Farm to School Success in Hawaii

USDA Blog, 11-13-17

– Posted by Anne Marie Buron, Emerson Hunger Fellow, Food and Nutrition Service and Julianna Arnett, Farm to School Regional Lead, Western Regional Office, Food and Nutrition Service

It takes the right amount of water and sunlight for seeds to grow into a thriving garden. So too, it takes the right mix of factors to integrate local foods into communities. Some of these factors include committed stakeholders, planning, collaboration, and financial resources.

Hawaii offers two successful examples of how federal funds can seed local agencies in the cultivation of their community food system goals. Kona Pacific Public Charter School & Friends of Kona Pacific Public Charter School (Kona Pacific) and The Kohala Center, Inc. (TKC) collaborate to advance their shared goals of improving student and community health, the regional agricultural economy, ecological understanding and a connection to native Hawaiian culture.

In 2011, Kona Pacific was awarded a $3 million direct loan through the USDA Rural Development Community Facilities Program. The project financed the purchase and expansion of a 38-acre parcel of land with an organic farm and a small elementary school campus. The space emphasizes Kona Pacific’s educational focus on agriculture. An on-site garden serves as a platform for multidisciplinary lessons and a place where students grow crops using traditional cultivation techniques.

TKC, a partner of Kona Pacific, is a community-based institute for research, conservation and education. In 2014, TKC was funded through an Agricultural Marketing Service Specialty Crop Block Grant to help schools and farmers maximize the use of the USDA’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, available to high-need elementary schools as a source and market for local foods.

TKC further accelerated buying local foods through a 2015 USDA Farm to School Grant, a competitive grant administered by USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service to entities across the country to advance farm to school initiatives, and a 2015 USDA Rural Cooperative Development Grant. TKC used the grants to develop reports on sourcing local food for child nutrition programs in Hawaii, build school and farmer connections, launch planning for the Hawaii Island Charter School Food Hui with Kona Pacific, create a garden-based curriculum, participate in the Hawaii Lieutenant Governor’s Farm to School Advisory Group and strengthen the capacity and impact of the Hawaii Farm to School Hui, a network of farm to school stakeholders on each Hawaiian island advancing local food systems.

In 2016, Kona Pacific worked with the Hui to increase charter school participation in federal nutrition assistance programs through the National Institute of Food and Agricultures’ Community Food Project. Kona Pacific was also awarded a USDA Farm to School Grant to assess their 10 farm to school initiatives and develop an integrated farm to school action plan, which included financial sustainability.

As demonstrated by Kona Pacific and TKC, local food initiatives grow and flourish over time. Communities can strategically use federal resources to foster local food systems, economic opportunities and self-sufficiency. Each of these USDA programs was leveraged at a different time and with a different purpose, however, each investment supported the long-term goal of developing a locally controlled food system that supports both Hawaiian producers and citizens.

The 2018 Farm to School Grant Request for Application (RFA) is open through December 8, 2017. Since the grant program’s inception in 2013, USDA has invested more than $25 million in farm to school grants among 365 projects reaching more than 13 million students across all 50 states, Washington, D.C. and the U.S. Virgin Islands. To learn more about this funding opportunity, visit www.usda.gov/farmtoschool.

HĀ: Place-based Learning in the Hawaiian Context

In this 2017–18 school year, Kona Pacific has begun the process incorporating a new educational framework developed by the Office of Hawaiian Education, established by the Hawaii DOE in 2015.

The Office of Hawaiian Education started with a question: What would an educational system centered on core Hawaiian values look like?

The result of the discussion and research arising out this question was the development of Nā Hopena Aʻo (HĀ), a learning framework rooted in Hawaiiʻs indigenous context. HĀ (pronounced ʻhah”), meaning “breath” or “to breathe” in Hawaiian, supports a holistic learning process in which outcomes are meant to be demonstrated by everyone within the schools – students, teachers, staff and administrators.

Nā Hopena A‘o or HĀ are six outcomes to be strengthened in every student over the course of their K-12 learning journey, supported by faculty and staff who are models of behaviors that illustrate for students what these outcomes might look like in practice.

These outcomes include a strengthened sense of Belonging, Responsibility, Excellence, Aloha, Total Well-Being, and of Hawaiʻi. When taken together, these outcomes become the core BREATH that can be drawn on for strength and stability through out school and beyond.

At Kona Pacific, we are exploring the implementation of the HĀ framework at many levels of school activities and operations: in the daily main lesson, in specialty classes, on the playground, in the garden, and in the office and operations spheres of the school. Professional development days and work with Kumu Keala Ching will strengthen our capacity to understand and implement the program.

Many aspects of HĀ already exist at Kona Pacific, and we seek to continue to build and model a supportive learning environment that nurtures the conditions that will strengthen the six outcomes as a whole. Stay tuned for more information about our HĀ journey!

 

Nutrition Programs Earn Another Award for Kona Pacific

– by Pat Gee, Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 9/24/17

Kona Pacific Public Charter School, a pioneer in serving free breakfast in certain Hawaii public schools, was recognized on Friday for cooking and delivering free lunches to hungry kids in West Hawaii during the summer recess since 2015.

School and project director Chris Hecht received the Good Apple Award from the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law & Economic Justice at the 6th Annual Artists for Appleseed Dinner, Art Exhibition and Sale at a private club.

