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Over 70 Oʻahu public schools dish out lunches with poi this month

 Students from Ke'elikolani Middle School enjoying their lunch with poi.
Hawaiʻi State Department of Education
Students from Ke'elikolani Middle School eat poi with their lunch.

Students and staff at more than 70 Oʻahu public schools will have the option of fresh local poi with their lunches this month.

The new menu item is part of the state Department of Education's farm-to-school initiative. The campaign aims to promote food sustainability in the islands by supporting local farmers and improving students' health.

"We're really excited that for the first time in over a decade, we're serving poi on our regular school menus," said Randall Tanaka, assistant superintendent of the DOE's Office of Facilities and Operations.

The traditional Hawaiian delicacy is the first addition to school lunches, as part of the state farm-to-school initiative.

"We started with poi because there is truly a cultural significance and connection to our communities," Tanaka said.

Pomai Kulolo LLC provided the first round of poi to Oʻahu schools, offering more than 23,000 servings in 4-ounce portions to participating schools. However, Tanaka said that procurement challenges have limited other schools from participating in the poi program.

"One of the challenges we have is supply to meet our demand," he said. "So we're aligning our process, engaging more with farmers, we're working with the Farm Bureau, the Department of Agriculture, the institutional farmers and the food hubs to enhance supply to the schools."

Other schools that wanted to participate, but were impacted by procurement challenges, were encouraged to incorporate local uʻala, or sweet potato, into their lunch menus this month.

The DOE is the largest institutional consumer of food in the state, serving more than 100,000 kids a day.

Casey Harlow is an HPR reporter and occasionally fills in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Contact him at charlow@hawaiipublicradio.org or on Twitter (@CaseyHarlow).
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