Categorized | Featured, Food

FoodCorps program launches in Hawaii

The FoodCorps crew. (Photo courtesy of The Kohala Center)

The FoodCorps crew.

Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Editor

The island’s school garden program is blossoming, but this year it’s getting the biggest boost in its five-year history.

FoodCorps, a national non-profit program in partnership with the AmeriCorps service network that addresses childhood obesity and food insecurity, has assigned five members as full-time to Big Island schools. Another three members are assigned to schools on Oahu and Molokai.

“This brings so much capacity to the program,” said Nancy Redfeather, program director of the Hawaii Island School Garden Network (HISGN) and host site supervisor of FoodCorps Hawaii. “This is putting full-time, well-trained staff right in the school gardens.”

Redfeather said about 1,000 applications from around the nation were submitted for the 125 service member positions and she received a list of 83 qualified applicants for the eight Hawaii slots.

While the school principals made the final selections, Redfeather said she was able to give the principals a short list of applicants who most closely matched their communities.

For example, Redfeather listed desired qualities such as knowledge of local culture and values, dedication to healthy communities, a sense of responsibility to foster youth, and the willingness to develop innovative practices to build food systems.

“Six of the eight service members chosen for Hawaii were from their own communities,” she said. “Hawaii is a unique place with a different environment and a different culture. It can take a year or so to understand Hawaii, so when applicants are from the local communities, they can be effective leaders immediately.”

Jessica Sobocinski, 22, recently graduated from the University of Indiana with a degree in anthropology, but is looking forward to learning about Hawaii’s culture and her new young charges at Honaunau School.

“I’ve only been here about three weeks, but I’m already learning a lot about Hawaii, especially the differences from back home,” she said. “Hawaii is really lucky in that you can grow food year round. It’s sustainable and it’s very do-able. We don’t have that in the Midwest.”

Sobocinski said she has been especially impressed by the students’ enthusiasm and commitment.

“The kids are incredible. They love their garden, school and teachers, so I’m excited that I’m here full-time to work with them,” she said. “We’re really building something.”

Waianae service member Tasia Yamamura said. “I love seeing students grow in confidence through garden explorations and reconnecting with the aina. I am constantly in awe of the nourishing power of food — for our bodies, communities, environment — and am so appreciative for this opportunity to share that with my new Waianae community.”

Amelia Pedini is coordinating the FoodCorps Hawaii program and be the liaison between The Kohala Center, FoodCorps Hawaii service members, and the national FoodCorps team.

The Boston native said Hawaii has some obstacles and some advantages.

“Because all of Hawaii is one Department of Education, it’s kind of a challenge to get local food in schools,” she said. “But if we start with the kids, that’s where we’ll get the support. The culture here is palpable. It’s ingrained and there’s a rich history being connected to the land.”

Pedini said FoodCorps sees so much opportunity in Hawaii.

“We are still at the beginning of something very exciting, and our team is eager to foster that growth,” she said. “While FoodCorps Hawaii is starting in a handful of schools, we would love to see a school garden in every school because all children deserve access to healthy, affordable food and all children should grow up knowing exactly where it comes from.”

The service members will also be part of the Ku Aina Pa program, a year-long school garden teacher training course funded in part by a USDA/SPECA “Ag in the Classroom K-12” grant to The Kohala Center’s HISGN program.

The eight schools selected as service sites are committed to building garden-based nutritional education programs, and expanding the connections between hands-on learning and core curriculum.

The FoodCorps approach includes three pillars:

* Knowledge: FoodCorps service members teach children about what healthy food is and where is comes from, while integrating these activities into academic subjects Service members strive to increase both the quality and quantity of this education by identifying, adapting, and creating curriculum materials and working with teachers to integrate ongoing series of food and nutrition activity lessons into classes as diverse as health, math, English, and science.

* Engagement: School gardens are powerful gateways to encouraging children to try new foods. Service members grow healthy food with students, teachers, and community members in school gardens, which serve as dynamic educational settings where kids can get their hands dirty and experience what they are learning first-hand.

