Small community meetings across the islands will help develop the first state plan to guide local food resiliency and production.

Confronted with the question of how to boost local food access, dozens of Kauai farmers, ranchers, community leaders and concerned residents have underscored two critical needs: farm worker housing and connecting farmers to farmable land. 


Over the course of eight community meetings on Kauai in recent months, these two deficits have been raised over and over again during brainstorming sessions meant to identify specific barriers and opportunities to fill a larger portion of the plates of the island’s roughly 74,000 residents with locally grown and produced fare. 

“I believe there is a huge desire in the community for people to come together and help with food access and work together to solve these issues,” said Wainiha Country Market owner Joell Edwards, who said she started a community garden behind her shop to help reduce the rural North Shore community’s dependency on food imports.

Hanalei is home to farms that produce more than two-thirds of all the taro in the state. But farming taro, a staple starch in Hawaii, used to be more widespread across the islands. (Brittany Lyte/Civil Beat/2023)

Hawaii has never had a comprehensive state plan to guide the development of a resilient local food and agriculture system. But an inaugural, multiagency effort to develop such a blueprint is underway, with community conversations unfolding from Hanalei to Hilo that will inform a forthcoming action plan to be carried out by local government and nonprofit organizations by 2030. 

On the Garden Isle, Malama Kauai, a nonprofit focused on increasing local food production, is guiding a series of public conversations as part of an effort to build an islandwide Kauai Food Access Plan focused on the island’s most vulnerable residents, including keiki, kupuna and low-income families.

  • ‘Hawaii Grown’ Special Series

The project, which is being duplicated statewide to reflect the unique dynamics of each county, is supported by the Hawaii Department of Health.

“They recognize our independence and our differences from the other islands,” said Malama Kauai food access coordinator Stormy Soza. “Kauai doesn’t doesn’t necessarily have the same needs as Oahu. Of course, many things are the same, but they recognize that we need to be building resilience from the ground up here for us based on our unique issues and community needs.”

Ka’ui Fu, community services coordinator at Waipa Foundation in Hanalei, shares a list of strengths and weaknesses of Kauai’s existing local food system. (Brittany Lyte/Civil Beat/2023)

At a meeting Wednesday at Waipa Foundation on Kauai’s North Shore, attendees said there’s a strong desire among residents to buy local groceries but they’re up against cheaper mainland imports.

“We need local food that’s not so expensive,” said Michelle Kanehe-Hudson of Wainiha. “It was $14 for eggs the other day.”

Kirstie Daly, who works in land management and maintenance at Waipa Foundation, called out another incongruity: The increasing lack of overlap between food producers and people who can afford to live on Kauai.

“Usually people who are doing food production get paid way less and that makes it hard to find workers who are consistent,” she said.

These hardships are reflected in the results of a 2022 Kauai food insecurity survey, which projects that one in three children on the island will live in a household that either runs out of food or money to buy food each month, or where staying well fed is a worry.

Malama Kauai food access coordinator Stormy Soza, right, and farmer Nathan Myers participate in a brainstorming activity as part of a community food access meeting at Waipa Foundation in Hanalei. (Brittany Lyte/Civil Beat/2023)

“There was a lot of heartache and devastation in reading these (survey results) and seeing just how they felt about being food insecure,” said Malama Kauai food access coordinator Marina Mireles. 

Many people don’t know how to qualify for food assistance programs or they don’t qualify for for them despite the fact that they’re experiencing food insecurity, survey results showed. There are also transportation barriers that prevent people from collecting free or subsidized food.

Workshop participants also highlighted strengths in Kauai’s local food system, such as on-island farmer training programs, plentiful rainfall on the North Shore and a plethora of farmers markets. 

Many people suggested simple ways to make a difference, such as popularizing frontyard produce stands and creating cooking classes to teach families how to smoke meat, dry fish and boil breadfruit.

Hawaii Grown” is funded in part by grants from the Stupski Foundation, Ulupono Fund at the Hawaii Community Foundation and the Frost Family Foundation. 

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