Hecht co-founded Kona Pacific, the first public school in 2008 to offer a Waldorf education, and was the prime mover behind the free breakfast and summer nutrition programs. The Kealakekua school serves about 240 students from kindergarten through eighth grade, more than half of them qualifying for free or reduced-priced meals, a key indicator of poverty levels.

The school was the first in the state to offer a universal breakfast program in 2014, with assistance from Appleseed. It paved the way for all students at 52 public schools in low-income areas to receive free breakfast and lunch, regardless of their family’s ability to pay, in the 2017-18 school year.

In 2015, when Hecht learned that feeding programs would be suspended for June and July during the summer break, “I couldn’t sleep at night thinking about kids going hungry,” he said. He and his development team obtained a $28,000 grant from Walmart and bought two used vans to deliver the food they made to kids at six sites, include canoe club practices and low-income housing complexes, knowing that the successful programs were the ones that went to where children congregated, Hecht added.

“Each day of the program, Kona Pacific prepared and distributed 125 healthy, federally reimbursable lunches to homeless and at-risk children in West Hawaii,” said a state Hawaii Child Nutrition Programs (HCNP) report. “Over the six weeks of program operation, more than 4,300 meals were served to children that otherwise would have gone hungry.”

Jennifer Dang, an HCNP coordinator under the state Department of Education, said in an interview, “What makes Kona Pacific unique is it is the only school or sponsor (of a feeding program) that will go to where the kids are, rather than asking the kids to come to them.” On Hawaii Island in low-income districts, the national school lunch program is usually extended during the summer, but in 2015, there were no feeding programs available in Kona until Kona Pacific stepped up.

On the average in 2016, the mobile program visited 10 to 12 sites, feeding 312 children per day (10,235 total); and in 2017, there were nine sites, nourishing 226 per day (7,659 total), the DOE report said. The program has served more than 22,000 lunches since its launch.

In an interview, Hecht said: “I’m grateful to my school board and my team for letting me follow my heart and feed hungry kids, and I do it only because I feel I need to. I think the honor goes to our kitchen staff that goes to work at 4 every morning. … I have the luxury of thinking of these ideas and helping start them up, but it’s all those folks who are the real heroes for the children, and this award is for them.”

Hecht said he is carrying on a family tradition of nutrition and public health advocacy, so he was sensitive to filling the needs of the “under-resourced” Kona District.

“Thinking about children going hungry, that’s a bummer. … We have a crisis here in our state,” he said, where kids are coming to school hungry and can’t concentrate on academics or control their behavior.

“I see nutrition as an important part of public health, especially in Hawaii where we have such a prevalence of so-called lifestyle diseases, like coronary artery disease and diabetes — those are all because people eat high-fat, high-sugar diets and don’t exercise. There’s some genetics (causing the diseases) but it’s mostly choices people make, and if we can reach children and teach them ways they can eat healthy and incorporate movement in their daily life and drink lots of water instead of sugary, soda things, we’re setting them on a course for a healthier life,” he said.

Dang said Kona Pacific is reimbursed through a U.S. Department of Agriculture program at a rural rate of $4.48 (during the regular school session, the rate is $3.95 per lunch)

Kona Pacific Receives Kukui Award for Farm to School Programs

At the 2017 Hawaii Agriculture Conference and Farm to School Symposium in Honolulu August 29–30, it was announced that Kona Pacific Public Charter School was selected for recognition as a valued leader in Hawaii’s Farm to School movement.

Robyn Pfahl, the coordinator of Hawaii’s statewide Farm to School Initiative, said “We are excited to honor the amazing farm to school (F2S) connections Kona Pacific Public Charter School (KPPCS) has made through a substantial school garden and food farm program and innovative food service programs.  KPPCS’s strong vision of place-based hands-on learning woven with Hawaiian Culture and sustainable agriculture has created inspiring programs that are shining light on a more direct, locally sourced, community driven way to educate and feed the keiki.

“The school garden learning opportunities and integration of an on-site school food farm and certified school meal and community kitchen are exemplary opportunities to connect keiki with the `āina, farmers with markets, and community producers with resources.  With KPPCS’s passion to source meals through local growers and strengthen food security in their community, KPPCS has become a visionary with the development of a broad-based strategic community partnership that focuses on the food and nutrition needs of charter school students across Hawai`i Island.

“By taking the initiative to start a charter school foodservices hui, KPPCS has offered an opportunity to address the administrative burdens of subsidized school meal compliance while combining smaller purchases to achieve better economies of scale with local producers and distributors.  KPPCS’s farm to school programs are a shining light to inspire others trying to make farm to school connections.”

The state Farm to School Initiative was spearheaded by the Lt. Governor’s office and is a partnership of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, the Department of Education and The Kohala Center. The annual Kukui Award (light, learning and illumination) honors an exemplary school or organization and its work in the field of integrated farm to school activities.

Kayla Strom, our Nutrition Programs Manager, accepted the award on behalf of Kona Pacific. Kayla also participated in a symposium panel discussion on foodservice procurement, and Shannon Ramirez, our FarmCorps Hawaii (AmeriCorps) program director, shared a visual “poster presentation” about the FarmCorps Hawai‘i program.

The conference and symposium was is an exciting opportunity to showcase our work at Kona Pacific to the leaders of the sustainable agriculture and farm to school movements in Hawai’i.