Sustainable Community Food Systems

Sustainable Community Food Systems

Discussion Leader: Dr. Albie Miles

Recorder: Emma Brown

The discussion leader for this theme area was Dr. Albie Miles, an assistant professor of sustainable community food systems (SCFS) at the University of Hawaii at West Oahu. Dr. Miles teaches courses and publishes in this area. He has led the development of a statewide effort called Ike ‘Ai. He is also part of Ag Hui (, a broad coalition of agricultural stakeholders dedicated to forging deeper connections between local agriculture, emergency food distribution, and long-term economic planning.

Dr. Miles presented on the goals and components of SCFS, including the critical connections among various aspects of our food system necessary for sustainability and resilience. He highlighted the disconnections that exist in our modern, globalized food system and the adverse outcomes for human health and nutrition as well as our own food security and self-sufficiency. This includes the impact of climate change and related global crises on agricultural productivity; storage, processing, and transportation of foods; and the dependency of Hawaii upon food imports, which is itself highly vulnerable to climate-related disasters. Under this model, poverty is the major threat and impediment to food security at the family and community level.

A major increase in local food production is needed, and Hawaii as a state has committed itself to this goal. Dr. Miles and the group emphasized that sustainable food production in Hawaii will require changes in diets and food preferences. Breadfruit (‘ulu) was given as an example of a common staple food grown in many Pacific Island cultures. As a tree, it does not require tilling the soil, replanting crops every few months, or heavy inputs of water and fertilizers. It is actively promoted by local food cooperatives, food networks, and the National Tropical Botanical Garden, which maintains a diverse collection of breadfruit varieties.

Beyond food production, other aspects of our food system need to change to become more just, equitable,

sustainable, and resilient to climate change and climate-related disasters. As mentioned, local food storage, processing, and distribution infrastructure, enterprises, and networks are needed. Laws and policies are needed to promote and support family farms but avoid “gentleman farms” that do nothing to contribute to local food security. In line with Dr. Miles’ essential role as an educator, we need to teach and train a new generation of food producers, processors, and retailers are essential to this effort. Ensuring they have access to land, resources, and infrastructure within defined resilient communities is also necessary.

Finally, the health of native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities needs to be a focus of SCFS. The replacement of their traditional food systems has negatively affected their health and well-being. Biocultural restoration can be one approach to rebuilding SCFS that takes advantage of the cultural knowledge and practices that are stores of wealth within Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities. These systems are inherently focused on engaging with and serving local communities, thus building local self-sufficiency and resiliency in the face of natural or social-economic disasters.

Faith communities are again essential to these efforts. Churches and their outreach missions have traditionally provided food for the hungry, supported local farmer’s markets, and promoted local agricultural enterprises. By linking with larger efforts like Ag Hui or Ike ‘Ai, they can strengthen their own efforts, connect enterprises they support into larger networks, and find new and improved ways to advocate for local food security and sustainability. Hawaiian and Pacific Islander faith groups should be encouraged and supported in their efforts to promote and improve food security for their communities and rebuild traditional and indigenous food systems. Again, these should be promoted as models for what connects people to places and purpose in life that is deeply spiritual and resonates with our core values and beliefs.

Vision: Hawaii will develop sustainable community food systems to improve food security, self-sufficiency, and climate resilience, emphasizing traditional crops; sustainable production methods; the health and nutrition of native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities; strengthening the local food system infrastructure; and educating, training, and enabling a new generation of food producers and professionals to help build and strengthen resilient communities.

Contributions of People and Communities of Faith:

  • Provide spiritual leadership and support for the goals of sustainable community food systems (SCFS), especially the health of our natural systems and social and cultural communities

  • Advocate on behalf of laws and policies to enable SCFS, emphasizing justice and equity for Hawaii’s people as well as sustainability for Hawaii’s environment

  • Promote SCFS in their support for biocultural restoration and community resilience

  • Emphasize the essential role of native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities and their traditional food systems and knowledge in building sustainable food systems that address all aspects of food security

Partners in the Effort:

  • The Ike Ai and Ag Hui networks of producers, academics, government officials, and other food systems professionals to identify the needs for SCFS in Hawaii

  • Groups working on biocultural restoration and community resilience

  • Community groups and nonprofits addressing food security, local food production, and promotion of traditional and indigenous food systems in Hawaii