Now serving: Local food at IUCN Congress

“We are taking locally sourced to a whole new level. We are excited and it’s challenging,” says Gary Matsumoto, Director of Operations for Food and Beverage for the Hawai’i Convention Center. 

Twin Bridge Farms Photo: Gary Matsumoto

As part of its My Green Congress efforts, IUCN and the Hawaiʻi Convention Center will source nearly all food for the IUCN Congress from local farmers such as these at Twin Bridge Farms.

Hawai’i simply can’t grow everything in sufficient quantities for the 5,000+ expected participants at the IUCN World Conservation Congress, but IUCN hopes that emphasising local at the Congress will make a positive impact both in reducing the event’s footprint and bolstering local sustainability efforts.

Scaling up local supply to meet the demands of the IUCN Congress is integral to the sustainable systems that IUCN and the National Host Committee are putting in place for the Congress. It’s no small task.

“But we haven’t experienced a sustainability programme that is comparable to the Congress,” says Gary Matsumoto, Director of Operations for Food and Beverage for the Hawai‘i Convention Center (HCC), the IUCN Congress venue. “We are taking locally sourced to a whole new level. We are excited and it’s challenging.”

Can locally sourced food reach scale in Hawai‘i?

Although rich volcanic soils and varied climate zones give Hawai‘i a spectrum of agricultural products year round, the state currently imports 85-90% of its food.

Travelling 4,000 km just to cross the Pacific, that imported food costs Hawai‘i about US$ 3 billion annually. Reducing these food kilometres makes sense for the food’s carbon footprint, Hawai‘i’s economy and food security.

Hawai‘i’s inter-agency Buy Local, It Matters campaign has been going strong since 2005, and when possible the HCC already highlights local produce on its menus. With 1,858 m2 of kitchen space, the centre has one of Hawai‘i’s largest production kitchens, so managing volume is not a problem.

“We won’t be able to say that the food is 100% local, but we’ll come as close as we can,” says Matsumoto.

As of late June 2016, Matsumoto has developed menus of local selections for catering and social events at the IUCN Congress. Items on the daily menu for all IUCN Congress participants will use 50 to 80 per cent locally sourced ingredients.

Local produce costs more, so the IUCN Congress has to ride the fine line between locally sourced food and affordability, which makes estimations for farm orders difficult. Still, Matsumoto’s team has been hard at work to coordinate with Hawai‘i’s many local producers. Farmers include Mari’s Garden with its aquaponic lettuce, and Ho Farms known for its tomatoes. Fresh fish will come in daily through the Honolulu Fish Auction.

Discussions are taking place with other local producers. “We’re still working to source more local food for the IUCN Congress,” says Matsumoto. “They may not be able to supply all our needs, but with our decent-size order we can help local producers jumpstart their businesses. It’s small things like this that we can do that can make a difference. If we can raise awareness about our farmers so there is more demand for them in the future, it is an encouraging base to build upon.”

With a growing global population, achieving food security is a major challenge facing the world and many countries realise they must become more self-sufficient. Healthy ecosystems such as forests, watersheds and wetlands are fundamental to our food supplies, both farmed and wild sourced. This link between conservation and food security will be discussed at the IUCN Congress with countries sharing their experience and learning from others about effective approaches to achieving both.

Meanwhile, the Congress organisers are making every effort to minimise the environmental impacts of the event. Working with local businesses, farmers and hotels and developing practical guidelines for future green events in Honolulu are among the measures. Find out more about sustainability efforts for the Congress in the IUCN My Green Congress Sustainability Policy.

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