OHA donates $170,000 to ag education

KILAUEA — Kauai’s farm-to-school pilot program, happening at two public charter schools on the island, has received a $170,000 commitment from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

Malaai Kula is happening at Kawaikini New Century Public Charter School in Puhi and Ke Kula Niihau O Kekaha Hawaiian Public Charter School in Kekaha. The goal of the program is to provide consistent, nutrient-dense meals with foods that are culturally relevant.

The food program is complemented by agriculture- and nutrition-related education.

The money will help students at Kawaikini, who have been fundraising for a short-term, mobile, commercial kitchen trailer and a long-term, multi-purpose building that will host a permanent kitchen.

The school has already received a garden of their own, with the beginnings of an orchard and a tool shed built. While students wait for their kitchen to be built, Lorna Cummings-Poe has been volunteering her cooking skills at the school.

Her grandchildren attend the school and she’s been providing lunch three days a week.

“Providing farm-to-table meals and teaching children to make the right choices in what they put in their bodies is so important,” said Cummings-Poe. “(It’s) so important to know where their food comes from.”

She continued: “The time has come to teach our keiki how to grow and eat their own food, (and) live long, industrious and healthy lives.”

The new program at Kawaikini will have lunches for students every day, with breakfast also being offered next year.

At Ke Kula Niihau O Kekaha, students are learning about traditional and modern practices in cooking and gardening — with a most recent lessons dealing with the imu, or traditional underground oven.

“This is important because food is a part of our culture. All celebrations are centered around food,” said Hoku Char-Taala, Ke Kula Niihau O Kekaha’s kitchen manager. “It is important that the students get to experience this together.”

The three-year pilot project starts this year, with the goal of developing a traditionally-grounded food program for both schools, using 60 percent locally grown ingredients.

Kalo (taro), ulu (breadfruit), uala (sweet potato) and Kauai beef are all on the menu.

Local producers throughout the island and the state contribute to the ingredient list, and the team integrates weekly lessons on nutrition and agriculture to students in all grades throughout the program.

“Our aim is to create a localized school food and educational model that not only feeds our students’ bodies and minds, but also contributes toward our local agricultural economy,” said Megan Fox, executive director of Malama Kauai. “We’re incredibly grateful that OHA has provided support in bringing this to Kauai.”

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