Starting January 2, 2010, Saturday morning KCC Farmer's Market shoppers could do more than just enjoy fresh locally grown produce and prepared foods - they started giving back to those in need, through making in-kind donations to community organizations that serve meals to Hawaii's homeless. The project is called Give it Fresh Today (G.I.F.T.), and the Hawaii Farm Bureau (host of the market) generously provided the tent and table for the month of January as a trial period for this program. The program has been so successful, collecting over 1000 pounds of food in the month of January alone, that it is being continued! The collection table is located next to the Hawaii Farm Bureau table. The community has been bringing their produce donations from the market, and even from home gardens to the table, to share with less privileged members of their community.
At the market, we ask that people buy a little extra from their favorite farmer, and bring it to the table. Some have made it a weekly habit to drop by, and take something out of their re-usable shopping bags. Some take out a cucumber, a couple of tomatoes, a handful of Japanese eggplants, or a few radishes. All of these donations are appreciated, and used by the organizations that are receiving them!
I became increasingly interested in local food issues (including supporting local farmers and the preservation of agricultural land) after watching movies like Food Inc., Ingredients, and Fresh this past year through the Hawaii International Film Festival and after participating in the "Eat Local Challenge" event sponsored by Kanu Hawaii.
I was inspired to collect produce donations after meeting a woman collecting food at the Edgewater Farmer's Market in Chicago for a local food pantry, while in Chicago for Feldenkrais training in early October. I decided to organize a similar program in Hawaii at the KCC Farmer's Market where I shop every Saturday and contacted the Hawaii Farm Bureau and found organizations that have cold storage and are interested in fresh produce donations.
Unity Church of Hawaii was the first organization to express an interest in receiving produce. Located down the street from the market, the church has two nights of food service for their Ho'opono (food service to the homeless in Waikiki) and Gregory House (food service to the homeless living with HIV/AIDS) projects. I'm a member of the church and have participated in the Ho'opono project.
Hoping that the produce donations would extend beyond the church's needs, I also contacted the Institute for Human Services, which has accepted and cooked all of the additional donations. Ana Iose, the Meal Program Manager at IHS, had been looking for ways to get more fresh produce into the meals of the children, families and individuals served by the shelters to better the nutrition and health of the communities served.
If we collect more donations than both of these organizations can use in a week, I would look for more organizations to support through this project. It's a win-win for everyone involved. The farmers sell more produce, the shoppers have an opportunity to support local agriculture as well as make a real difference in the lives of their neighbors, community organizations have greater support for their projects, and the homeless will have access to more nutritious and healthy meals.
This past month has been incredible! The generosity of everyone that has donated their time to volunteer, and of those making produce donations has touched my heart. Bale Bakery has made donations every week! Nalo Farms, Aloun Farms, and Ma'o Organic Farms have made regular donations at the end of the market.
I've received phonecalls from folks from neighbor islands, as well as from the mainland who want to work this idea into their own local farmer's markets.
Many food drive programs make requests for canned goods and non-perishables. This program is asking for fresh fruits and vegetables that will contribute to the health and wellness of the people receiving the donations. It also supports local agriculture in the process. Some of the vendors at the farmer's market have made donations, but that was never the intended focus of the program. We want to support the farmers in providing valuable fresh foods to our community. If the farmers want to make donations at the end of the market, they have been welcome to do so.
The farmers and vendors are supporting us by displaying signs in their booths. Preserving lands for agricultural use is important for so many different reasons. At a time when we're more concerned about our use of fossil fuels, and more people are choosing to "eat locally," it just makes sense that we should try to feed the less fortunate on our island with food that doesn't have to be imported, keeps money in the local economy, AND is more nutritious. Donations have included everything from bananas and tomatoes, to okra and breadfruit.
What a fantastic start to the year! =)
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