Food makes all the difference

March was National Nutrition Month, and nothing helps to provide us with such a diverse array of nutrients and vitamins as fresh fruits and vegetables! We’re incredibly lucky to have the ability to produce our own food year-round; so much so, that sometimes we may take it for granted.

Did you know?

– 13.7 percent of Kauai’s total annual waste is food; second only to paper waste (County of Kauai)

– 36 percent of households on Kauai are “economically needy” (Kauai Economic Development Plan)

– 11,100 different people on Kauai, nearly 18 percent of our population, are receiving emergency food assistance through the Hawaii Food Bank network (Hawaii Food Bank)

– The Kauai Food Bank receives 8,500 emergency food services requests monthly (Kauai Food Bank)

– 80 percent of Kauai adults do not eat enough fruits and vegetables each day (Get Fit Kauai)

– 73 percent of Hawaii Food Bank client households served on Kauai are food insecure, meaning they do not always know where they will find their next meal; 66 percent of these households include children (Hawaii Food Bank)

– In 2011, nearly 83 percent of teens ate less than five fruits and vegetables a day; only 17.5 percent of high school students consume fruits and vegetables five or more times per day (Hawaii Department of Health)

We can certainly do more to help our community fight hunger, malnutrition and food access issues like these. We’re currently importing 85 to 90 percent of our food, so we can begin very simply by starting to produce some of our own food and sharing it with our neighbors.

There are several community gardens across the island for those without gardening space at home, and free seeds and plants are available through great community resources such as Regenerations International Botanical Garden’s Community Seed Bank and Seed and Plant Exchanges.

The county gives away home composting machines to help build your soil health with rich compost made from food and paper scraps.

Growing your very own fresh produce doesn’t need to take an entire farm — you can grow quite a bit of food with container gardening or even landscape your yard using edible plants.

In fact, the theme for this year’s Garden Fair is Edible Ornamentals, so you’ll be able to learn all about growing these beauties for your yard and have the opportunity to pick up some edible plants and seeds from the Kauai Master Gardener booth on April 18.

Master Gardeners sell University of Hawaii seeds, specifically bred for Hawaii’s climate. They will also be giving away several different types of seed for edible pod beans, the prize vegetable for this year’s county Farm Fair in August. Home gardeners can pick up a variety of seeds including bush beans, pole beans, long beans and Romano type bean seeds, then grow and enter their best specimens in the fair.

Gardening and producing your own food is part science, part art and part magic.

For those of us without the magic, education is important to build our skills. Thankfully, there are many opportunities to become educated in gardening and farming across the island, such as Kauai Nursery and Landscaping’s free monthly workshops, UH-CTAHR’s Kauai Master Gardener Program, Malama Kauai’s Free Gardening Certificate program, NTBG educational events, and the many courses available at Kauai Community College, including their GoFarm program.

There’s also the 5th annual Earth Day Rising event coming up at Malama Kauai’s Community Farm on April 19 that will include a variety of workshops on sustainable agriculture.

Another important step to fighting hunger and malnutrition is to prevent food waste. Village Harvest, a gleaning program of Malama Kauai’s Kauai School Garden Network and UH’s Kauai Master Gardener Program, harvests and delivers fresh produce to schools, afterschool programs, and the Hawaii Food Bank.

The program has already captured and redirected over 5,000 pounds of potential food waste in the past several months.

If you see a friend or neighbor with a garden or orchard bounty going unused, let them know about the program, which will send volunteer gleaners out to harvest extra produce and deliver it to those who can use it. No good food should go to waste.

By working together as a community and ohana, we can ensure that we all have access to nutritious, fresh food — and that’s something to celebrate all year long!

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Megan Fox is the director of operations of Malama Kauai, oversees the Kauai School Garden Network, and is participating in University of Hawaii’s Kauai Master Gardener Program.

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