Dennis Kordovez, a driver for the Kauai Food Bank, recently loaded sweet potatoes, papayas, bananas and lettuce grown on Kauai for delivery. The Kauai Food Bank has received national awards for a unique alliance with local farmers.

Kauai farms help
Food Bank grow charity

By Anthony Sommer

LIHUE >> A unique Kauai Food Bank program that trains and supports small farms, provides fresh produce to island restaurants and grocery stores and then uses the profits to feed Kauai's poor has won yet another national honor.

The Food Bank's Hui Meaai is one of two programs nationally that will be recognized by the Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management at its annual meeting Nov. 18 in Philadelphia.

Previously, the program received the 1999 Aim for Excellence award from the Weinberg Foundation, the 1999 World Hunger Year Award from the Harry Chapin Self-Reliance Group and the 2000 Mutual of America Community Partnership Award.

Even better than all the awards, Food Bank Executive Director Judy Lenthall said she learned only Friday the Hui earned its first profit in four years of operation: $30,140 in 2001.

The roots of the program go back to Hurricane Iniki, which devastated Kauai on Sept. 11, 1992. The Kauai Food Bank was founded a month later.

Then in 1995, Marriott International bought the former Westin resort that had been heavily damaged by Iniki and reopened it . With unemployment on Kauai at about 20 percent in 1995 and the Kauai Food Bank feeding about 10,000 of the island's 50,000 residents, Marriott decided to forgo the traditional grand opening festivities and instead donated the $20,000 budgeted for the event to the Kauai Food Bank.

At about the same time, the Food Bank purchased a three-acre plot to train people to grow their own food and to supply the Food Bank with fresh produce. Most of what the Food Bank provides the poor are canned or packaged goods.

David Wong, then the resort's food and beverage manager was invited to join the Food Bank's board of directors. At the time, the Kauai Marriott was importing all of its fruits and vegetables from the mainland. He suggested the hotel buy products from the Food Bank's farm.

But the produce grown at the Food Bank farm at that time was not of a high enough quality for a world-class resort.

"The best thing the Marriott ever did for us was make us meet their standards," Lenthall said. In offering their produce for sale to other restaurants and food stores, being "good enough for the Marriott" is a major selling point, she said.

Lenthall and Marriott Executive Chef George Liechty worked together for two years to develop the Hui Meaai as a for-profit arm of the Food Bank.

The program spread from the initial training farm to small farms all over Kauai. The Food Bank acted as the wholesaler, buying from the farms and selling to the resort. Then it expanded further to supply other customers on the island.

To date, the Hui has trained 40 people in the business of farming. The Hui now has 56 growers and supplies 25 island businesses.

The Kauai Marriott purchases about 25 percent of its produce -- $800 to $1,500 a week -- from the Hui.

In its initial business plan, the Hui estimated it would have to move 100,000 pounds to 120,000 pounds annually to make a profit. Last year, it sold 500,000 pounds of produce.

Last year, the Hui also received a $500,000 federal grant to provide fresh produce to senior citizens on Kauai who live at or below the poverty level.

Liechty, who is now the resort's food and beverage manager said he is most proud of providing guests with authentic Hawaiian food grown on local farms.

But he said he also delights in going to the local supermarket and seeing the Hui label on fruits and vegetables in the produce section.

Kauai Food Bank
Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management

E-mail to City Desk


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