The Farmlink Project 's team member, Jake Dudley
By Hannah Sherman
January 28, 2021
As a Placement Team co-lead at The Farmlink Project, Jake Dudley oversees the team responsible for finding and securing food banks to receive surplus produce. Generally, Jake manages this process from behind a computer screen with team members scattered across the country. This deal was a little bit different.
Jake spent six weeks in Hawaii over December and January volunteering at Mohala Farms. After months of working at The Farmlink Project, Jake wanted to get his hands in the dirt and learn firsthand how the food he works every day to move to people in need is grown and processed. He quoted Henry David Thoreau: “I went to the [farm] because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I can to die, discover that I had not lived.” At Mohala, Jake’s days followed the rhythm of the land, filled with planting, weeding and harvesting.
Mohala Farms, a six-acre organic farm and nonprofit organization in Waialua on the north shore of O’ahu, grows a variety of greens, vegetables, fruits, herbs, and traditional Hawaiian canoe foods, including kalo (taro), ‘ulu (breadfruit), and ‘uala (sweet potato). The farm runs a community supported agriculture (CSA) program and sells their produce at two markets, in Honolulu and Waialua. Generally, the farm doesn’t experience significant surplus; any produce not used in the CSA or sold at markets is enjoyed by those working on the farm.
In preparation for a market day, the farm had completed a major harvest of assorted produce and the seasonal traditional crop, taro. Just before the team was set to head out to the markets, they learned there had been a possible exposure to COVID-19. The produce was safe, but they were unable to staff the market to sell the food. Sitting at dinner that night, Jake and the other volunteers were discussing what to do with the produce to avoid it going to waste. Stepping into his Farmlink Placement Team shoes, Jake facilitated the donation to Hawaii Food Bank.
The Hawaii Food Bank operates on Oahu and Kauai and partners with Maui Food Bank to serve Maui County. They also partner with Food Basket on Hawaii Island. Between all of the partner organizations, they serve the entire state of Hawaii.
Prior to COVID-19, Hawaii Food Bank was serving one out of every eight Hawaii residents, but since the pandemic hit the demand rose, the Food Bank now feeding one in six Hawaiians. According to Danny Schlag of Hawaii Food Bank, COVID-19 has changed everything for the food bank. They have had to change daily protocols and redesigned their delivery methods to implement necessary safety procedures. The food bank has implemented drive-through distribution and paused community food drives.
As a result of these protocol modifications, the food bank has had to purchase more food to keep up with the growing demand. Since March, the food bank has purchased over $11 million worth of food—a dramatic increase from their typical yearly budget of $400,000. As safety protocols become second nature, the food bank is trying to turn back to the community for food donations. “This is where The Farmlink Project and similar organizations are making a huge difference.” Danny went on to explain, “because of the unique geographic location, a lot of food we purchase is from the mainland. The shipping time slows it down and because of the pandemic shipping times are taking a lot longer. It makes such a difference to get local food, so we do not have to wait on shipping times, and can get it out to people in need.”
While the pandemic has increased the need for food in the community, Danny says there have been bright spots during this time. Danny said, “The pandemic has been so terrible, but the greatest thing I have witnessed is the outpouring of generosity and aloha from the community. We have hundreds of volunteers giving their time and donors and partnerships we have been able to establish to get people food. That outpouring of support has continued without setbacks and hopefully will continue through recovery.”