March is National Nutrition Month. Did you know that the sooner you eat fresh fruits and vegetables, the more nutritious they are? Produce holds the most nutrients at the peak of ripeness, yet imported produce is often picked before it is ripe so that it can withstand the long journey to get to your plate. This is yet another reason why buying local matters, in addition to the positive impacts on our economy and environment.
When eating locally, it’s likely you’ll consume less processed foods high in sugar and fat, and more vegetables and fruits. Kauai is blessed with farmers markets almost every day of the week. The Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that farmers markets have the potential to increase access to produce and lead to more healthful eating, especially in certain communities. News of possible new farmers markets on Kauai being developed is encouraging.
It’s not just produce. Making small changes in eating patterns can make a big impact on our health. For example, choosing whole grain breads or brown rice instead of white breads and rice, can really add up to increased health over time. Simply choosing water over sodas, juices, and other beverages can also make an enormous impact since drinks are where we tend to consume most of our added sugar within our diets.
However, changes are scary for most people. Some schools even pass on innovative programs that provide free local produce to children, such as the “Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Program,” because making the program change is difficult. It takes courage, and sometimes, putting health before convenience. Even in our National School Lunch Program, the low reimbursement rates for school meals can make it challenging to provide healthy and local produce in meals for our children.
At Malama Kauai, this is why we’re excited to be working with Kawaikini New Century Public Charter School, with advisement from the Hawaii Child Nutrition Program, on piloting a localized school food program for the island of Kauai. We believe in growing “keiki o ka ‘aina,” or children of the land, and that it starts with feeding our children nutritious and locally produced foods. Kawaikini has shown a great commitment to the health of their children and a strong desire to support their local farming economy within a new school food program.
We have a long road ahead of us in providing affordable, healthy, and local food to our island’s children on a consistent basis, but the future of their health deserves our courage and attention to change the status quo. Whether change starts with one school, or it starts at your home, let’s get it started!
Megan Fox is the director of operations at Malama Kauai, working in the areas of agriculture education, youth and food programs, and sustainable economic development. Visit MalamaKauai.org for more info or to donate to Kawaikini’s Localized School Food Program Pilot.