A team from Hawaii makes strides at food conference in California


A group of nine representatives from Hawaii traveled to Palo Alto, Calif. in May to participate in the first National Food System Resilience and Equity Workshop. They joined teams from five other states during the two-day event to address issues of hunger, instability and inequity within regional food systems. 

The Hawaii team included professors, nonprofit leaders and a representative from the state government: Senator Mike Gabbard from West Oahu. The dynamics of this group gave them many avenues to come up with goals and ideas that they would be able to push forward at home, on policy and community levels.  

“I was trying to pull together a complementary team that dealt with different aspects of the food and agricultural system in Hawaii,” said Dr. Albie Miles, one of chief organizers of the workshop, “And I was very impressed with how my team performed.”

Elise Dela Cruz-Talbert, an instructor and PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii, has been working with Miles for the last few years. She focuses on issues of food security and community health in her home state.

“We need a healthy food system for everyone to be healthy,” Dela Cruz-Talbert said. “We have to be able to value all communities and all the people that touch our food system.”

The equity aspect of the workshop was of particular interest for Dela Cruz-Talbert. She was eager to dive into the conversations taking place around food justice in line with sustainability and how the two can inform each other.

Gabbard, for his part, said that his chief of staff was dubious about what the workshop would yield, and whether or not it would be a productive use of time. Gabbard felt differently.

“I think it’s a good idea that we go and find out what’s happening around the country in terms of food resiliency and equity,” he said.

This workshop was first conceived over a year ago by Miles, who works as an assistant professor of Sustainable Community Food Systems at the University of Hawaii West Oahu. Miles was interested in bringing together a team from Hawai’i to work on their own regional planning process, but also saw the value in reaching out to folks from other areas of the country to share ideas and dialogue.

“I thought it would be helpful to convene a national group of people to engage in this process,” Dr. Miles said. The idea was for the workshop to be “outcome-focused,” providing space for regional groups to develop plans specific to their areas, but still allow space to build connections and knowledge across state lines.

Miles reached out to Dr. Liz Carlisle, a colleague from their graduate days at University of California, Berkeley. Carlisle now teaches at Stanford University, which was chosen as the host space for the workshop.

Dela Cruz-Talbert expressed regret that there wasn’t more time, especially to hear from other groups at the workshop.

Regional teams hailed from Northern and Southern California, Arizona, Ohio, Michigan, and the Chesapeake Bay, as well as Hawaii.

“The work that we do is definitely in this larger context that we have to understand,” Dela Cruz-Talbert said, making a point about inequality and oppression built into the industrial food system. “One day was really short to try to unpack all of that.”

This workshop was only a start. For the Hawai’i team, the weekend was a way to energize its members and to keep pushing the work forward back at home.

“This was the first opportunity for this team of people to come together, and I feel like we’ve galvanized a group that’s committed to this work,” Miles said of his colleagues. He added that the team now shares some common ground, which will guide them as they move forward with their action plans in Hawai’i.