KEALAKEKUA — Standing behind a low heap of earth near the boundary of North and South Kona, Michael Kramer, Usha Kilpatrick Kotner and Gretchen Ana Currie Ramirez each pushed an ’o’o into the soil and pulled it back out, officially breaking ground on the new community kitchen near Kona Pacific Public Charter School.
“This is a major step forward for us to be able to really provide this type of service to our students,” said Kramer, president of the Friends of Kona Pacific Public Charter School.
The $1.9 million facility is funded by two legislative capital improvement project grants-in-aid as well as grants from private foundations and state agencies as well as an internal campaign, according to the Friends of Kona Pacific Public Charter School. The 2,800 square-foot building will include two kitchens along with walk-in refrigerators as well as office space, dry storage, restrooms and covered lanais.
One of the kitchens will support Kona Pacific Public Charter Schools’ WHOLE Foodservice, which in addition to providing meals for students at that school also provides meals for education and service providers Punana Leo o Kona, Parents and Children Together and Family Support Hawaii. During the summer, it also serves up to 300 meals a day in its lunch program and between 85 and 90 daily lunches for the county’s Summer Fun recreation program.
Another kitchen will be rented out to farmers and others in the community to give them an opportunity to create value-added products, both increasing the supply of local products and opening new avenues of entrepreneurship for local residents.
“We thought this was an innovative approach to have two side-by-side kitchens so that we could serve both constituencies at the same time,” Kramer said.
He added those who want to use the kitchen when it opens will be able to rent it by the hour and also said they interviewed a lot of farmers to determine what they needed to elevate their produce into something they could put on the market.
Among those seeing opportunity in the new kitchen is Elizabeth Kilpatrick, owner of Konacopia Farms, an organic farm.
During a meeting for farmers to discuss ways they could make use of the kitchen, Kilpatrick said, she spoke about potentially drying mangoes.
“We’re just figuring so many value-added products now that our farm is mature,” she said.
The facility could also potentially help curb food waste, she said, saying it could give farmers, such as those who grow citrus, a way to process crops that can’t be sold for one reason or another.
Looking forward, Kramer said the broader vision is to cultivate at least 10 acres of the property for food production at the site of the campus, feeding not only the students but families and others in the community.
“We see a surplus, a bounty of food here that we could really support a lot of people,” he said, “as well as make it possible for people to create businesses with value-added products.”
And for some in the community, the kitchen is as much about the region’s past as it is about the future.
“When something like this happens, you look to the children, but you look to those that came before and how they would look on this,” said Friends of Kona Pacific Public Charter School board member Rafael Ramirez. “This was coffeeland; this was a pasture. It’s been many things; it’s had many uses.”
Building the facility, he said, rejuvenates the land, particularly by bringing youth back to the land — “cultivating our youth and teaching our youth how to cultivate,” he said.
And looking at the heap of earth that had been turned by his fellow board members, school faculty, students and parents, he looked forward to the future to come.
“It’s a new beginning,” he said. “Look at this beautiful day, and look at this freshly turned earth. It’s just waiting to be planted.”