It’s Sunday morning, and a fresh-faced Dee Jay Mailer is unloading the car with her husband Donny, carrying in bags of Hawaii-produced groceries for their Eat Local week. Mailer joined Kanu Hawaii’s Eat Local Challenge as an individual, but she says she’s also found a serendipitous connection with her role as CEO of Kamehameha Schools Bishop Estate (KSBE), which owns about half the farmland in the state and is implementing a strategic agricultural plan to increase Hawaii’s food independence.
We caught up with Mailer at the beginning and end of her Eat Local week.
Where did you get all this local food?
‘Aina Haina Foodland and Whole Foods, because these are the closest to me . I was worried that it might be hard to find local food, but when we walked in, there was a big sign, “Eat Local Challenge.” Both markets had photos of farmers with their names and where they live.
You’ve got plenty of produce. Did you find local in everything you wanted?
I didn’t find local chicken, yogurt or cheese, but I was happy to find milk, butter and grass-fed local beef. I’m told there is free-range chicken, but not much, and most of it goes straight to restaurants. From Kanu, I learned that there’s no locally grown wheat or rice, but we can buy bread made in Hawaii, and we’ve got poi. So you’ve got everything you need for the week?
Almost. I forgot to pick up OnoPops!
How did you happen to join Kanu’s campaign?
I heard about it from a colleague at work. I’ve been wanting to make a commitment to eating more local food, and what I really like about Kanu’s campaign is that there’s no pressure–just do the best you can. Kanu’s purpose is to help individuals move to local from non-local choices.
Is there a connection between your individual food choices and land management at Kamehameha Schools?
Kamehameha Schools has very rich agricultural lands, as well as lands that aren’t productive anymore that we’re restoring. Because we’re investing in local diversified agriculture, it makes sense that I’m eating the food. Land, farming, food, consumer–we’re all part of the food chain.
Is KSBE helping to create a market for these farms by serving their products in the schools?
Yes, we’re trying to use as much as we can that’s grown on our lands, but our cafeterias require huge volume. For example, some of our salads have local lettuce. Little by little, our cafeterias are going into local foods, as much as volume will allow.
Does KSBE also have school gardens?
The preschool and elementary students are growing food. The students at Kapalama Middle School are recycling all food scraps, using flies that eat faster than worms… They’re doing that as we speak.
It must be fun to share all this with your three-year-old granddaughter.
When she sees me in my garden, she says, “Grandma’s farming.” When Halia visits next, I want to take her with me to the store, to visit the school gardens and show her how to plant and grow the food.
Weren’t you close to your own grandparents?
Yes. Every summer I’d go to the Big Island and stay with my grandparents on the sugar plantation, and attend Naalehu summer school. Some of my best and clearest memories are of those days, spent playing and eating with friends and their families. I learned a lot about how to manage from my grandfather…to take care and be fair. People matter.
What did you learn about food from the Hawaiian side of your family?
My mom is Hawaiian and a bit of English and Chinese…so I had food from all of me! We had poi a lot and fish, laulau and luau stew. Mom knew how to make the best lomi salmon “without the salmon.” She did that, but she bought the rest. Now I have dryland kalo in my own front yard, and we harvest what we need, skin it, boil it, food-process it, make it into poi, bake it into chips.
So how’d your Eat Local week go?
I ate much healthier. Ate fish a lot more than I normally do, with a constant poi bowl in front of me.
How did you know the fish was local?
I asked. And I trusted that whatever they told me was true.
All the fruits and vegetables were wonderful. Donny and I had fun cooking a tofu scramble, which was shared by Kanu on their website. For dessert I had my smoothies, made with all local fruits that I saved from my breakfast. Instead of store-bought, I made popsicles out of my smoothies. I became very efficient!
How about eating out?
One restaurant I went to at lunch said they only offered the Eat Local menu at night. I asked, Do you have local fish? Yes, but it’s battered, they said. Could you not batter it? I asked, and they did. They also gave me a salad made with only local lettuce.
What else did you learn in your eat local week?
It was a life-changing experience, and we’re going to continue. But if we are all to survive on local food at some point in our future, then we need a whole lot more. We need to pump up the volume!