Planting the Seeds of Health in our Local Youth
Lauren Ruotolo, Program Manager
In recent years, schools have been embracing the garden movement. If you have ever witnessed students enjoying fresh produce straight from the garden or the excitement students express when they find sprouts pop out of the ground, it is easy to understand why. That type of excitement about growing food is infectious. But the real potential of school gardens to reduce obesity, encourage a healthy lifestyle, reconnect youth with the food system, and to build healthier, more vibrant communities is something we can get excited about - tangible and impactful difference that should be a priority in all schools.
For all of these reasons and more, HIP Agriculture is dedicated to serving the Kohala Elementary School each year with garden based workshops to all classes, and across grade levels. In the span of just 3 weeks, HIP Ag served every elementary student in North Kohala with 14 workshops for K-12 on topics ranging from Hawaiian crops, propagation, soil health, nutrition, and food webs.
The kick-off to our workshop series started with teaching Kindergarteners about pollinators and beekeeping 101. The little learners interacted with beekeeping supplies such as bee boxes, a smoker, a bee suit and even tried some of HIP Ag’s farm honey. While I led the students around the garden in search of food (flowers) and friends (other pollinators) through the laughter and buzzing, it was apparent how much fun they were having in our outdoor classroom. When asked, “What is your favorite garden subject?” one student, unable to hold in her excitement, happily shouted “Butterflies!”
The next series with our 1st grade clan involved food sampling - utilizing all of the senses to explore foods such as lilikoi, banana, coconut, and lemon, as well as herbs like mint and basil. The other group examined the garden searching for and learning about medicinal plants while sipping on turmeric-honey tea. Our crew of 2nd graders enjoyed a feast of fresh sugar cane juice and salad after harvesting salad ingredients and juicing sugar cane.
The 3rd graders played in the compost with shovels and rakes, learning about the breakdown of natural materials with the help from our decomposer friends, microorganisms. The garden crew also had fun looking at microorganisms under a microscope just as scientists would.
Our 4th grade gardeners propagated banana plants and husked coconuts, learning about the importance of Hawaiian starch crops and the history of canoe plants. The majority of the students loved the satisfaction of snacking on coco meat after the process of husking. A few students even proclaimed they wanted to grow coconuts and bananas in their own yards!
Lastly, the eldest group of 5th grade students worked with bamboo to build garden trellises. While intently building these structures, the crew learned about the various uses of bamboo, carbon sequestration, and the environmental footprint of conventional construction.
These gardening workshops provide different forms of engagement for students, including designing, planting, and maintaining gardens; harvesting, preparing, and sharing food; working cooperatively in groups; learning about science and nutrition; and creating art and stories inspired by gardens. It is inspiring to see the change in these students’ perspectives around health, vegetables, and gardening as we continue to work with them. I look forward to our continued collaboration in the outdoor classroom that is the garden.