HILO >> Three Big Island schools are beginning to serve fresh local food as part of a new program that aims to gradually incorporate more fresh and locally produced food into school meals.
Keaau High School, Kalanianaole Elementary School and Keaukaha Elementary School are piloting the new farm-to-table program.
To implement the idea, food service staff at each school began requesting local items such as island-raised beef and produce from current vendors as much as possible. They next hope to forge ties with local growers and producers to buy from them directly.
Keaau High School will host an invitation-only, farm-to-table taste and sample event Dec. 1 to illustrate the concept for local vendors, farmers, lawmakers and agriculture industry members.
Every public school in Hawaii participates in the National School Lunch Program, a federal program that reimburses schools for lunches served each day so long as they adhere to established U.S. Department of Agriculture nutrition guidelines.
Some schools have said that meeting those federal guidelines — while preparing food students will still eat — can be challenging. Keaau and several other Hawaii public schools began offering students multiple menu entree choices this year in hopes of increasing participation.
Keaau’s pilot program is still “in its infancy,” Keaau Vice Principal Ron Jarvis said. Staff members are working to configure quantities needed and when certain items might be available contingent on the season, he said.
Preparing fresh items also can be more costly and time consuming. For example, forming fresh-beef patties by hand takes longer than prepping frozen or canned items.
Local food still must adhere to federal nutrition standards, and buying local also can be more expensive, said Lynn Hiratsuka, supervisor for the School Food Services Branch.