11/11/2013 08:16 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

We Don't Have to Look Far for "Local First" Grinds

In September of 2013, 'Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawai'iwas the site for a pāʻina, a gathering, hosted by Huffington Post and Civil Beat announcing the joint venture HuffPost Hawaii. The event brought two influential personalities, Arianna Huffington and Pierre Omidyar, along with Hawai'i Island community leaders, to 'Imiloa for a lunch reception which featured University of Hawai'i at Hilo's Local First menu by Bridget Awong, General Manager of the University Dining Services by Sodexo.

We were honored that 'Imiloa was chosen as the Hawai'i Island site, and pleased to highlight the "Local First" menu that was served.

Local First is a UH Hilo dining services initiative, that is aimed at providing once-a-month menus that are comprised entirely of Hawai'i products. The program is a partnership with Hawai'i Community College where daily menus consist of about 60 percent locally grown produce, but the first Wednesday of every month features 100 percent local ingredients.

Here is a sampling of Bridget's menu for the day:

Fern Speared Ahi supplied by Suisan Fish Market, Nori Wrapped and Dipped in Tempura Batter, Panko Dusted and Flash Fried Rare. Served with Ogo Buerre Blanc, Kelela Baby Greens, Hearts of Palm and a Lilikoi Miso Viniagrette.

Local First Crudite' Platter: Kula Maui Zucchini, Long Beans & Yellow Squash, Hudson Farms English Cucumbers and Hamakua Springs Grape Tomatoes.

Kona Kampachi Sashimi Stack: Fresh Kona Kampachi, Kaiware Sprouts, Waimea Hudson Cucumbers, Carrots, Ponzu Glaze, Living Aquaponics Scallion Oil, and Finger Limes. Hilo's own Maebo Vegetarian Noodles
Grilled Local Caprese: Grilled Hamakua Tomatoes Sprinkled with Big Island Goat Cheese and Fresh Local Basil Chiffonade Accompanied with Fresh Baked Crostini's.

Kea'au Tortillas with Hilo's Own Amano Kamaboko Dip.

Hamakua Banana Haupia Tarts.

"On the one hand, it's about giving back to our community, supporting our growers and providers. We want them to prosper," Bridget Awong said. "And, the food tastes so much better."
"It also takes a lot of coordination with our farmers, with our vendors as well as with the university," Awong said. "Lots of support. Got to have support."

A bonus to the local first initiative is Awong's 'Eke 'Aina bags. These are reusable bags stocked full of locally grown produce and products, most of which are sourced on Hawai'i Island. Each month a different farm is highlighted with select products from that farm.

Along with an assortment of fruits and vegetables from other local farms. The bag also contains a made-from-scratch salad dressing with recipe and a homemade bakery item. Awong also includes a list of all products and where they came from. Each bag is $35 plus tax and when you place a new order and use the same bag, you will save 5%. Orders are taken weekly, with pick up on Fridays between 2-5 p.m.

UH Hilo's Local First initiative is about food sustainability on the island and is leading the University of Hawaii System's food sustainability initiative, hopefully this is an initiative that can be exported globally.

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