A new sense of urgency is driving nonprofits to grow more local foods in Hawaii

A new sense of urgency is driving nonprofits to grow more local foods in Hawaii

The land isn’t much to look at yet: a large expanse of former sugar fields on the edge of downtown Hilo, next to a cemetery.

But if the largest food bank on the island of Hawaii makes its way, in the coming years the 25-acre property he purchased last year will play a big role in addressing food security on the island.

leaders in food basket The search for farmland with space for a food processing center and large community distribution warehouse has begun, after witnessing the sharp rise in the number of people needing food in Hawaii during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A large taro leaf grows among the grass at The Food Basket’s new property on Hilo’s Ponahawai Street. The food bank hopes to raise $75 million to turn the land into an agricultural hub. Tim Wright / Civil Beat / 2022

The food bank was also experiencing supply chain problems, said CEO Kristen Frost Albrecht, and believed the surest way to get enough food for everyone on the island was for the nonprofit to start growing its own food.

“It is our best effort to eradicate hunger, and it is our mission,” Frost Albrecht said.

The Food Basket is one of several Hawaiian nonprofit groups that are taking new approaches to boost local food production and address food affordability challenges.

Wiana Coast Comprehensive Health Center Seeking to acquire land to start an agricultural center for “Seed Distribution”. Malama Kauai He addresses the food shortage on the island by finding ways to help chicken and fruit farmers grow their businesses. The Hawaii Good Food Alliance is working with the state Department of Health to develop a program for farmers’ markets to accept WIC, a federal program that helps pregnant women.

These groups were all working on local food production issues before the pandemic, Frost Albrecht said, but there is new energy and a sense of collaboration among the many nonprofits.

“There is an urgency — we all feel it,” Frost Albrecht said, adding that nonprofits are often smarter than government at implementing new solutions. “We need to act.”

Big plans in the business

Food Basket has developed its plans for the Hilo property over the past year as part of a Hawaii County-led coalition working on an agricultural development plan for the island.

Alliance was Compete for a large federal grant It would direct as much as $100 million into various projects — including the Food Chain’s Agricultural Innovation Center. Although the county did not ultimately win the grant, Food Basket says it is still moving forward with the plans.

The Food Basket Plan aims to address food insecurity on the island by increasing food production, along with improving processing and distribution for small and medium-sized farmers.

The grant application submitted by the nonprofit says Hawaii Ulu Cooperative will be the property’s primary tenant, and the space will include an extensive drying system to convert local crops into flour and other processing products.

Food Basket was originally looking for a 3-acre plot, but soon realized that it needed more land to accommodate its plans.

“It has become really clear that we need a bigger push to grow more food,” Frost Albrecht said, noting how unreliable the food supply chain has been during the pandemic. “What we’re going through right now hits the house hard.”

The food chain’s Hello warehouse was overflowing with donations earlier in the pandemic. Now storage shelves are often empty—one of the reasons the nonprofit would like to develop its own farming center in Hilo. Courtesy: The Food Basket / 2022

Frost Albrecht said the nonprofit needs to raise about $75 million to complete the first major phase of its project, which will include clearing 16 acres of land for farming, building a community food center and food bank, and creating a food innovation center where local producers can turn their produce into produce. of added value.

Frost Albrecht said her team is working to secure other federal funding, in addition to applying for grants and managing campaign capital. At this point, the first thing the food basket can do is clear the land and push the producers to start growing food.

The food basket does not plan to directly employ farmers. The goal instead is to set up small farmers on the land and be able to purchase from them for distribution through various food bank programmes.

One of the goals of the grant application was to expand the DA BOX CSA program from 400 clients per week to 1,000 clients. The program collects fruits and vegetables from various local producers to be received weekly by local consumers. Low-income residents who use food vouchers to purchase DA BOX can double their money, making it a program that helps tackle hunger while helping local producers.

Healthy food for everyone

Alicia Higa, director of community health and wellness promotion, said Waianae has been growing food in its wellness center for years. Groundkeepers care for ulu trees, avocados, mangoes, and citrus fruits—as well as plants of traditional Hawaiian medicine.

The food the health center grows is just a small part of the effort to address food access on the Waianae Coast, including pantries and weekly food distribution. The center also has a Food as Medicine program where doctors prescribe fruits and vegetables to patients with nutritionally-related chronic diseases.

To keep pace with all these efforts to address the issue of food access, the health center is developing plans to expand its food-growing capabilities, through what it calls the “seeds to distribution” campus.

The campus—which Waianae Comp is still in the process of acquiring land for—will have edible landscaping throughout, a food pantry, an approved kitchen for classrooms where community members can learn to cook with the freshest foods grown on the Waianae Coast, and kitchen space An incubator where Hija said community members and farmers can get support to create food products to put on the market.

Waianae Comp is also developing a collection program for back garden growers. Hija said that there are a number of kupuna in the area who have ripe fruit trees and would like to donate food but need help harvesting them.

Kristen Frost Albrecht talks about the master plan for the 24 acres of land off Bon Hawaii Street that will house the New Hawaiian Island Food Basket.  Photo: Tim Wright
Kristen Frost Albrecht shows farmland in the Food Basket to workers from the Roots Program in the Cocoa Kalehi Valley. Nonprofits working to address food insecurity in the state are sharing information and collaborating on innovative ways to address food access. Tim Wright / Civil Beat / 2022

Several nonprofit leaders said it would take a lot of creative thinking and smart experimentation to address the gap between need and production in the state.

Food Basket and Waianae Comp are both members of the Hawaii Good Food Alliance, a group that gained its nonprofit status at the start of the pandemic.

When tourism stopped in 2020, the coalition was able to use federal funding to help food centers and food banks buy local produce to distribute to local residents in need.

“We want everyone in Hawaii to have access to healthy, fresh and healthy food,” said Harmon Williams, Executive Director of The Alliance.

Now that tourists are back in full force and many farmers are back providing hotels and restaurants, there is clearly a gap between the demand for local food and what is being produced.

“What we do realize is that there is not enough food — or the kind of food we order so much on the island,” said Megan Fox of Malama Kauai, a nonprofit organization focused on increasing food production on Kauai.

For example, Fox said, the nonprofit has identified a shortage of local eggs on Kauai.

So Malama Kauai secured grant funding for a three-year program to help farmers with education and resources to start egg farms. This year, Fox said, the nonprofit helped launch 17 new minority-owned egg farms on the island.

Now Malama Kauai buys eggs from these farmers to distribute through the non-profit’s various programs. New egg farms have the capacity to produce 25,000 cartons of eggs per year.

The nonprofit is now looking to do the same with the island’s fruit and vegetable growers, targeting specific product items that are in high demand on Kauai.

By conducting market research and providing business training, Fox said the nonprofit is able to help remove innovation risks at the farmer level.

“It’s a great way to be able to build our food security,” Fox said.

As the Food Basket presses ahead with its plans for Hilo Land, Frost Albrecht is in frequent contact with Malama Kauai and other members of the Good Food Alliance.

“We share plans. We share ideas about infrastructure,” Frost Albrecht said. “There is a way to make (food security) happen faster. All we have to do is do it collaboratively.”

Hawaii sleptIt is funded in part by grants from the Stupski Foundation, the Ulupono Fund at the Hawaii Community Foundation, and the Frost Family Foundation.

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