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USDA and Hawai’i public charter school partner for local, traditional foods

With the help of a Community Facilities loan from USDA Rural Development, Kona Pacific Charter School will construct new classroom buildings and develop a traditional field system.

On the southwest coast of the big island of Hawai‘i, USDA is partnering with Kona Pacific Public Charter School on a project to restore eight acres of land to the ancient Kona Field System of agriculture and then use traditional cultivation techniques to produce traditional foods for students and the community.

In 2010, USDA Rural Development awarded the school’s supporting non-profit a three-million dollar direct loan through the Community Facilities loan and grant program. The loan funded the purchase of a 38-acre parcel that contains a portion of the field system, an organic farm, and an elementary school campus. The loan will also enable the construction of two new buildings totaling 6,000 square feet, tripling classroom space.

“Without USDA funding, some students in Hawaii would be left out in the cold, or at least the rain!” says Chris Hecht, Executive Director of Kona Pacific Public Charter School in Kealakekua, HI. “In the past, our school, like other Hawaii public charter schools, has had to be creative in regards to facilities. Schools have utilized shipping containers, tents, and other temporary structures as classrooms for their students, even though they are public school students like their peers in neighborhood schools. In partnership with the USDA, we’re providing students a modern learning environment that supports them in doing their best.”

Under the guidance of cultural practitioners, students will help restore the traditional field system by dividing the land into long, narrow fields that run mauka-makai (from the mountain to the sea). The fields will be delineated by rock walls (kuaiwi) that will serve as both plot and planting boundaries. Further divisions (lo‘i) perpendicular to the kuaiwi will create smaller planting areas. In these terraced plots descending the slope of Mauna Loa, students will cultivate sweet potato, paper mulberry, breadfruit, dryland taro, bananas and other crops grown in elevation zones linked to each species’ moisture requirements.

Kona Pacific also participates in the USDA’s National School Lunch Program and the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. More than 65% of Kona Pacific students qualify for free or reduced-cost meals and depend upon the NSLP for a significant portion of their daily nutrition.

The school has begun discussion with USDA and private sector partners about the possibility of funding the construction of a production kitchen. The facility would be used for processing the harvest of these traditional crops, daily cooking of school meals using crops and animal products from the school farm, and production of value-added products by local family farms.

You can find out more about this project, and many other USDA funded local food projects, on the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass and map.

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