Although dining out is temporarily restricted, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s order to stop dine-in food service inadvertently gave impetus to actions concerning the management of excess food. Subsequently, several restauranteurs and nonprofits immediately began delivering free meals to our keiki and kupuna.

Existing organizations like the Hawaii Foodbank and Aloha Harvest continue to collect and dole out food without charge to select agencies and members in society. However, not everyone qualifies or desires to become recipients of handouts.

Meanwhile, the Hawaii Farm Bureau’s Farm to Car initiative and wholesaler D. Otani Produce’s produce boxes attempt to boost sales of local produce by bringing convenience to people who drive (excluding eco-friendly transportation options). By emphasizing convenience over affordability, local produce is primarily accessible among high-income earners.

To create a larger impact, those with the resources should consider expanding efforts to assist folks who suddenly find themselves unemployed and in need of support. Many belong to the ALICE population, comprising 37% of households in Hawaii living just above the federal poverty level with no safety net for emergencies, i.e., the unexpected pandemic happening now.

Since dealing with excess produce is an issue worth solving, beneficial programs enable people from all walks of life to afford produce from local farmers while simultaneously diverting food waste from the landfills (transporting to hog farms or commercial composting facilities should be the last resort, not the landfills).

Drop The Produce Cost

One solution is the implementation of a program resembling Two Dollars a Bag in Boston, Mass. Regardless of income status, anyone could purchase large bags of fresh produce (about 12 pounds per bag) at the cost of $2 each. The program manages to staff volunteers and stock adequate supply for sale at all their distribution sites.

If local farms and wholesalers in Hawaii willingly donate surplus to sell cheaply at farmers’ markets, this program can become a reality and would certainly help those who lack the means to purchase pricey produce. Plus, it is a better use of resources when edible produce with unusual shape and color get rescued and sold instead of thrown away.

Volunteers and staff members at the Hawaii Foodbank last month packing emergency boxes for families in need during the COVID-19 pandemic. Not everyone qualifies for such handouts, however. Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat

As for assistance with bagging preparations, leaders from the 11 farm bureau counties take care of recruiting and training potential volunteers such as high school and college students. These volunteers learn to select, weigh and place a wide variety of fruits and vegetables into reusable bags.

Currently, I am unaware of any bargain markets in Hawaii. Even the prices in Chinatown have increased significantly over the years.

Because the islands’ isolation and the Jones Act are unlikely to burden local farms in terms of shipping expenses, local produce should get marked down compared to imported foods. Once bargain markets are established, they will attract savvy customers on the lookout for the best deals.

Just recently, the perception of cheap produce for sale at D. Otani Produce resulted in a traffic snarl. As demand keeps growing, both local farms and Hawaii residents stand to gain when perishable produce is bought at a major discount which indirectly encourages consumption of healthy foods and prevents obesity in the community.

If implemented as intended, both the bagged produce program and bargain markets remove the cost barrier faced by many local households. Ensuring parents have access to affordable produce means there is a greater chance their kids are fed nutritious meals and acquire healthy eating habits.

Prevent Food Waste Consciously

Besides caring for Hawaii residents, reducing food waste is possible when any unsold produce from the bagged produce program and bargain markets is converted to smoothies and ready to eat meals.

The Hawaii Farm Bureau could partner with Chef Hui to make it happen while profits made from the sale of these items return to deserving local farms in gratitude for their contributions. In fact, Chef Hui and Aloha Harvest announced a new partnership to prepare meals for the hungry by utilizing excess food so it is not too late to join in their efforts.

Otherwise, we could model after Daily Table, a retail store in Boston that serves as both a bargain market and a collection facility for excess food. A few visits there made me realize this store is proof that prioritizing both convenience and affordability for excess food management is attainable when partnerships are formed to address the needs of the community.

With sufficient space as well as a kitchen on-site, Daily Table successfully accomplishes its mission “to help communities make great choices around food by making it easy for them to choose tasty, healthy, convenient and truly affordable meals and groceries.”

Currently, I am unaware of any bargain markets in Hawaii.

It is heartwarming to see restauranteurs and nonprofits extend their assistance to vulnerable residents during these uncertain times. Assuming we flatten the curve of the pandemic, addressing economic recovery is another long haul as more households fall below the poverty line.

Since sudden unemployment among workers in numerous industries is unpredictable and everyone must eat for survival, perhaps our food industry partners would swiftly act to coordinate similar programs already having a positive effect elsewhere in addition to doubling food production.

If the latter is achievable, no one has to end up starving while break-ins at the Hawaii Foodbank subside. Thus, it is important to build sustainable and welcoming programs with food security in mind.

Planning now will ensure they are up and running regularly post-pandemic. By offering affordable produce to Hawaii residents and minimizing food waste from heading to landfills, local farms are truly responsible for providing an essential service benefiting both humanity and the environment.

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