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Seven Maui Schools Serving Poi

Kahului Elementary School cafeteria manager, Perry Yadao, accepted a delivery of 10 pounds of poi from kalo farmer, Bobby Pahia, and Aloha Poi owner, Lester Nakama. Yadao was able to purchase poi through the ʻĀina Pono Program which seeks to increase local food in student meals as well as connects island keiki with the land through food.

Photo by Sean Michael Hower: (L to R) Kalo farmer Bobby Pahia delivers poi from his farm in Waikapū to Kahului School Cafeteria Manager Perry Yadao as Aloha Poi Factory owner Lester Nakama looks on.

In addition to being locally grown and produced, poi is a cultural staple that has not only sustained Hawaiian families historically, but still serves as one of the best superfoods in today’s modern diet. Poi is fat-free, high in fiber, low in sodium, gluten free, high in vitamin B, calcium and phosphorus. It also currently plays a large role in Hawaiʻi as part of a diet to overcome obesity, diabetes and heart disease using traditional, local foods.

“I’ve been working in the DOE since 1997 and I’ve never seen poi available so I thought I would try it as a healthy alternative for the students. I served it for breakfast as a parfait with pineapple,” Yadao said.

The ʻĀina Pono Program through Hawaiʻi State Department of Education has successfully supplied fresh locally grown products to Hawaiʻi public schools such as Okinawan sweet potato, ʻulu, pineapple, papaya, and banana for the past two years. However, securing a consistent supply of kalo and poi had not been possible until ʻĀina Pono partnered with the Maui-based, Mahi Pono LLC to procure kalo from Maui farmers as part of the Keiki Poi Project. Along with Blue Zones Project and HEAL (Healthy Eating, Active Living Coalition), the effort to make healthy, local options more available in schools has become a reality in Maui County.

“We look forward to working closely with ‘Āina Pono and our partners in an effort to grow healthy nutritious food for Hawai’i’s children. Maui’s fertile lands has immense potential to achieve local food security across Hawai’i,” said Shan Tsutsui, Senior Vice President of Opertions of Mahi Pono, LLC.

For the first time, seven Maui County schools are serving poi through the ʻĀina Pono Program including Kilohana Elementary, Maui High School, Kula Elementary, Lahainaluna High School, King Kekaulike High School, Kahului Elementary and Waiheʻe Elementary.

“Serving fresh locally grown products in cafeterias means our keiki have a healthy meal that is locally sourced. We are excited to strengthen the health of Hawaiʻi’s people, ʻāina, and community food systems through the ʻĀina Pono program,” said Lauren Loor, coordinator for the Healthy Eating Active Living Coalition on Maui.