Kaua`i. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs has made a $170,000 commitment to Malama Kaua`i to support the launch of Mala`ai Kula, a Kaua`i-based farm-to-school pilot program happening at Kawaikini New Century Public Charter School and Ke Kula Ni`ihau O Kekaha Hawaiian Public Charter School. The goal of the program is to provide a consistent, nutritious and culturally-relevant school meal program, complemented by agriculture and nutrition related education for students.
“Our aim is to create a localized school food and educational model that not only feeds our students’ bodies and minds, but also contributes to our local agricultural economy through the lens of Hawaiian culture,” says Megan Fox, Malama Kaua`i’s Executive Director. “Programs like this are having incredible impacts all over the world to address the physical, mental, and economic health of communities. We’re incredibly grateful that OHA has provided us support in bringing this to Kaua`i.”
The three-year pilot project’s goals include developing a traditionally-grounded food program for both schools using 60% locally-grown and raised products such as kalo (taro), `ulu (breadfruit), `uala (sweet potato), and Kaua`i beef. The team is currently working with local producers on Kaua`i and throughout the state to secure sources for ingredients and develop a menu that is `ai pono. The Mala`ai Kula team will also be integrating weekly lessons on nutrition and agriculture to all students K-12 over the course of the program.
At Ke Kula Ni`ihau O Kekaha, teaching children about traditional and modern practices in the areas of cooking and gardening is a focus this year through their Hana No`eau class. “Right now we are embarking on lessons dealing with the Imu or traditional underground oven. This is important because food is apart of our culture, all celebrations are centered around food. It is important that the students get to experience this together,” says Hoku Char-Taala, Ke Kula Ni`ihau’s Kitchen Manager.
The Mala`ai Kula program has its beginnings in 2015, when the Hawaiian charter schools on Kaua`i were left with no food service after losing their former vendors. Ke Kula Ni`ihau had a kitchen available in their OHA-owned school building, and worked with the Malama Kaua`i team to fund a school garden, Kitchen Manager position, and roll out a full breakfast, lunch, and snack meal program that is free for all children that attend through the National School Lunch Program. They’ve since begun serving some farm-to-table fare, including school-grown taro burgers.
Kawaikini were recipients of a large school garden, orchard, and tool shed build, yet have no kitchen facility, and have been fundraising for both a near-term Mobile Commercial Kitchen Trailer and a long-term multi-purpose building that will host a permanent kitchen. In the interim, Aunty Lorna Cummings-Poe volunteered to fill-in by vending lunches to the school, where her three grandchildren attend, three days per week.
“Providing farm to table meals and teaching children to make the right choices in what they put in their bodies is so important, to know where their food comes from,” says Cummings-Poe. “The time has come to teach our keiki how to grow and eat their own food; live long, industrious and healthy lives.” The new program will offer vendored lunches to students every day, with breakfast also being offered the following year.
This past summer, Mala`ai Kula was honored by being selected as a part of the National Farm-to-School Network’s Seed Change in Native Communities Cohort, which helped the group to network with other farm-to-school programs across the country at the National Farm-to-School Conference. They also attended the Edible Schoolyard Farm-to-School Intensive, which highlights the best practices of a 21-year-old farm-to-school program in California.
“To see the potential for what our program could be and to see how the students responded to the program was a huge benefit,” said Danielle Jones, the AmeriCorps VISTA member serving as a Farm-to-School Coordinator for Ke Kula Ni`ihau in the project. “These programs are having such an effect on students that they want to come back to work in the programs and help other students see the importance of it, not just for themselves, but for their community and continuation of their culture.”
With the program just beginning, both schools are excited about what lies ahead for their 200+ students. “Kawaikini is thrilled at the opportunity for our students' increased awareness of where their food comes from and how it affects their bodies and their communities,” says Jessell Tanaka, Kawaikini’s new Poʻo Kula/Executive Director. “This year, we are eager for our teachers' training to sustain the program's goals in our classrooms, and moreover into the homes of our keiki.”
“The locally sourced food is what I’m most excited about. It was a part of our original goals when we partnered with Malama Kaua’i and I am glad that we will be able to source more local food with this funding,” says Tia Koerte, Ke Kula Ni`ihau’s Administrator. “It is important to support our local farmers and business if we want to be sustainable. Anytime we can instill our haumana with good values that help support our community it’s important.”
For more information on Mala`ai Kula, visit MalamaKauai.org or call .