DOE Directs Schools to Deny Federal Funding for Local Foods That Helped Apply

Local food producers and advocates have suffered a U-turn in the sector.

The Department of Education is telling schools not to apply for a portion of $500,000 in federal funding to help buy local food. It’s an initiative that the DOE helped apply for.

Complex regional administrators in Hawaii received an email Wednesday warning that if schools signed on to the program, they would be in “violation” with DOE’s School Feeding Division.

The DOE mandate represents a shift in direction last year, as it approved an application for federal funding under the USDA’s Community Food Cooperatives for Schools program.

Taken in 2019, Randy Tanaka, deputy superintendent of DOE’s Office of Facilities and Operations, sent an email telling schools not to participate in programs that help schools buy more local food. . (Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat/2019)

The USDA allocated $646,962 for Hawaii, and in a January press release, Superintendent Keith Hayashi said the DOE would “make significant progress” toward the state’s mandated goal of 50% locally sourced food by 2050. “It helps.”

However, an email sent by Facility Operations Assistant Randall Tanaka tells schools to ignore calls asking them to apply for funding from the Hawaii Child Nutrition Program, which administers the program.

“We have had discussions with HCNP, but we have not participated or agreed to the terms set out in the contract,” Tanaka said in an email.

The main reason, according to Tanaka’s email, is that applying for funding would prevent the school from adhering to federal standards.

However, the grant recipient HCNP is responsible for monitoring and auditing DOE’s compliance with federal food and nutrition regulations.

Civil Beat requested a meeting with Mr. Tanaka on Thursday, but on Monday the DOE Communications Branch said Mr. Tanaka was unavailable.

Instead, in an emailed statement, Tanaka doubled down.

He again noted that food service department menus must meet USDA requirements, that grants and acceptance of new recipes must be approved by the department, and that “Hawaii Children’s Nutrition Program contracts must meet the department’s school feeding department. and not with an individual, but with the school.

It is unknown what happens to the unused funds.

According to Marlowe Delego of the Hawaii School Nutrition Association, handling the funds would be too inconvenient, and food service departments and cafeteria managers may need to take additional accounting measures to receive reimbursement. I have.

DeRego, now retired after working for DOE food service for 26 years, says he only needs a few hours of record-keeping training and nothing more.

“There should be very few problems,” Derego said in an interview. “I don’t know why they’re resisting. I really, really, don’t understand.”

At an event on April 26, local high school students presented 11 recipes featuring four locally sourced ingredients, but a week later the DOE pledged $500,000 to help pay for the ingredients. I refused. (Provided by Hawaii Team Nutrition Project)

More money for school meals, more money for farmers

Just one week before the email was sent, DOE representatives joined the farm-to-school advocates to incorporate local ingredients developed for inclusion in the USDA’s National School Lunch Database. We celebrated the formulation of almost 12 new recipes.

The meal was produced under a grant obtained by HCNP. HCNP also applied for the DOE’s recently awarded grant.

Ignoring federal funding for farm-to-school programs is at the heart of a 2021 law mandating 30% of state school meals to be locally sourced by the end of 2021. and means less money for food producers.

Tanaka has repeatedly told lawmakers that the DOE cannot produce enough local food to feed its students in the first place. Of his $45 million food budget for the DOE, in 2022 he spent less than 2% on locally grown produce.

Dana Shapiro, co-founder and general manager of Hawaii Ulu Cooperative, said the DOE’s U-turn was a disappointment for suppliers who were already waiting for orders.

“I hope they find ways to get local farmers and children involved so they can benefit from the programs they’re already funding,” Shapiro said in an interview.

Dole Agricultural Land Whitmore Village.
The centralized kitchen advertised by DOE will be part of a project to develop a food hub in Whitmore Village on Central Oahu.
(Corey Lam/Civil Beat/2018)

go to the center

Meanwhile, DOE is moving forward with plans for a centralized kitchen in Wahiawa that will feed all of Oahu’s schools.

Concerns have been raised that this model would eventually be replicated on each island, producing less nutritious food and creating supply chain problems.

A last-minute legislative effort to keep the school feeding system decentralized and address several other issues ended in the Senate this year, effectively clearing the way for a centralized kitchen plan to go forward.

North Shore and Central Oahu Rep. Amy Peruso, who introduced the bill, believes the DOE decided to deny federal funding because it wants to control school meals.

Perruso is not sure why the transfer was declined, but said: It defies logic. ”

“If the concern is about implementation, I understand that’s fine, but that’s not what it looks like,” Perruso said.

“Hawaii Grown” is funded in part by grants from the Stupski Foundation, Hawaii Community Foundation’s Ulupono Fund, and the Frost Family Foundation.

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