* Access: Service members increase children’s access to and information about healthy food in school cafeterias by working with schools to offer their students opportunities to eat nutritious meals made up of the foods they’ve studied and grown. In Hawaii, service members will work with their schools’ USDA Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program to source in-season, locally produced fruits and vegetables for morning snacks. FoodCorps Hawaii will work with the state Department of Education’s Office of Child Nutrition to begin building relationships between Hawaii farms and local schools.

Waimea Middle School principal Matt Horne said when these three pillars of FoodCorps’ approach are implemented, students’ attitudes toward the consumption of healthy food is improved. Children adopt healthier lifestyles, improve their academic performance, and obtain real-life learning experiences about sustainability and eco-literacy.

“You absolutely cannot cut instruction time, so there has to be an overlap. The garden can help in math, writing, and even in understanding why they are learning those subjects. That’s powerful,” Horne said. “But it doesn’t happen by accident. It takes careful design.”

In its first two years, FoodCorps gained national attention by providing an innovative, grassroots, and scalable approach to solving the United States’ childhood obesity epidemic. Since 1980, the percentage of American children who are overweight or obese has doubled.

With one in four children struggling with hunger and one in three obese or overweight, FoodCorps addresses the root cause of both: access to healthy food.

FoodCorps has expanded its reach and grown its ranks every year since its inception in 2011.

“The movement to reconnect our children and youth to the sources of their food and health, and to renew their connections to the aina, the source of all life, is well recognized at the community level,” Redfeather said. “To have the national FoodCorps select Hawaii for additional support is a result of the work of Hawaii’s garden and classroom teachers, principals, and communities throughout the islands.”

Following a welcome celebration at Waimea Middle School, the FoodCorps fellows were treated to a lunch that featured a variety of locally grown foods.

Hawaii County Councilmember Margaret Wille was among the dignitaries who welcomed the FoodCorps fellows.

“For me, today is just joy. Part of it is bringing joy to the kids in the gardens,” she said. “But also the joy in reaching another level of connectivity and connecting farmers and families through the kids. It’s not just about diets, but it’s changing the vision of how we think about and look at food. Very rewarding.”

[caption id="attachment_86870" align="alignnone" width="550"]FoodCorps workers enjoy a lunch Sept. 20 at Waimea Middle School. (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton) FoodCorps workers enjoy a lunch Sept. 20 at Waimea Middle School. (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)

Hawaii’s FoodCorps service sites for 2013-2014 are:

* The Kohala Center, Hawaii Island School Garden Network (serving as the host site)

* MA‘O Organic Farms, Oahu

* Sustainable Molokai, Molokai School Garden Network

Eight FoodCorps service members have been chosen to serve for a year at public and charter schools in Hawaii. The year-long commitment began Sept. 1 and will earn each $15,000.

The schools, members, and their supervisors are:

* Waianae Elementary School, Oahu: Service Member Tasia Yamamura, Site Supervisor Terri Langley

* Molokai High School, Molokai: Service member Lacey Phifer and Simon Mendes, Site Supervisor Emillia Noordhoek

* Maunaloa Elementary School, Molokai: Service members Simon Mendes, Site Supervisor Emillia Noordhoek

* Kohala Elementary School, North Kohala: Service Member Janette Lee, Site Supervisor/Vice-Principal Bruce Kawachika

* Honaunau Elementary School, South Kona: Service Member Jessica Sobocinski, Site Supervisor/Garden Coordinator Melissa Chivers

* Naalehu Elementary School, Ka‘u: Service Member Jolyne Oyama, Site Supervisor/Vice-Principal Karen Pare, and Garden Coordinator Arroyo Pintora

* Kua O Ka La Public Charter School, Puna: Service Member Leinaala Kealoha, Site Supervisor Puanani Wilhelm

* Malaai: The Culinary Garden of Waimea Middle School: Service Member Julia Nemoto, Site Supervisor Amanda Rieux

Funding for FoodCorps is provided by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, AmeriCorps, and a diverse array of private and public donors.

The Kohala Center is the host site for Hawaii’s FoodCorps Program. Operating in 15 states, FoodCorps added Hawaii, California and New Jersey to its roster for the 2013-2014 service year.

The Kohala Center is an independent, community-based center for research, education, and conservation.

The center was established in direct response to the request of island residents to create greater educational and employment opportunities by enhancing — and celebrating — Hawai‘i’s spectacular natural and cultural landscapes.

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