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.fns.usda.gov/cfs/community-food-systems.