Hawaii public school students could someday be able to eat school lunches containing vegetables grown by them, under a bill before the state Senate.
House Bill 198, introduced by Rep. Jessica Wooley (D, Laie-Kahaluu), would allow schools to serve food in cafeterias that students grow on campus if their school gardens are food-safety certified by the Department of Agriculture.
Under current law, public schools may not serve food from sources without safety certification.
That requirement often stymies school officials who want to serve fresh, local food, Wooley said.
"What I’ve seen in some of the schools is a frustration," she said. "In particular, there was one cafeteria worker who was frustrated seeing the food coming through the Department of Education into the lunchroom for the kids that’s canned, while at the same time they have food that they’re growing in the school.
"What we’re trying to do is figure out a way where the kids that grow the food on campus can also eat that food for lunch."
In testimony to lawmakers, farm industry advocates said the bill should require the state Department of Agriculture to inspect and certify school farms to ensure the safety of school-grown food.
"I am all for teaching our children how to grow produce, as we do need to develop more farmers going forward," said Dean Okimoto, owner of Nalo Farms and former president of the Hawaii Farm Bureau. "But my concern is liability and food safety."
The Department of Agriculture, however, said it would be hard pressed to devote additional resources to inspect and certify school farms.
"We don’t have the capacity to inspect all of these schools with the personnel that we have," department spokeswoman Janelle Saneishi said.
The bill has yet to be scheduled for a hearing in the Senate.