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$500K Build Back Better grant to grow island food supply

Mayor Mitch Roth’s administration was so eager to put a $500,000 American Rescue Plan Act Build Back Better Regional Challenge to good use, it fast-tracked a resolution accepting the money to the County Council before the grant was officially approved by the federal government.

That’s all been rectified, so the council will pick up Resolution 277 for its sole vote at Wednesday’s meeting.

“Unfortunately, we had to postpone our request until the December 22nd council meeting simply because approval of the grant wasn’t received timely,” said Deputy Finance Director Steven Hunt. “The county did received confirmation of the award on December 13th, so no additional delays are anticipated.”

The state imports around 90% of its food, equating to three billion dollars leaving the state each year, Sarah Freeman, food systems specialist for the county Department of Research and Development, said in her grant synopsis. Diverting just 20% of that capital to local producers would double the sector’ s market share and every 10% that is diverted would represent 2, 300 new jobs, she said.

The county plans to pull together a coalition of six organizations, led by the county R&D, to increase agriculture infrastructure and develop markets and workforce to increase local food production and raise additional private-sector funding.

The six organizations are The Food Basket Inc., The Hamakua Institute, The Kohala Center, Maona Community Garden, Big Island Resource Conservation and Development Council, East Hawaii Community Development Corporation and the University of Hawaii representing The University of Hawaii College of Agriculture, Forestry &Natural Resource Management, Aquaculture &Coastal Resources Center, University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, GoFarm Hawaii, Hawaii Community College, Big Island Invasive Species Committee and The Data Sciences Institute.

“The shared vision of the Hawaii Island’s Coalition is of an Agricultural Cluster that builds its capacity to sustainably generate new jobs and income suited to the island’s unique resources and communities,” Freeman said. “The Challenge is designed to assist communities nationwide in their efforts to recover economically from the coronavirus pandemic and to build up local economies that will be resilient to future economic shocks.”

The funds will be used to provide technical assistance to develop and support eight projects by coalition members to grow in a regional cluster.

Among the specific projects: build Hawaii Island Agricultural Innovation Industrial Park and Food Systems Campus at The Food Basket’ s facilities, improve existing Mika Meats industrial space for shared use processing facilities and business services and implement expanded breadfruit agroforestry production and processing by upgrading an East Hawaii Island processing facility for dried and milled flour products centered around breadfruit and other high-demand agroforestry crops.

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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