willing to give,” says Pfahl. “Anytime a nonprofit is able show state investment, it usually doubles or triples the private investment willingness, because we’re targeting these areas, saying we know Farm to School works.”
Grow Some Good supports 11 schools across Maui, and also engages local chefs to connect with students and their produce. Some of those chefs will be showcasing their skills at the Taste of School Gardens at Maui Tropical Plantation on March 10.
“I’m so excited to have a beautiful environment where we’re looking out at fields,” says Grow Some Good Executive Director Kathy Becklin. “Our chefs, our wine and our beer vendors, they’re bringing so much of their time and effort.”
Becklin is part of the hui, or network on Maui that’s connecting agriculture with education. A Farm to School pilot program recently wrapped up at the Kohala Complex schools on Hawai‘i Island. It reportedly cut down on so much money and food waste, there’s another pilot planned elsewhere.
“They’re just starting one at Mililani High School on O’ahu, which is the largest high school in the state,” adds Becklin. “Their goal is to use up to 40% local food.”
Lehn Huff with Maui School Garden Network says out of a population of 24,000 students on Maui, around 9,000 are actively engaged in garden learning.
“We want to expand their knowledge of fruits and vegetables that are out there and immediately available to them, that they can connect with personally and create,” says Huff, “because frankly, they’re going to eat what they grow!”
Huff praises not only Grow Some Good for its dedicated involvement, but also the University of Hawai’i’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, which something called P-20. It takes ag education beyond K-12, spanning from preschool to post-high school.
“So we have a P-20 Program that is weaving strands of agriculture and natural resources into the curriculum at all grade levels,” explains Huff.
Hawai’i Farm to School Program focuses on not only food, but also its byproducts, addressing issues like food waste and recycling.
“We now have a new Food Service Branch administrator, Albert Scales,” Huff says, “and he has decided that he is going to support getting rid of styrofoam from all of our meals, which is a huge step in the right direction, and is supporting the Harvest of the Month Program.”
The Harvest of the Month is already in place, putting a local product on students’ plates in every public school statewide.
Pfahl says groups and stakeholders are connecting on every island, but here, Grow Some Good and Maui School Garden Network are unique, with their tireless work on the ground, efficient communication with schools and outreach to engage supporters. For Pfahl, the Maui group is a trusted resource and a source of inspiration.
“We have the only School Garden Network that’s a line item on the county budget, and that’s huge,” she explains. “That’s showing the government’s saying, ‘thank you for doing this work; this work is important and we need to help support you.'”