Fresh research reinforces that the majority of tourists to Hawaii will pay a premium to experience local fare. That could make food produced here more affordable for residents.
More than 20 Oahu hotels and restaurants committed to buying more food from local farmers Tuesday, signing onto the Oahu Good Food Program, a Honolulu initiative launched last year to wed local agriculture to tourism – Hawaii’s strongest economic driver – and help farmers increase their production in line with demand.
The Oahu Good Food Pledge will eventually provide a picture of the demand for, and amount of local food sourced by the pledgers; mirroring state aspirations to boost demand and help farmers hone their offerings.
Launched last year, the partnership between the Hawaii Tourism Authority and the county encourages large institutions to direct their spending towards supporting local economies and environmental sustainability, based on indicators from the Center for Good Food Purchasing.
The Kahala Hotel and Restaurant signed on and hopes to integrate as much local food as sustainably possible through the program.
The ingredients in menu offerings at the Kahala hotel are 54% local, according to Kahala Vice President and General Manager Joe Ibarra, and come from 68 local suppliers. That ratio is up 22% from 2019.
But the Good Food Purchasing Program aims to provide a baseline of information that was previously missing due to another problem: There has not been a comprehensive assessment of the state’s agricultural production since 2009.
The UH survey of U.S. tourists will soon be followed by a survey of Japanese tourists, a major tourism market, and another will focus on local willingness to pay for food grown here.
UH West Oahu sustainable community food systems assistant professor Albie Miles, who helped in the surveying and research, says being able to provide the tourism industry with the evidence of tourist buying power will expedite getting more on board.
Saleh Azizi, who facilitates the Hawaii Food Hub Hui, says rather than taking food from local mouths food hubs are already selling to hotels at a higher price, ensuring they can keep prices lower for local consumers.
But Azizi is also hopeful that it will have a greater social justice impact too, following the Center for Good Food Purchasing ethos by ensuring hotels support producers who treat their workers properly.
“It’s not just, ‘oh, purchase a local pineapple’,” Azizi said. “It’s like ‘now we purchase from venues that pay people’.”
“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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