Hawaii News

Kaua‘i poi to be served at dozens of Hawai‘i schools throughout May

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To help increase local menu offerings in school lunches, three dozen public schools on Hawai‘i Island, Maui, Kaua‘i, and Moloka‘i will be offering fresh local poi as an accompanying lunch menu item to students and staff this month in honor of May Day.

  • Chiefess Kamakahelei, Middle School student eats lunch with poi. Photo courtesy: Hawai‘i Department of Education
  • Chiefess Kamakahelei, Middle School lunch with poi. Photo courtesy: Hawai‘i Department of Education

Across the participating schools, over 11,800 individual 4-ounce poi cups from Hanalei Poi Company and their Hanalei farmer suppliers — equating to nearly 3,000 pounds of poi — will be served.

Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School on Kaua‘i served the poi on Friday to complement their lunch menu offering of kalua pork with cabbage, lomi tomato, brown rice, edamame and pineapple chunks.

Students had an overwhelmingly positive response.

“Hanalei Poi and poi in general is like one of my favorite foods so when I saw it on the menu, I was really excited,” seventh grader Kelston Apilado said. “I like local ingredients because you know where it’s from, and you know it’s fresh and good.”

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Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School Food Services Manager Anthony Cruz added: “They want it every day! We have a lot of different nationalities here, some that never did try poi… the other kids who knew what it was, they wanted seconds, of course.”

The Department’s farm-to-school initiative aims to enhance food sustainability in Hawai‘i and aligns with Act 175, which focuses on improving the health of students while supporting local farmers.

“It benefits the community, the students and also the local businesses,” Cruz said. “For me, being born and raised here on Kaua‘i, I support the businesses 100% and if we can use more businesses, that would be great.”

Hanalei Poi Company hopes poi becomes a lunch menu staple for its health benefits and as a way to support local farmers.

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“We are grateful and excited to supply fresh Hanalei Poi to Hawai‘i students and hope that it can become a staple on the school lunch menu as it is a healthy and nutritious locally grown food,” Michaela Fitzgerald of Hanalei Poi Company said. “Supplying poi to Hawai‘i schools also helps to encourage farmers to continue to grow more taro into the future.”

Last year the Department rolled out its first offering of fresh local poi in over a decade to O‘ahu schools, serving over 23,000 4-ounce servings from Pomai Kulolo LLC. Due to procurement limitations, participating O’ahu schools this year incorporated local u’ala (sweet potato) into their lunch menus in place of poi.

“The Department has synergistic goals to increase the amount of nutritious local food items to students, appropriately expend more funds in support of local suppliers and produce, educate students about local food resources, and educate farmers and vendors about state procurement compliance,” Lindsay Rodrigues, Hawai‘i State Department of Education school food services program administrator, said.

To help facilitate student education leading up to this poi event, the Department held a series of meetings with leaders of the Farm to School Network and Garden to School Network, aiming to educate teachers on how to use taro as a tool to positively influence nutritious eating patterns and to enhance connectivity with neighboring farmers who grow taro, sweet potato and breadfruit.

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The Department is the state’s largest institutional consumer of food products, serving over 100,000 student meals a day and continues to work closely with local vendors statewide to see how fresh local produce can be scaled across all schools in the future regularly.

A Request for Information (RFI) for potential vendors was posted by the Department this past October, and a subsequent Request of Proposals (RFP) to provide HIDOE school cafeterias with local produce, proteins and packaged foods, will be released next.

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