When it comes to food, sustainability and the University of Hawaiʻi System, the cafeteria at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo is leading the way.

60 percent of all the food served there is locally grown and produced and on the first Wednesday of each month, 100 percent is local. The program is called Local First.

“It takes a lot of coordination with our farmers, with our vendors as well as with the university,” said Bridget Awong, UH Hilo’s General Manager of the University Dining Services by Sodexo. “Lots of support. Got to have support.”

The entrees look and taste like something out of the popular television reality show Top Chef.

Kona coffee Marinated Grilled Rib Eye Steak featuring grass fed beef.

Seared Kona Kampachi on a bed of Maebo noodles with a Meyer lemon soy glaze.

Or how about grilled kalbi tofu pockets, stuffed with soy sesame marinated watercress, garnished with diced cucumber kim chee and takuan?

“It’s all about giving back to the local community,” said Awong. “It’s all about carbon footprint. It’s all about how can we keep the money here, locally.”

The real test is the taste, and UH Hilo aces that exam everyday.

“Oh it’s great,” said UH Hilo student Rebecca Hogan. “I love the food here.”

“The fish and chips was really good today,” said fellow student Justin Yeh.

“I’m very happy about it and you know, you can taste the difference,” said student Wesley Ulloa.

The students say they don’t mind paying a little extra for locally grown food.
“I think it is a righteous effort,” said Yeh.

“I think supporting the community that’s around us in what we live in is a great thing to do,” agreed Hogan.

Awong says the students understand what the university is trying to do and often times, there is a connection between farmer and student.

“My dad’s, brother’s, sister’s, uncle’s, that’s his farm, so it’s interesting how everything comes back,” said Awong.