It’s surprising, but some of our keiki weren’t sure what a fresh vegetable really was until school garden programs started growing. The school cafeterias do their best, but ultimately import all of their USDA regulated foodstuffs, so locally grown fruit and veggies barely make it on the menu. When I learned this, I thought back to my own days at Kam III Elementary in Lahaina, sitting behind a fusty desk and getting scolded by Mrs. Matsui for not working on my phonics. Time outside in a school garden would have brightened our days, provided relief from our sweltering classrooms and taught us healthier ways of eating.
Luckily for students in 2016, the future of school gardens looks bright. Last year, Governor David Ige signed the Farm to School Act. Maui’s own nonprofit Grow Some Good is in its eighth year of nailing down strategies for sustaining school gardens. And today, Maui County’s school garden network has 45 gardens on Maui and one on Lanai.
One of the goals of the Farm to School act is to get more local produce served in school cafeterias. Grow Some Good Co-Founder Nio Kindla said school gardens will be critical to the success of the program.
“School garden programs are an important part of supporting the farm-to-school initiative,” said Kindla. “When students grow, harvest and prepare their own dishes using school garden produce, they are more likely to eat fresh fruits and vegetables in school lunches and bring that enthusiasm home to the dinner table.”
Hawaii is the 20th state to establish its own Farm to School program, and 40 states have enacted legislation supporting Farm to School programs and grants. According to a recent press release from Governor Ige’s office on the SB376/Act 218, the idea is to reconnect our students to a better understanding of the food system. “Across the nation, farm to school programs introduce students to healthier eating habits and help them become familiar with new vegetables and fruits that they and their families will then be more willing to incorporate into their own diets,” stated the news release. “The farm to school coordinator will negotiate the complicated process of procuring local agricultural for our schools.”
Hawaii’s program has five specific goals: improving student health, developing an educated agricultural workforce, see an increase of local food procurement for schools, support garden and farm-based educational programs in our schools and expand the relationships with our public schools and agricultural communities. The law appointed a farm to school coordinator; Maui’s Robyn Pfahl got the job.
Pfahl jumped in immediately. Her strategy is to identify existing programs and work with policy-makers to integrate more local food in schools while creating connections with farming communities. She said Maui is a hot spot of opportunities right now.
“What we choose to invest in will determine if we strengthen our agricultural base or perpetuate unsustainable practices with lost opportunities,” said Pfahl. “Connecting the overwhelming interest in growing and consuming local food in a realistic supply and demand model is a pressing issue for Maui. We have a tremendous resource of agricultural land in Maui with the state’s fourth largest private landowner [A&B] divesting in sugar’s plantation-monoculture/export model of agriculture, moving into diversified agriculture, which opens up a lot of land. At the same time, our knowledgeable/seasoned farmers aging and retiring at an alarming rate, new farmers are eager to to start but need reasonable access to land and experience, and a large ag-workforce of sugar workers are coming back into the open job market.”
Improving student health is paramount to the bill. I asked Pfahl how she plans to measure this. Pfahl says she believes this starts with four specific items.
“This is a loaded question, but one I will be strategically unpacking for our program’s baseline/metrics analysis,” she said. “Farm to School activities can influence many public health outcomes including: 1) Increasing access to healthy and local foods in schools because school meals are a critical point of access to healthy food for most children in the US; 2) Promote health and wellness through skill building related to handling and using local food; 3) Support development of healthy eating habits, such as preferences for and consumption of fruits and vegetables instead of traditional processed convenience food; 4) Bolster efforts to address child and family food insecurity by increasing interest in school meals programs and encouraging families to grow, safely prepare and cook healthy meals.”
Grow Some Good says that 72 percent of the teachers they’ve worked with observed an increased interest from kids in eating fruits and vegetables. Many also took the idea of gardens home with them. Pfahl agrees that organizations like Grow Some Good and Maui School Garden Network are pivotal in the success of the state’s Farm to School program.
