NORTH KOHALA — As of late, it isn’t often the words in this article’s title are true, but good news indeed came from the nation’s capital last month that directly impacts the quality of life for several thousand people on Hawaii Island.
Hawaii Island is home to the Same Canoe Local Food Challenge, a nonprofit program that was invited to participate in an annual food security project directors meeting in Washington, D.C. in mid-August. The meeting convened food system leaders from around the country — and across the Pacific to Hawaii and Samoa — to share strategies for increasing access to fresh, healthy produce for high-need residents in rural and urban settings.
Five Pacific Island organizations attended the meeting, including Kohala’s Same Canoe Local Food Challenge that’s operated by One Island, The Kohala Center and the Hawaii Food Basket.
The first good news involved Veggie Rx. This Same Canoe project is one of five programs nationwide funded by the National Institute for Food and Agriculture to pilot effective ways to increase produce consumption among low-income households by issuing “Veggie Rx” prescriptions approved by health care providers and redeemable at local farmers markets and grocers. Patients that are on SNAP at four health providers — West Hawaii Community Health Center, Hamakua-Kohala Health Clinic, Island Heart Care and Hui Malama Ola Na Oiwi — can qualify for up to $320 in free food incentive coupons that can be used for fresh, local produce at 12 stores and farmers markets in West and North Hawaii, and for special food and farm events.
This model project is one of the only partnerships in the nation where food and health organizations are jointly offering financial produce incentives along with related farm tours, culinary demonstrations and nutrition/healthy living classes. More than 4,500 island residents will benefit. There is also an option for SNAP user participation independent of a clinic referral and classes can be included.
The second piece of good news is open to anyone in West and North Hawaii. Thanks to additional support from the Hawaii Department of Agriculture and the USDA, Same Canoe is now open to anyone in north and western districts through a Local Food Challenge Passport activity tracker. Local residents can use the colorful printed passport to attend engaging food and farm events offered by a variety of organizations. This is a great way to earn points for entry in drawings for food or restaurant gift certificates and for free passes to special events.
Interested participants can see upcoming activities on Same Canoe web flyers, at the online Local Food Challenge calendar and through local newspapers. Passports can be picked up at events and also at grocers and farmers markets on days Same Canoe has a public booth. To subscribe to web flyers and to find a calendar link for places and times, go to www.oneisland.org. RSVPs for all events are strongly suggested or required by the event hosts.
SNAP users are also encouraged to participate with event passports, and any SNAP user or Veggie Rx member residing in the five western and northern districts will also automatically earn points towards additional free produce coupons with every approved class or activity they participate in that is recorded in their passport.
The final bit of good news is direct from D.C. The success of fellow sister produce incentive programs across the country has accomplished the rare feat of earning bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate. The promising news is that continued funding is included in the new Farm Bill that is working its way through final approval.
The pragmatic win-win of improving health through better nutrition and lowering health care costs, while also bringing small farmers millions of dollars in new income nationwide, is a marriage of goals and positive outcomes that has strong support among Democrats and Republicans. This news came as a very welcomed surprise to the project directors gathered for the August D.C. meeting and bolsters hope that positive mutual benefit programs working on behalf of struggling households and heroic local farmers can indeed earn bipartisan support.
Sometimes, government can live up to its social benefit promise, thanks to the foresight of supporters near and far and at many levels of the food industry, health industry and government, bringing food justice and better health for families, singles, children, seniors — and farmers. Three farm tours will be available in North Hawaii in October and November. More details and how to sign up can be found in the events box in this article.