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two women standing by aquaponics set-up outdoors
Ilima Ho-Lastimosa feeds fish in an aquaponics set-up, while Jane Chung-Do looks on.

Three researchers at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa have won a national fellowship and will receive $350,000 funding over three years to assist Waimānalo families with backyard aquaponics to sustainably produce healthy food.

The project will connect the modern technology of aquaponics with Native Hawaiian food practices. Aquaponics taps into the power of the natural symbiotic relationship between fish and plants, and combines the raising of plants in water with raising fish in tanks to create a sustainable, contained food production system.

two women and one man standing arm in arm in garden
From left, Ilima Ho-Lastimosa, Ted Radovich and Jane Chung-Do

The fellowship was awarded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works to promote health equity in the U.S.

The research team is comprised of Jane Chung-Do, an associate professor with the UH Mānoa Office of Public Health Studies in the Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work; Ilima Ho-Lastimosa, community coordinator at the Waimānalo Learning Center and an education specialist in the Department of Tropical Plant and Soil Science (TPSS) in the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources; and Ted Radovich, a TPSS associate specialist.

The study embraces the perspective that health is holistic and interconnected with our culture, families, communities and the ʻāina
—Jane Chung-Do

They will expand their work with families in Waimānalo to develop an aquaponics program to grow fresh fruits and vegetables and raise fish that families can use to prepare meals and Hawaiian medicines. This builds on the decade-long work that Ho-Lastimosa has been promoting in her community of Waimānalo.

The researchers will recruit Native Hawaiian families in Waimānalo to participate in aquaponics lessons and will guide the families in building and maintaining backyard systems. The researchers will follow up to see whether the systems are successful in helping the participants increase their intake of and access to fresh fruits, vegetables and fish, as well as promote healthy eating habits. In addition, impacts on participants’ mental wellness, cultural identity, family strength and community connectedness will be measured.

“Our goal is to restore Native Hawaiian practices related to food and community,” said Chung-Do. “The study embraces the perspective that health is holistic and interconnected with our culture, families, communities and the ʻāina.”

As a public health scientist, Chung-Do has worked to enhance the wellness of children and families in Hawaiʻi, especially in rural and minority communities.

Radovich was born and raised in Waimānalo and holds a PhD in horticulture. His expertise is in sustainable and organic farming systems.

Ho-Lastimosa grew up on the Waimānalo Homestead and holds masters degrees in social work and acupuncture; she is also a master gardener. The community leader and cultural practitioner in Waimānalo founded God’s Country Waimānalo, a group that initiated a food sovereignty and sustainability movement in the community.

—By Theresa Kreif

See a related story on UH News.

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