Same Canoe goes to Washington

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KOHALA — The Same Canoe Local Food Challenge — a year-long project spearheaded by Big Island’s One Island organization that aims t0 make fresh, nutritional food more accessible and affordable for EBT users and residents — has attracted national attention since launching in August 2015.

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KOHALA — The Same Canoe Local Food Challenge — a year-long project spearheaded by Big Island’s One Island organization that aims t0 make fresh, nutritional food more accessible and affordable for EBT users and residents — has attracted national attention since launching in August 2015.

Representatives from the nonprofit organization were invited to attend a national project directors’ meeting in Washington, D.C., Aug. 10-12 of this year, where like-minded leaders shared what has worked in their communities.

“The seminal event was sponsored by the National Institute for Food and Agriculture and over 60 projects from around the U.S. were present for the first time to share food security experiences working to alleviate hunger, improve nutrition and make stronger, enduring connections between consumers and farmers,” said Marcy Montgomery, One Island’s executive director. “Same Canoe of Kohala and Kona, and Sustainable Molokai, were Hawaii’s representatives in the meetings and gave earnest voice to Hawaii’s needs, concerns and solutions for reclaiming our food system.”

Ingenious food system projects

Model projects featured at the conference included programs that could be adopted in Hawaii, and mirrored others already underway.

“One of the more ingenious food system projects featured operates a mobile farmers’ market that brings farm-direct food right into the most high-need neighborhoods,” Montgomery said. “The mobile ‘store’ trailers or buses arrive once a week and offer local residents a means to purchase farm fresh foods without needing transportation to get out to a large farmers’ market.”

On the Big Island, The Food Basket offers something similar with the “Da Box,” a locally-grown food subscription and seasonal senior food service that provides free and low-cost, pre-order options for fresh foods each week that are delivered to a central community location. In Kohala, deliveries are made to Ainakea Elderly Residences.

Plant a tree

According to Montgomery, another effective program shared at the conference dealt with community food forests that connect people of all ages to food and agriculture — one tree at a time — that are sprouting up across the U.S. Strategies engage multi-ethnic communities in successful tree planting projects that offer free access to highly-valued culinary foods and can also reflect local heritage fruits — two suggested motivations to engage communities in tree-planting initiatives in both urban and rural communities.

“In addition to future food value, the tree plantings are also part of valued ecosystem restoration efforts and often reclaim unused land areas while building community spirit and pride of place,” Montgomery said. “Here on our island, Kohala and Kona are locations where community food forests are being developed in conjunction with the Kohala Elementary School Discovery Garden, Ainakea Senior Residences and the Kona Pacific Public Charter School with support from One Island’s Green School and Same Canoe.”

The first tree planting volunteer day in North Hawaii will be on Oct. 29 from 10 a.m.-noon at Kohala Elementary School. Details for other West Hawaii locations can be found online at www.oneisland.org. Volunteers are welcome, or trees can be donated. Email hawaii@oneisland.org to learn more.

Food justice meets food sovereignty

Montgomery said the most passionate discussions at the national conference were around building stronger connections between farmers and consumers, with an emphasis on raising community awareness of the multi-faceted benefits of supporting local farms.

“The goals most frequently mentioned were promoting the health and nutrition benefits of eating fresh and local, and demonstrating the direct economic benefits of keeping food dollars — including EBT purchases — inside our local communities via farmers’ markets and retailer support of local farms,” she said. “Questions under lively debate were ‘How do we engage low-income consumers in valuing local food?’ and ‘How do we develop long-term food security by supporting more acres of local food production to keep our food dollars local?’”

Similar food system challenges have been found nationwide.

“The entire conference, representing two different groups of NIFA grantees, was in agreement that raising awareness of both the health and economic values of local foods across our entire community is the most effective way to address food justice and sovereignty issues,” Montgomery said.

Local grocery stores and farmers’ markets

In Kohala, from summer 2015–winter 2016 Same Canoe worked with Takata Store, the Hawi Farmers’ Market and 13 farmers and vendors to conduct a highly successful NIFA food security pilot project that connected more than 400 local consumers with local farms and foods.

“Kohala had the highest level of Same Canoe participation on the island, and the highest level of per-EBT user purchases of fruits and vegetables, predominantly from local farms,” Montgomery said. “As a result of this federally-funded project, over $40,000 was invested in direct farm and retail purchases, farm tours, food advocacy, workshops and local businesses.”

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From new strategies learned during the Washington D.C. meetings and encouragement of peer-to-peer support, Same Canoe plans to continue strengthening local and island-wide partnerships and is actively seeking further federal support to grow and expand the initial project.

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