Alohilani Rogers has freed up some time in her packed morning schedule now that she doesn’t have to make lunch for her son at Kawaikini Public Charter School.
That’s because Malama Kauai’s Farm-to-School program just opened its commercial kitchen trailer at the school and Chef Barbara Ka‘auwai is serving lunch for the school every day.
“My son and I sat down and went over the menu. We’re all signed up,” Rogers said. “They’ve got good stuff, poi and laulau, lots of choices.”
Monday Ka‘auwai fired up the mobile kitchen and served the first of many red trays from the back window, piled high with kale lomi, baked laulau, brown rice and orange slices.
A flat grill and an oven, fryers and refrigeration — the kitchen truck is hooked up with enough equipment to make practically anything the chef says.
“I’ve set it up the way that I think it’ll work best for me, cold on one side and hot on the other,” Ka‘auwai said. “Storage is the main concern for me, but it’s working good right now.”
Fresh, local and some of it from the Kawaikini school garden, the ingredients for Kawaikini lunches fit with the Malama Kauai Farm-to-School program’s criteria of consistent nutritious and culturally-relevant school food that’s complimented by education in agriculture and nutrition.
It’s a way to connect kids with their food, culture and history while keeping their bellies full and helping parents as much as possible.
“We’re so excited for this truck, it’s the culmination of more than two years’ work,” said Megan Fox, executive director of Malama Kauai.
It’s been a whirlwind setting up the commercial kitchen, Ka‘auwai said, and though the project has been in the works for two years, she just moved in at the beginning of the month.
Much of the equipment had to be ordered from the mainland, the food truck itself came from the Big Island, and funding came through a grant from the Department of Agriculture, as well as donations.
Total cost was about $80,000.
State Rep. Nadine Nakamura was instrumental in securing grants and helping get funding, and dropped by the mobile kitchen Monday to celebrate its first meal.
“When I got elected (to the state Legislature) I asked what’s needed, and this was a priority, and I was happy to support it,” Nakamura said. “Now I’m amazed to be able to turn it around and see the follow through on this.”
About 140 students attend Kawaikini. Those signing up for the lunches pay a nominal fee.
Keone Kealoha of Malama Kauai helped plant the seed that turned into the mobile commercial kitchen years ago, and was overjoyed to see the dream come to fruition.
“This mobile lunch box represents something, the ability to feed our kids so they can go to school and learn,” Kealoha said. “The charter schools, most don’t even have a lunch program.”
Fox said the commercial kitchen at Kawaikini could be the first of many.
And while the adults swirled around the outside of the charcoal-colored truck, Kawaikini kindergartner Hali‘imaile Hose hovered around the food warmers inside the truck while Ka‘auwai pulled together last-minute food-service details.
Excited about the new truck and all the activity, Hali‘imaile said she was most excited for the laulau.
“I like the kind with meat in it,” she said.
Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or firstname.lastname@example.org.