Fresh food for the keiki

LIHUE — Locally grown foods are popping up in school cafeterias across the state as farm-to-school programs start taking hold, and this month there’s a chance to help at Kauai’s school gardens.

Three workdays have been scheduled around the island in celebration of National Farm-To-School Month: At the Malama Kauai Youth Garden in Kalihiwai, Ke Kula Ni‘ihau O Kekaha Public Charter School, and Kawaikini New Century Public Charter School.

Farm-To-School Month is a nationwide campaign to bring awareness to the importance of connecting kids with agriculture, and the need for nutritious meals during their days.

“Farm-to-school is a crucial pathway towards rebuilding our food system and agricultural communities,” said Megan Fox, of Malama Kauai.

Malama Kauai operates a pilot farm-to-school program that began in 2015 and was nationally recognized in April when it was put on the National Farm-To-School Network Seed Change in Native Communities’ list.

The recognition puts the program in a more advantageous position for grant-garnering, and allows opportunity for Malama Kauai to join the national conversation about the place of agriculture in native communities.

Currently there are two schools in the Malama Kauai Farm-To-School program, Kawaikini and Ke Kula Ni‘ihau O Kekaha.

The state launched a Farm-To-School Pilot Project in 2016 that aims to increase the purchase of local food for school cafeterias by working with farms and markets to source ingredients, according to a news release announcing the event.

Currently, the state’s project is focused on schools on Oahu, and the goal is to expand to Hawaii and Maui islands during the 2017 through 2019 school years.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Education is working toward establishing a statewide farm-to-school program by December 2020.

It’s a partnership between the state departments of education, agriculture and health, as well as the Lt. Governor Shan Tsutsui, Ulupono Initiative, Kaiser Permanente and other public and private partners.

“Farm-To-School Week highlights a major milestone that was accomplished for the Farm-To-School Initiative,” said Tsutsui.

“This celebration drives home the message of encouraging students to eat healthy and eat locally produced food,” Tsutsui said. “With Hawaii importing about 85 percent of our food, the Farm-To-School Initiative is influencing generations in helping the state to move towards becoming food sustainable.”

Statewide, HIDOE has 256 public schools and its School Food Services Branch feeds approximately 100,000 students and staff daily.

On Kauai, the students at Ke Kula Ni‘ihau O Kekaha and Kawaikini spend parts of their week with hands-on learning on how to grow native Hawaiian plants, like kalo (taro).

Early in 2017 for example, chef Hoku Char made kalo burgers for the students at Ke Kula Ni‘ihau O Kekaha, using kalo they harvested themselves.

The program, and National Farm-To-School Month, shed light on the importance of nutritious, locally sourced meals for youngsters during their school days. It also emphasizes the need to connect people to their food sources.

“Reconnecting our communities to the importance of agriculture, even in the simple form of gardening with kids, reminds us of where our food comes from and the incredible work of the committed hands that produce it for us,” Fox said.

Kauai work days for the National Farm-To-School Month are on Friday, Oct. 13 at the Malama Kauai Youth Garden in Kalihiwai from 8:30 a.m. to noon; Wednesday, Oct. 18 at Ke Kula Ni‘ihau O Kekaha Public Charter School in Kekaha from 1 to 5 p.m.; and at Kawaikini New Century Public Charter School on Wednesday, Oct. 25, from 1 to 5 p.m.

It’s a chance to get the school gardens ready for feeding and educating the keiki. Everyone is welcome. Bring close-toed shoes, water and sun protection.

More info: 808-828-0685 x11, or email volunteer@malamakauai.org.

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