Local produce for all available through The Food Basket’s new program


The Food Basket will make local produce available to all residents through its new community supported agriculture program, beginning next month.

CSA programs are a way for people to directly support farming and farmers in their communities. Members buy shares of produce, pay their money upfront, and in return receive allocations of fruits and vegetables.

With The Food Basket’s CSA program, Hoolaha ka Hua, residents buy “shares,” about $16 for a weekly box of produce from participating Big Island farms. Part of that money will help provide “shares” to those with lower incomes, who tend to have a more difficult time accessing fresh, local produce, said En Young, The Food Basket’s executive director.

The Food Basket is a nonprofit and supplemental food network that collects and distributed nutritious, high-quality food to low-income household, the working poor, people with disabilities, the ill, kupuna, keiki and other members of the island’s most vulnerable populations. Hoolaha ka Hua will allow recipients to purchase low-cost “shares,” approximately $10 for a weekly box of produce, using their benefits from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP or food stamps.

Participants will pick up their “shares” at various sites, where they’ll also get access to cooking demonstrations, tastings and family-friendly activities, Young said. Wireless machines that accept SNAP Electronic Benefits Transfer cards will be available at these sites, he added.

To participate, two-week subscriptions will be required for SNAP recipients and 10-week subscriptions for all other Hoolaha ka Hua members. The contents of the packages received will vary, depending on what’s in season.

The Hoolaha ka Hua pilot is slated to begin in late August, and Young hopes to have 1,000 members each in West Hawaii and East Hawaii. Commercials announcing this service and what the effort aims to achieve begin airing Aug. 4.

Hoolaha ka Hua builds on The Food Basket’s current food aggregate program, which is partly subsidized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and provides weekly an 8- to 10-pound box of fresh local produce to 1,500 seniors at 18 Big Island sites. The goal is to increase that program, with Hoolaha ka Hua, to at least 3,000 people and move roughly $500,000 in produce every 10 weeks, Young said. Another ambitious goal is double the amount of members to 6,000 by the end of next year, he added.

Besides helping increase the amount of fresh produce grown and eaten locally, Hoolaha ka Hua is striving to increase access to that food in rural areas through its pickup sites. Regardless of income level or where one resides, Young thinks all residents should have access to healthy foods that is also affordable.

Hoolaha ka Hua allows The Food Basket to provide outreach to people not only about healthy foods, but also how local farmers play a key role in our food supply and how those businesses are more likely to spend their money in the local economy, and that has important multiplier impacts, Young said.

The project is also an example of how different organizations and stakeholders can come together to create a local food economy, Young said. The Food Basket’s partners in this endeavor include the county, University of Hawaii Agribusiness Incubator Program, Kaiser Permanente-Community Benefit, Hope Services, The Kohala Center, The Wallace Center at Winrock International, Department of Health-Living Better Initiative and local farmers.

Some of the participating farms are Chi Ha Farms, Hanka Farms, Hamakua Mushrooms, Kamuela Cucumbers and Hamakua Springs. More farms are being sought, Young said.

Anyone interested in joining Hoolaha ka Hua can sign up by contacting The Food Basket at 933-6030. Also visit foodbaskethi.org for more information about this nonprofit.