Students advocate for more locally sourced foods in school cafeterias


Students studied their school lunches, learned how to find the menus online and then set up interviews with the school’s cafeteria manager to learn more about where their food comes from.

WAIKĪKĪ — Waikīkī Elementary School teacher Eileen Carr is teaching her fourth-graders about the importance of having locally sourced foods in school cafeterias.

The first lesson: Look at the day’s school lunch.

On the menu that day was a chicken patty sandwich with lettuce, a tomato slice, oranges, chicken noodle soup, ketchup and milk. Of those items, only the lettuce and tomato were from local farms.

“They were shocked about what they found out,” Carr said. The students studied the school lunches, learned how to find the menus online and then set up interviews with the school’s cafeteria manager to learn more about where their food comes from.

“They’re just really wondering about why is it cheaper for our schools to serve food that’s imported from so far away,” she said. 

Next, the students drafted op-eds, or opinion articles with a call to action. In groups of nine, her 22 students wrote pieces advocating for the use of more locally sourced foods in school cafeterias. 

Then the students produced videos to go along with the written components. The final videos will be screened at the “We Grow Hawaii” youth food summit on Feb. 17 at Punahou School, and one of those videos will be featured in an episode of HIKI NŌ on PBS Hawai‘i.

Jonathan Kissida, a sixth-grade teacher at Kīlauea Elementary on Kauai, did a similar project with his students and helped to develop the lesson plan with Carr as part of a teacher training program led by Koh Ming Wei of the Center for Getting Things Started. His students also interviewed their cafeteria manager and produced comics and infographics about locally sourced foods.

“The students have a better understanding of the cafeteria manager and how and why decisions are made. The hope is to send persuasive letters to the Board of Education and DOE with comics attached to have school lunches focused on local sources,” said Kissida.

The Hawai‘i State Department of Education is the state’s largest institutional consumer of food products, serving over 100,000 students a day. Its Farm to School Program aims to enhance food sustainability in Hawai‘i and aligns with Act 175, which focuses on improving the health of students while supporting local farmers. 

“The Farm to School Program is the School Food Services Branch’s commitment to student health, protection for the environment, and advancement of the farm-to-school effort by purchasing fresh and local foods, reducing waste, and supporting school gardens and nutrition,” said Lindsay Rodrigues, HIDOE’s school food program administrator.

“The Department is working with a steady focus to achieve 10% local food purchases by 2025, and 30% local food purchases by 2030,” she said.

Current locally sourced items in schools statewide consist of ground beef, tomato, papaya and green onion. O‘ahu schools also have local cucumbers and Hawai‘i Island schools have local bananas. In an effort to increase local menu offerings to students, the Department most recently featured local ‘uala, (sweet potato) and poi made from local kalo in school lunches.

In November, the HIDOE put out a Request for Information (RFI) on locally produced and sourced foods and products that could be used to expand local offerings on school menus and received over 20 responses. Submissions came in from across the state and for a variety of fresh and processed local products ranging from avocados, bananas, taro and leafy greens to oils, salt and fruit and vegetable purees. The data and feedback will be used by our School Food Services Branch for the next phase of this effort in the spring – a formal Request for Proposals, which will be preceded by outreach and education efforts including vendor forums.

Contact Information

Communications Branch

Phone: (808) 784-6200


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