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Eating Local

“Foodland has long supported local farmers and local products,” says Sharon Hurd with Hawaii Department of Agriculture.

With funds from the grant, Foodland compensates participating schools for the time students spend each Tuesday in its stores.

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Foodland's Eat Local Tuesdays initiative encourages customers to commit to eating local one day a week. And it's getting Hawaii's high schoolers to help. Pictured are (from left) Jacob Danao (Kapolei), Marivic Baoas (Kaimuki), Rachel Lee (Kalani), Foodland chairwoman/CEO Jenai S. Wall, Ha Nguyen (Kaimuki) and Nick Baggett (Kalani) | Nathalie Walker photo nwalker@midweek.com

Though only a few months in, Foodland has seen the number of customers taking its Eat Local Tuesdays pledge soar to more than 186,000. It’s an outcome Wall credits largely to its student representatives, dubbed Foodland Local Ambassadors.

Foodland Local Ambassadors

Being a Foodland Local Ambassador was nerve-wracking initially for Kapolei High School 10th-grader Jacob Danao. But since joining the program in February, Danao says he’s gotten used to it.

“I’ve been learning more organization and public speaking techniques,” he says.

It’s a sentiment shared by Baoas, also a sophomore, who also was nervous at first but now feels confident in the skills she has honed.

“I learned that I could be way more social,” she says, in between engaging with customers who stop for a sample.

“I like saying ‘hi’ to random people,” she adds. “It just feels good.”

Both serve as perfect examples of what Foodland hopes its Local Ambassadors get out of Eat Local Tuesdays.

“Our goal is to really make it a worthwhile and meaningful experience for them so that they’re not just helping us for three hours,” says Wall. “We really want it to be something that they can learn from.”

Each Tuesday afternoon, students like Danao and Baoas may be found in Foodland, Sack N Save and Foodland Farms stores, serving a selection of four free samples to customers. Currently, 16 schools are participating in Eat Local Tuesdays, with Foodland looking to add on two more.

Wall has observed each school apply and adapt the program differently. Waipahu High School, for instance, required that interested students undergo an application and interview process.

“It was good because it really mirrored what students would experience in the industry when they have to go out and apply for a job,” says Waipahu High principal Keith Hayashi.

Hayashi was the first to sign up his school for Eat Local Tuesdays. It was an easy decision to make, he says, and one he notices already is paying off.

Waipahu High has remained closely involved with Eat Local Tuesdays. Just recently, four teams of students presented ideas to Wall and Foodland that they believe will improve its initiative.

“It was really amazing for us to see,” says Wall, adding that the students now are creating prototypes that the company plans to test run.

“It’s from these opportunities that our students really are able to make connections,” says Hayashi. “It makes learning relevant … so they can understand why they are in school.”

It’s more than just learning applicable life skills, though. Local Ambassadors also are invited to join employees to learn about, and tour and volunteer at farms that sell produce in Foodland. Danao and Baoas both note that, prior to serving as Foodland Local Ambassadors, neither one of them realized the number of supermarket items that were made or grown locally.

In this sense, Local Ambassadors obtain a deeper understanding of buying and eating local — something Wall hopes has a lasting effect on Hawaii’s food economy.

“Our hope is that we’ve taught them about the importance of eating local, and we’ve exposed them to different products that they perhaps didn’t know about before,” says Wall. “And (we want to) help them to understand how buying local and eating local are good for the community in the future.”

For more information on Eat Local Tuesdays and to take the pledge, visit foodland.com. Be on the lookout for Foodland Local Ambassadors in Foodland, Sack N Save and Foodland Farms locations Tuesdays from 3 to 6 p.m. (or 4-7 p.m. at select stores).