SB 1251: Increasing Locally Sourced Foods in Public Schools

Lunchroom with table and chairs

By: J. S.

Senate Bill 1251 proposes requiring that the DOE meet the farm to school meal goal of 15% of food served in public schools to be locally sourced by 2025, and 30% by 2030. The initiative to increase local food in schools would be headed by Hawaii’s farm to school program. The Hawaii farm to school program was established pursuant to Act 218 in 2015, as a part of the department of agriculture, with goals to improve student health and expand the relationships between public schools and the agricultural communities, among other things. Source.

The bill states that the farm to school program “provides students with an agricultural education, which contributes to improved attendance, academic achievement, and behavior, while also increasing opportunities for place-based experiential learning, physical activity, and active participation in the school meal program.” Currently it is estimated that 3% of foods served in Hawaii’s public school system are from local sources. SB 1251 was introduced on January 27 by Senators Gabbard and Chang, along with 9 others. The bill passed its first reading and was referred to House committees for review on March 11. Read the full Senate Bill here.

Senate Bill 1251 aligns with Hawaii’s overarching goals of creating food security and lessening food imports to the state by supporting Hawaii’s food growers. The Hawaii government estimates that Hawaii imports two billion dollars in food annually, accounting for 85% to 90% of total food in the state. SB 1251 aims to provide public school students with a range of local and fresh ingredients in meals, at affordable prices, while also supporting local food growers. 

If the bill is passed, the Hawaii farm to school program will be headed by a farm to school coordinator who will “work in collaboration with the appropriate stakeholders to address the issues of supply, demand, procurement, and consumption of Hawaii-grown foods in state facilities, primarily education facilities, and take reasonable steps to incorporate more agriculture and nutrition education in schools.” Source. The overarching goals of the farm to school program will be to:

     (1)  Improve student health;

     (2)  Develop an educated agricultural workforce;

     (3)  Enrich the local food system through the support and increase of local food procurement for the State’s public schools and other institutions;

     (4)  Accelerate garden and farm-based education for the State’s public school students; and

     (5)  Expand the relationships between public schools and agricultural communities.” Source.

The state program will be able to source a wide range of fresh local agricultural products, locally sourced fish, meat and dairy products, and value-added local products. Outside of sourcing local foods, the program will also aim to educate students about agriculture in various ways. It is estimated that 85% of Hawaii’s school age children attend public schools. The bill finds that for these students, “farm to school program activities support a nutritious school food environment that encourages students to make healthier food choices. Participation in the program increases students familiarity with local fresh foods and provides access to fresh fruits and vegetables, increasing the likelihood that students will make healthier choices at home.” Source.

Beyond SB 1251, other bills that address Hawaii’s heavy reliance on food imports to the islands are currently in legislation. House bill 8 looks to address aspects of food security in the state, while Senate Bill 244 reduces liability to businesses for donating excess, unspoiled foods to charities.

Each week we look at current House and Senate Bills in the Hawaii State legislature. There are many useful and insightful resources available for citizens who are interested in learning about or engaging in Hawaii’s legislative process. Learn about current bills at capitol.hawaii.gov. Upon finding bills of interest, it is possible to read the full bill, follow the bill’s progression through the House and Senate, and submit testimony through this same website. An insightful resource for those looking to understand steps in the legislative process is A Citizen’s Guide to Participation in The Legislative Process, available on the capitol.hawaii.gov website.