Hawaii Island receives USDA grant: Funding incentivizes eating healthy, buying local

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KAILUA-KONA — Hawaii Island residents will be able to eat healthier thanks to a $1 million grant from the United States Department of Agriculture announced Monday.

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KAILUA-KONA — Hawaii Island residents will be able to eat healthier thanks to a $1 million grant from the United States Department of Agriculture announced Monday.

The USDA is sending half of that money to The Food Basket in Kailua-Kona, while the other half is marked for Heritage Ranch in Honaunau. The point of the money is to make locally grown fruits and vegetables more affordable for participants in the Hawaii Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, part of the state’s Electronic Benefit Transfer system.

The Food Basket Executive Director En Young explained the grant money will be used in two ways. First, it will bolster the organization’s community supported agriculture program, which is essentially a food subscription service.

The Food Basket already brings down the cost of fresh produce for SNAP participants by pooling money from their EBT cards so the organization can buy fruits and vegetables at wholesale prices and distribute them weekly.

“What the incentive would do is cut down the price even further,” Young said. “For eligible fruits and vegetables, each client is eligible for a match of up to a certain amount (of money) per day.”

Eligible produce is classified as produce grown by Big Island farmers. Young said another of The Food Basket’s goals is to support such businesses with the extra funding.

“We’re trying to prioritize economic development for the island,” he said. “So each of those dollars actually ends up being profit for local farmers.”

The second way The Food Basket in Kailua-Kona will utilize the funding is through a system jointly implemented with KTA Super Stores.

KTA sites will integrate tracking software in each check-out aisle, so when locally grown fruits and vegetables are scanned by a purchaser using an EBT card, that person will receive an automatic rebate.

Young stressed the importance of the grant, but also noted it only goes so far. The grant funds will be disbursed over a multi-year period not to exceed four years.

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He said $500,000 over that span of time isn’t as much as it sounds like considering the number of Hawaii Island residents currently utilizing government-assisted food programs.

The most recent count, Young said, places the number of EBT users on Hawaii Island at more than 41,000 people.