Farm to foodbank: Hawaii farmers find a big customer for their fresh produce
First there was farm to table. Then farm to car. Now we have farm to foodbank.
With the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down hotels and restaurants, local farmers have products they can’t sell. So they’re turning to one place that is open and seeing huge demand – the Hawaii Foodbank.
The first shipment of a $200,000 partnership with the Hawaii Farm Bureau included 1,000 pounds of bok choy from Wong Hon Hin in Waianae, 1,000 pounds of squash from Tolentino farms in Waianae, 1,000 pounds of long bean from Ho Farms in Kahuku, and 1,000 pounds each of papaya and sweet potato from farms on the Big Island. It cost $5,000.
Next week, the foodbank will begin buying meat from local ranchers, and every week, a fresh batch of agricultural products from farms across Hawaii will arrive and be distributed to people via the foodbank’s 200 partner agencies like churches and nonprofits.
It’s a lifeline for farmers who are struggling after their restaurant, tourism and hospitality clients shut down and export business pretty much disappeared.
“The farmers need to generate income in order to continue to farm to buy their seeds, their fertilizers, pay for the water, pay for the leads,” said Brian Miyamoto, executive director of Hawaii Farm Bureau. “A lot of our farmers are not qualifying for PPP or farmers do not qualify for the EIDL other than aquaculture or nursery, so a lot of those SBA relief is not available, even unemployment, some farmers do not qualify, they don’t necessarily have your traditional payroll.”
The partnership also sets the stage for food security on the islands. Should food imports from outside of the state be disrupted, about 7,300 farmers in Hawaii can serve as a sustainable source of supply.
The Hawaii Foodbank says need is up nearly 60% since the COVID-19 pandemic started and fresh fruits and vegetables are critical to maintaining good health in this difficult time.
But Waialua resident Wendy Gorka who has terminal cancer says more needs to be done to get fresh produce delivered to disabled and homebound people like her who need nutritious food but can’t shop for groceries.
“The chemo makes you sick, you can’t eat much so a few things you can eat and then it gets delivered and it’s all wrong and you just, I just cried,” Gorka said. “I don’t know what to do. Like I’m just gonna have to go to the store myself. And then I have this panic of terror.”
Gorka, a participant of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), hopes more grocery stores will accept SNAP as payment for deliveries.