Food bank’s farm project wins national honors

The Kauai Food Bank’s Hui Mea’ai project, which teaches people how to grow their own food and buys and sells locally grown produce, has won yet another national award.

Recently, Judy Lenthall, food bank executive director, was informed by The Drucker Foundation that the Hui Mea’ai project was selected for special recognition as one of two Recognized Programs for the Drucker Innovation Award.

Both are named for Peter F. Drucker, an expert on effective managers and leaders and author of “The Leader of the Future.”

Lenthall will travel to Philadelphia next month to accept the award on behalf of the food bank and Hui Mea’ai staff, volunteers, board members and supporters.

First place in the annual Drucker Innovation Award comes with a $25,000 prize, and went to a Cincinnati project that involves persons convicted of crimes working on projects to benefit the area’s young children.

Second place, which Hui Mea’ai won, comes with no cash prize.

Lenthall thought when applying for the prestigious prize that if the Hui Mea’ai project won first place, the food bank could use the money to buy food and not have to organize its annual holiday food drive.

“Hui Mea’ai” is a Hawaiian phrase meaning, literally, “food group.”

The award, Lenthall said, recognizes the many people and many collaborations the food bank has entered into in its continuing pursuit to feed the island’s hungry residents.

Half of those who receive food from the food bank are children, she added.

The food bank’s motto mirrors some of Drucker’s leadership traits: “Whoever has the best idea wins,” she said. Further, the Hui Mea’ai program and other initiatives of the food bank engage innovation and risk, with the support of the board, said Lenthall.

“Kauai United Way is proud to have been a supporter of Kauai Food Bank since its inception in 1992,” said Scott N. Giarman, Kauai United Way executive director.

“Their creative approach to the problem of hunger on our island has led to the innovative Hui Mea’ai program, which helps utilize Kaua’i land wisely, generates income for Kaua’i farmers, and provides needed vocational training in addition to helping to feed those on our island who do not have enough to eat,” Giarman said.

“It is solutions such as these that have brought the Kauai Food Bank to the cutting edge of the delivery of social services on our island.”

“I would like to congratulate everyone who has helped the Kauai Food Bank to achieve this prestigious award,” said John Sydney Yamane, food bank board president.

“We are most proud of Judy Lenthall for her outstanding leadership and management skills, which have triggered this recognition,” Yamane said.

Last year, Lenthall and staff worked hard to secure gifts and food donations that led to delivery of over one million pounds of food to over 106 local agencies, which then distributed the food to the island’s hungry residents, Yamane noted.

“In troubled times, we will be here, and with national recognition such as this Peter Drucker Innovation Award, we are feeling proud of our unique, nationally recognized management team,” he said.

“More than anyone I can think of in history, Mr. Drucker has most influenced the management of people, worldwide, in a positive manner,” said Jim Ehle, executive director of Kauai Habitat for Humanity and Kauai Food Bank board secretary.

“And that is what Judy’s management style has been about: positive and uplifting. She somehow makes you want to work, hard, and like every minute of it,” said Ehle, who holds a master’s degree in business administration.

“I’ve never met a more gifted manager.”

The success of the Hui Mea’ai program, and its collaborative efforts with the Kauai Marriott Resort & Beach Club, are chronicled in this month’s issue of In Practice, a publication of The Center for Corporate Citizenship at Boston College.

The resort sought to use local fruits and vegetables at its five restaurants, and partnered with the food bank not only to buy fresh produce from its small farm (formerly in Anahola, now on the campus of Kauai Community College), but to help train farmers, food bank staff and volunteers and others in not only identifying and preparing Grade A produce for market, but in dealing with the necessary paperwork and personnel in fast-paced resort environments.

Today, Marriott buys around 25 percent of its produce from Hui Mea’ai, and the Hui has 56 growers and supplies produce to 25 businesses. The program has trained over 40 people in farming practices.

To be profitable, the Hui Mea’ai must move between 100,000 and 120,000 pounds of food per year. Last year, it sold 500,000 pounds of food, and won a $500,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to provide locally grown produce to senior citizens at or below the poverty level.

Achieving both the grant and consistent tonnages of produce wouldn’t have been possible without the learning experience the Marriott collaboration brought, Lenthall said.

For starters, without the Marriott partnership the Hui wouldn’t have the capacity required to achieve terms of the USDA food program, she said.

The Hui has received other awards, including the 1999 AIM for Excellence Award from the Weinberg Foundation, the 1999 World Hunger Year Award from the Harry Chapin Self-Reliance Group, and 2000 Mutual of America Community Partnership Award.

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