“Experiential learning through garden-based curriculums engage students on a level that transcends our nutritional initiatives and local economy-boosting/agricultural protecting local purchasing initiatives,” said Pfahl. “When keiki dig in the dirt, learn about holistic models of composting by play with worms, feeding their seeds, and nurturing their hopes, they get connected directly with the aina, learn social, biological, ecological, and STEM connected learning on a deep level. Then they eat the food they grow and the cycle is completed on a visceral level you can’t get in traditional classroom learning.”
Maui School Garden Network, led by Lehn Huff, is actively pursuing getting fresh fruit and veggies into school cafeterias, but also developing programs for sustainable agriculture education.
“One of our missions is to weave a strand of agriculture and natural resource learning PK through 20 and engaging in dialogue at the state level to develop a package to create the pathway of learning,” said Huff. “Not only are we trying to get the students nutrition but we are also trying to get them the tools and skills to be able to grow their own food. And we are working on increasing the procurement possibilities so that more local food can go into our schools.”
Huff hopes that putting together a food hub for Maui could be successful in helping schools tap into what agriculture is available from farmers. The notion is in the early stages for Maui. Staffing is a huge issue, as is the weather. Huff said she’s looking to programs on islands like Molokai for ideas.
“There is staffing, money, weather, and you also have pests,” said Lehn. “You have all the things that farmers have to deal with. But we also have a purpose. We are all united in our purpose. Everyone wants our kids eating fresh food, fruits and vegetables. And importing them from the mainland doesn’t keep them fresh. That is not our definition of fresh. We have the capability provide 50 to 80 percent of fresh fruits and vegetables into school lunch from Maui.”
Pfahl said there are still a few obstacles to growing our own food for schools that need to be ironed out, in addition to the procurement of veggies and fruits. The schools need new menus that include locally grown food, and the support to provide the technical and fiscal side of all the work that needs to be done to make these changes.
Grow Some Good has estimated it costs about $50 per student to participate in their school garden programs. They currently provide support to more than 3,000 students and 12 schools across Maui. But this year they plan to work more closely with schools to strategize and establish their long-term and sustainable garden plans.
“It’s exciting that we are now our own official nonprofit organization,” said founder Kathy Becklin. “However, that adds some transition challenges. Our biggest challenges are keeping operations growing while we ensure we have funding to continue. In the last year, we haven’t expanded our programs in size but have started changing our support to the schools. We have just started working with our schools on a three-year program to help the schools become more self-sustaining. We hired a development director and are gradually moving away from being a mostly volunteer management team. No matter what the challenges, our team keeps being inspired by stories of students and their families who value their fresh homegrown fruits and vegetables.”
Grow Some Good launched their West Maui gardens in 2015. In late February 2015, 350 Lahaina Intermediate students grabbed shovels and broke ground on their space that’s flourishing as a quarter-acre garden. Faculty member Debra Mau has assisted with ensuring all designated garden class times have been filled with regular weekly class rotations, as well as offering an opportunity for students to volunteer on Saturdays to fulfill community service hours in a Renaissance program at the school.
Princess Nahienaena Elementary School started their school garden in October 2015 and five second grade classes visit the garden on Wednesdays for hands-on lessons. They recently expanded eight garden beds, a vermiculture bin, compost bins, planting fruits and vegetables as well as native Hawaiian and canoe plants. The second grade is also planning a field trip to Simpli Fresh farm to see how food is grown locally on a farm.
“We also want to reach more schools that want to start school gardens and help schools that have established school gardens to do more with them–such as teaching students not only about growing food, but also food preservation, cooking, and growing food at home,” said Grow Some Good co-founder Susan Wyche. “We see opportunities for students to get interested in agriculture and aquaponics, farmerʻs markets, and becoming entrepreneurs with things theyʻve grown. There are so many opportunities that the hardest part of this job is keeping ourselves focused on what is possible now.”
Baldwin High School is Grow Some Good’s first high school program, and it was initiated with an after-school grant. Students in their Workplace Readiness program manage the garden learning center and teach cooking skills. They incorporate freshly grown herbs into a weekly staff box lunch sale that sustains their program.
Then there’s Pu’u Kukui Elementary, which hosts one of Grow Some Good’s newest programs.
