Roots Cafe, Farmacy, and Mobile Market: A Wellspring of Wellness for Kalihi

The next time you’re craving a locally grown, organic, ‘ono, and affordable lunch head to the Roots Cafe and Farmacy at Kokua Kalihi Valley! Venture towards the back of the Kokua Kalihi Valley Wellness Center and head to the canopy tent. There you will find shelves of mai’a, ‘ulu, ‘uala, cassava, kalo, and other seasonal produce along with a sign boasting the Roots Cafe’s menu for the day. In just one spot you can buy freshly harvested fruits and vegetables and freshly prepared lunches to-go.

Both the Cafe and the Farmacy fall under KKV’s Roots program; a program striving to improve the people of Kalihi Valley’s health through food. And not just any kind of food. It has to be locally grown, organic, ‘ono, and affordable. Such a sentiment is rooted in listening to the community’s needs and wants; a cultural connection to their food. In short, these communities wanted to stray away from a dependency on canned food and bottled water.

KKV’s Farmacy is able to sell its amazing produce because of its Food Hub which started as a farmers market with very few vendors and with farmers buying then reselling the produce. Seeing this, KKV was prompted to create their Mobile Market program. KKV staff decided to push carts of produce and fish around the KKV office bringing the groceries directly to their busy co-workers. Their route has now expanded into the Gulick Senior Center which continues to build relationships between farmers and community members and promote the support of local, organic produce.

KKV’s Roots Cafe started as an idea to provide local produce in a different fashion than it’s Food Hub. The Cafe was originally planned to be a cafeteria hosting vending machines. Thankfully, the efforts of KKV Program Director Ka’iulani Odom and Food Programs Coordinator and Head Chef Jesse Lipman, who wanted to make use of local and cultural ingredients, pushed for the creation of the Roots Cafe instead. 

Now, the community gets to enjoy dishes like seafood risotto, lūʻau with he’e and kalo, roasted eggplant and avocado sandwiches on ‘ulu rosemary flatbread, and ube pancakes with naturally made local Portuguese sausage. As well as, pickled mountain apple with li hingmui, hō’io salad, and papaya calamansi bars. And if you’re thirsty, iced ‘olena tea, mango lassi, or a fresh fruit smoothie. The Cafe menu is small but mighty and depends entirely on what’s in season and what their Food Hub has to offer which allows them to accomplish what many restaurants cannot; a menu that is surprising yet familiar, innovative, entirely delicious, and as close to being independent from imported food as possible. 

As a non-profit organization, the produce and menu items are sold with very little markup. The plate lunches cost eight to nine dollars! In their Farmacy, you can also find local, cultural starches such as breadfruit, taro, and sweet potato that are available fresh or pre-cooked and then frozen for added convenience. 

The Food Hub also uses their Mobile Market to distribute their produce at pop-up markets at various locations. With the help of their KKV Elder Program staff the Cafe prepares nutritious meals that are delivered to Kalihi kupuna every Thursday. Apart from KKV’s Cafe and Food Hub, KKV also attend to a variety of services and programs. This includes their vision center, behavioral health, elderly center, and a hundred-acre nature preserve acting as a community garden, named Hoʻoulu ʻĀina. This garden allows community members to not only take part in harvesting but also invites members to partake in planting and cultivating as well.

Looking out on a row of comfrey in the KKV Garden.

In KKV’s drive to provide for their community via food and health, they remain undeterred and even more resourceful in the face of the pandemic. For the first time, KKV was able to give food away in the form of CS‘Ai boxes (community strengthened ‘ai); boxes that come with cultural starches, fruits, vegetables, protein, and value-added items. Such a wide and healthy variety of food and food products is because of KKV’s dedication to supporting small and local farmers! With the help of the Cares Act funding, KKV was able to give away 60 boxes per week to those in need with a list of items included within each box as well as recipes to utilize the ingredients. The program has scaled back a bit to provide 30 boxes every other week but the need still remains.

“. . . We are filled with gratitude and abundance that we’re able to feed them even if we can’t see them.” – Christen Noelani Oliviera, Cultural Food Hub, and Graphics Specialist.

The Details:

Roots Cafe and Market
Kokua Kalihi Valley Wellness Center
2229 North School Street, Honolulu, HI 96819
Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11:30 AM – 1:30 PM

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