A Triple Win Solution
Jesse Cooke from Ulupono Initiative, a supporter of DA BUX, discussed in the IDEAS podcast how this program invests federal dollars in local food production by helping families most in need while keeping money in the community AND incentivizing grocers to do business with local farmers. This triple win solution for families, farmers and the community improves access to affordable and healthy, locally-grown produce, expands farmers’ customer base and stimulates farm expansion, ultimately strengthening community food self-reliance and our disaster resilience.
The co-op is proof of this community success. Pre-pandemic, HUC was 90% reliant on food service for its market and, in March 2020, abruptly lost virtually all of its commercial accounts. This shock highlighted the importance of market diversification and set HUC on a path of strategically building into its business model a greater diversity of market channels — including e-commerce, grocery retailers, and manufacturers. While this effort is still underway, the most successful grocery partnership to date has been with KTA Superstores, the only large retailer in the state to include frozen ‘ulu under the DA BUX Double Up Food Bucks label. Given the visceral economic hardship many Hawai‘i families have found themselves in over the past year, the impact of product inclusion in this program may be no surprise. For families who qualify for SNAP-EBT, ‘ulu - a nutritious, sustainable, culturally significant staple - is essentially half price at KTA.
As the co-op continues to diversify its market streams, partnerships with community organizations coordinating food drives has provided a major source of economic stability over the past year. Overall, HUC has distributed over 60,000 pounds of ʻulu and other fresh and minimally processed local produce to families in need in partnership with community organizations throughout Hawaiʻi. Its partnership with TFB (which goes back to the co-op’s early days) has gone even deeper and now includes a direct donation program via HUC’s website where people can donate minimally processed local staples in five pound increments to families served by TFB.
In April-May 2020, when Hawai’i saw food shortages due to pandemic-induced supply disruptions, HUC’s ʻulu even replaced imported rice in community feeding programs hosted by The Food Basket, and was distributed alongside recipes showcasing the versatility and ease of cooking with minimally processed, fresh-steamed ʻulu. After receiving ʻulu and locally sourced proteins, “you can just see everybody light up. Itʻs exciting to provide such quality food that’s locally produced, through a food bank,” Kristen said.
Join in the push to “get good local food into local bodies,” as IDEAS editor Julia Steele said, and contribute to these ongoing efforts by making a tax deductible donation of local starches –ʻulu, kalo, ‘uala, palaʻai (squash) – supporting our most vulnerable community members during these challenging times.
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