“The garden space was included in the original design of the school and they have a devoted, part-time teacher position to manage the program and model classes,” said Kirk Surry, a co-founder of Grow Some Good. “The garden has full participation of 750 K-5 student in 12-week cycles. This is a good example of the changing attitudes in schools about garden programs as experiential learning centers.”
In addition to these programs, Grow Some Good is also fostering school garden programs at Kihei Elementary, Kahului Elementary, Kamali`i Elementary, Kihei Charter Middle School, Lokelani Intermediate, Pomaikai Elementary, Maui Prep and Wailuku Elementary Schools. Surry says the state’s new farm to school bill opens up more opportunity for Grow Some Good.
“The passing of the farm-to-school bill means we have a greater support network at the state level for our programs and building bridges between our work and higher levels of the Department of Education and Department of Agriculture,” said Surry. “It also means we will be able to focus more on establishing consistent Good Agricultural Practices standards and training programs for all school garden coordinators. School gardens also support students’ buy-in to fresh fruits and vegetables in the cafeteria. When more local produce is featured on the menu, we want to make sure students have an appreciation for where their food comes from and have positive associations with produce as delicious treats from the garden. We always say, ‘If they grow it, they’ll eat it,’ and we see proof of this concept every day. Even the most adamant anti-veggie abstainers discover they love what they can grow.”
The school gardens have also grown veggies and fruits for the upcoming gala fundraiser Taste of School Gardens on Saturday. Chefs that volunteer in the garden with students come full circle and make amazing dishes from this bounty. The event will be held at the Hotel Wailea’s sunset lawn. All proceeds from the event will go to programs for school gardens. For more information or tickets, go to Growsomegood.org.
2016 Taste of School Gardens
Auction MC Mike O’Dwyer
Entertainment by Soul Kitchen
Hāna Ranch Provisions, Chef Gary Johnson
- Hāna Ranch Beef Kelaguen Garden Onion, Hawaiian Chile, Fresh Coconut, Calamansi
- Garden Beet Parfait Goat Cheese Creme, Lemongrass, Carrot Agrodolce
Capische?, Chef Brian Etheredge
- Braised Haiku Lamb with Taro Gnocchi and Garden Basil
Cow Pig Bun, Chef Brian Murphy
- House Burgers and Mac & Cheese
DUO, Chef Craig Dryhurst
- Island fish cake slider, Beetroot and Nigella seed bun, Radish sprouts, carrot top and macadamia pesto, pickled cucumber
- Milk Chocolate and Cilantro Lollipop Macaroon
Fabiani’s, Chef Don Marceaux
- Chicken Cacciatore Over Pasta with Garden Veggies and White Wine Sauce
- Assorted Macaroons
The Market, Chef Christopher Kulis
- Fish Tacos, Radish, Slaw, Salsa Verde, Hawaiian Chili Pico
- Mālama Farms Pork Dumpling “Pho” Broth & Garden Veggies
Outrigger Pizza, Chef Kevin Laut
- Tomato Basil, Beets and Goat Cheese, White Cheddar Mushroom, and Lilikoi Pork Pizzas
Spago, Chef Cameron Lewark
- Maui Garden Veggies with EatDear guests
Produce provided by school gardens in South, Central and West Maui and the following local farms and artisans: Local Harvest (Island-wide), Evonuk Farms, Hāna Ranch, Herb Co. (O’ahu), JK Organics (Makawao), Kahanu ‘Aina (Wailuku), Kula Dave’s, Kumu Farms (Wailuku), Kupa’a Farms (Kula), Mālama Farms (Haiku), Maui Breadfruit Company, Maui Nui Farm (Kula), Penafrancia Farms (Kula), Otani Farms (Kula), and Simpli-fresh Farms (Lahaina)
Wine Selections by Chambers & Chambers Wine Merchants, Southern Wine & Spirits, and Young’s Market. Specialty local beer and beer cocktails by Maui Brewing Company
MBC Beers featured include: Doppel Shot Double Bock, Coconut Porter, Bikini Blond… and a special beer cocktail