A Big Island program is helping to bridge the gap between local agricultural producers and nonprofits serving residents in need.
Administered by the Hawaii Farm Bureau, the Big Island Rural Agricultural Industries Distribution and Growing Enterprise Strategies (BRIDGES) Program allows the bureau to purchase food directly from Hawaii Island farmers and ranchers to be donated to community organizations, like The Food Basket, for distribution to Hawaii Island residents.
“This program keeps our farmers operating during challenging times; contributing to our local economy while feeding those in need on our island,” said Hawaii Farm Bureau president Randy Cabral. “This is a great opportunity for island farmers and ranchers to give back to our local community.”
Cabral and South Kohala Councilman Tim Richards started the program back in March to get local food to residents in need while supporting local farmers and ranchers impacted by reduced sales and losses amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s all about the agricultural economy: Supporting agriculture by keeping its economy functioning, we keep agriculture healthy and set the stage for its help in our community’s economic recovery,” said Richards. “By paying farmers and ranchers and then donating that purchased food to organizations like The Food Basket, we accomplish two things. First, we help feed our people. Secondly, we keep agriculture functioning that in turn will be a foundation for rebuilding our economy going forward. It is far better to sustain rather than try to recreate what we have now.”
Private donations totaling $200,000 and a Hawaii County grant of $25,000 carried the program in its initial months. Recently, the effort was bolstered by $325,000 in federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act funding via the Hawaii County Coronavirus Relief Fund.
While the latest round of funding is anticipated to cover the program through November, the bureau is still accepting private donations.
BRIDGES Program director Liana Sun said the program is currently working with about 45 Big Island farmers and ranchers.
“The idea is to help as many people as we can, so if we have the budget for it and if it’s not a crazy expensive request, usually we are able to help,” she said.
Sun said this allows for a greater variety of foods going to the community organizations.
“If a smaller charity wanted sweet potatoes, they would contact us with the request and we would find a farmer who could fulfill their order and coordinate the shipping to that charity. The farmer then submits their invoice to the farm bureau,” she said.
Farmers can sign up to participate in the program with the Hawaii Farm Bureau and the bureau connects them with the charities. Those in the Hawaii Island agricultural community interested in applying for the BRIDGES Program should contact Sun at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We know farmers and a lot of businesses are having a hard time so we are hoping that we can provide the bridge that’s necessary to keep them farming and ranching until things get better,” said Cabral.
The Food Basket executive director Kristin Frost Albrect said the food the nonprofit has received from the program is primarily distributed through its Ohana Food Drops.
The food drops are held at 10 Big Island sites each month and serve between 2,000 and 3,700 individuals at each site.
“It is an awesome program. They have helped us out so much,” said Albrect. “Although we get a lot of produce, we also get a lot of protein. That has been wonderful because there has been a lot of times where we haven’t had any protein coming in, so they keep us stocked. Beef, pork and chicken.”
She said The Food Basket recently received just 200 jars of honey, heart of palm and goat cheese.
“Our clients love whatever we send on to them,” she said.
A full list of the Ohana Food Drop locations and information about other programs can be found on The Food Basket website at www.hawaiifoodbasket.org.
Email Laura Ruminski at email@example.com.