The Hawaii State Department of Education (HIDOE) continues its efforts to include local agriculture in student meals through its 'Aina Pono Harvest of the Month program, which kicked off last year with locally grown beef. This month, HIDOE and the Lieutenant Governor's Office have partnered up with the Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA) and various local farms across the state to serve fresh bananas at all public schools.
"We're highlighting locally grown bananas by serving either a fresh Banana Pie or Banana Crumble one day in January at every school cafeteria," said Albert Scales, administrator, School
Food Services Branch. "By introducing a produce that is locally grown in Hawaii to our students each month, we hope to expand their palates and allow them to try new foods that they might not have been exposed to at home."
Scales said serving the bananas in a dessert would make it more appealing for students. "Instead of serving raw bananas that students can peel and eat, we wanted to be creative," he said. "Part of introducing new foods to children is making it fun for them. If the new food looks interesting, they're more inclined to try it."
While HIDOE is changing the way food is purchased, prepared and delivered, the 'Aina Pono Harvest of the Month program is also a great opportunity for Hawaii's agriculture community.
"This new program that was developed under the Farm to School Initiative continues to cultivate the partnership with our schools, farmers and ranchers," said Scott Enright, chairperson of the Hawaii Board of Agriculture. "It also connects students with the farming community, allowing them to experience the taste and freshness of what Hawaii has to offer."
Approximately 34,000 lbs. of bananas are being provided by several local farms, including Sugarland Growers Inc. and Ohana Banana Farms, to name a few.
"We're excited to be working with the Department of Education on incorporating more fresh, local produce for Hawaii's public school students," said Larry Jefts, owner of Sugarland Growers Inc.
Jefts said purchasing local foods from our food safety certified farms on each island also helps to support and strengthen Hawaii's economy.
"Buying local creates important economic opportunities and supports our community's growth and sustainability," said Jefts. "The money that is spent on locally grown foods is reinvested with other local businesses and services across the state. There are numerous benefits as a result of this coming full circle."
The Farm to School Initiative started in 2015, and was led by Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui. The program was created to increase locally grown food in student meals through a partnership with Lt. Gov. Tsutsui, HIDOE, the Department of Agriculture and The Kohala Center. Today, the Farm to School Initiative is included under 'Aina Pono, which also incorporates school gardens, nutrition, health and food education, test kitchens, meal programs and menu planning at Hawaii's public schools.