Food bank turning more to farmers

LIHU’E – In the past eight years since Hurricane Iniki ravaged the island and left people without food, the Kaua’i Food Bank has worked steadily to make sure Kaua’i has enough to eat.

Now, the food bank has stepped up efforts to train farmers to produce more freshly grown fruits and vegetables for thousands of food bank food recipients and their markets.

The food bank and the Hui Mea’ai, comprised of 46 local farmers, are negotiating with Kaua’i Community College to establish a farmer training project at the college.

The project, if implemented, could help farmers grow higher-quality products for their markets and help strengthen diversified agricultural on Kaua’i.

“I think the local growers will definitely benefit from this,” said hui spokesman David Kalahiki. “When they have to market their produce for hotels and restaurants, they have to make sure it is grade A.” The project would work hand-in-hand with the 40-acre Kaua’i Rural Development farm project at the college.

It also trains people how to become better farmers and landscapers and how to run successful businesses.

The food bank has used a three-acre farm in Anahola for training and for producing fruits and vegetables for the needy.

Should the food bank and the hui reach an agreement with the college, more training for farmers would take place at the college farm and more of the Anahola farm could be used for growing food for the needy, Kalahiki said.

Crops like lettuce, eggplant, green onions, corn, papaya, bananas, taro, tomatoes and green beans were grown at the Anahola farm after the soil was enriched.

Judy Lenthall, executive director of the food bank, said the organization has arrangements whereby 62 vendors, including hotels, resorts, grocery markets and restaurants continue to buy from the 46 hui farmers.

The Hui Mea’ai, a division of the food bank, is a broad-based community development project that has taught people how to grow produce for resale to the food bank and to vendors.

Hui Mea’ai promotes the economic self-sufficiency of the farmers and the thousands of food bank users, Lenthall said.

In the future, the program is expected to put $100,000 into the hands of the farmers, she said.

Hui Mea’ai got under way in 1998 and was funded with $79,000 from the federal Food Security Program.

The food bank has won national awards because of its training programs, including clerical and janitorial training, and the Hui Mea’ai program.

The food bank was one of 13 programs that was recognized nationally for being innovative in providing community food security, Lenthall said. The food bank evolved in the aftermath of Hurricane Iniki in 1992 , providing emergency food to nearly 80 percent of the island’s population following the hurricane.

Currently, food bank is looking to serve only 10 percent, Lenthall said.

“We are here to make sure Kaua’i is food-secure,” she said.

The food bank gets food from grocery stores, a national food bank network, Hawai’i Food Bank on Oahu and community food drives.

More than 100 churches and organizations buy food from the food bank at a discounted price and distribute it to the needy of Kaua’i.

The organization hopes to find a more secure warehouse for its operations, Lenthall said. The existing 4,000-square-foot warehouse is in a flood zone in Nawiliwili Harbor, she said.

The food bank wanted to relocate to a resource recycling center near Lihu’e Airport, but was turned down by Kaua’i County.

Staff writer Lester Chang can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and lchang@pulitzer.net

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