Lt. Governor Doug Chin eats his lunch with some of Mililani's student leaders, including Alyssa Ann Yamada-Barretto, Destiny Perreira, Jorge Aponte-Alvarez and Hunter Gentry. Photo Credit: Department of Education

Mililani High School served up the first imu-cooked meal officially approved for a public school lunch at the end of March.

While other schools have imu fundraisers around Thanksgiving, food cooked overnight in a traditional underground oven hasn’t been allowed in public school meal programs. That changed March 29, when kalua pork fresh from a campus imu was served at the unveiling celebration for the Department of Education’s farm to school initiative’s new name – ‘Aina Pono Hawai‘i State Farm to School – and logo. The meal also included locally grown pineapples and bananas, spinach, poi, lomi tomato and a sweet roll.

In addition to the farm to school initiative, other health, food and nutrition programs are under the ‘Aina Pono umbrella, along with school gardens, ‘Aina Pono Harvest of the Month, test kitchens, meal programs and menu planning, according to Albert Scales, the farm to school program administrator.

Not to be confused with ‘āina (land), ‘aina with no kahakō means “meal.” “When we combine the two words together – ‘Aina Pono – it can loosely translate to ‘righteous meal’ as one interpretation,” Scales said in a press release. “Along those same lines, to be ‘pono’ is about doing what’s right. We want to honor and return to our Islands’ roots, bringing scratch-cooked meals back into our school cafeterias. It’s about finding a balance in the food we are serving with the USDA’s nutrition requirements and creating a harmony of locally grown ingredients that we incorporate into student meals.”

The DOE piloted its farm to school initiative in Kohala on Hawai‘i Island in 2015 through a partnership with the state Department of Agriculture and The Kohala Center. The program aims at putting more local food into public school lunches by addressing supply and demand and increasing the amount of Hawai‘i-grown items the state purchases. At the same time, it better connects keiki to the ‘āina through food grown on local farms.

The Kohala program serves 600 meals a day to area public schools. “Kohala has seen an increase in meal participation and a decrease in total food cost while serving fresher, more locally sourced food,” said Dexter Kishida, Farm to School specialist. “Our goal is to create similar results in Mililani for our three Central O‘ahu schools.” Mililani High is the state’s second largest public school food production site, serving about 2,500 lunches to students at the high school and two elementary schools.

Mililani High will be working with Chef Greg Christian, president and founder of Beyond Green Sustainable Food Partners. “We won’t be drastically changing the menu overnight,” said Christian in a release. “We have steps in place to observe, test and seek feedback from the cafeteria staff as well as students. They’ll be sampling different dishes and helping to shape how the program is implemented at their schools.”

The State Senate presented the DOE with a plaque at the Mililani event, which reads in part: “Farm to School aims to help students become ‘citizen eaters’ who understand the connections between food, health and agriculture. From improving academic performance to encouraging healthy food choices, to supporting farmers and the local economy, the benefits of farm to school programs are truly abundant.”

More information about the ‘Aina Pono Hawai‘i State Farm to School program, including recipes can be found at goo.gl/DPtZVC.