June 2020: The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically highlighted the critical need for sustainable local food systems. Hawaii food banks and food distribution agencies have seen the unprecedented demand double, then triple, since the beginning of March 2020, as residents lost jobs and families were thrust into severe financial hardship. This disastrous scenario has also created calamitous effects on Hawaii’s farmers and food system. According to the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, farmers have reported losing 60% of their market due to hotel, restaurant, school and farmers market shutdowns.
A pivot to direct farmer-to-consumer sales is taking place, signaling a likely long-lasting adjustment in our local food systems toward consumption of more locally produced food. Of particular concern in planning for success in this transformation is the current lack of value-added food processing and food storage facilities for farmers, which would enable them to convert perishable produce to packaged items with a longer shelf life.
The West Hawaii Community Kitchen will have the capacity to operate 1) a value-added production kitchen for local farmers to convert their perishable produce to higher-value products with a storage and shelf life; 2) a second kitchen that can be utilized as another value-added kitchen, or as a food production kitchen serving the community; 3) an array of trainings and classes for all producers who utilize the facility, to ensure that they have they knowledge and skills they need to develop marketable value-added products; 4) a food storage facility; and 5) a food distribution facility.
At the April 3 2020 meeting of the state Senate Special Committee on COVID-19, Phyllis Shimabukuro-Geiser, the director of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, stated that Hawaii severely lacks such facilities. Senator Donovan Dela Cruz, chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee and a strong supporter of the West Hawaii Community Kitchen project, points to value-added production facilities as one of the most critically needed components of a resilient food system, providing a means by which Hawaii farmers can process and package food for both local and export consumption. The programs that will be offered at the West Hawaii Community Kitchen will directly address these current critical needs.
The new West Hawaii Community Kitchen will be a vital element of reshaping Hawaii Island’s post-pandemic reality into a resilient, thriving, food-secure local economy. At 80% completion, this new facility is primed to rapidly become a part of the new community-focused food system.