What happens when little hands grow vegetables? They eat more vegetables. If we want our kids to eat healthier, we have to start in the garden. Most of our schools are built without gardens, or the means to make them, and that’s where the local nonprofit group Grow Some Good has found its calling.
“Grow Some Good is a nonprofit community program dedicated to creating hands-on, outdoor learning experiences that cultivate curiosity about natural life cycles, connect students to their food sources, and inspire better nutrition choices,” says Kirk Surry, one of the organization’s founding members. “In addition to helping establish food gardens and living science labs in local schools, we provide resources and curriculum support through community partnerships in agriculture, science, food education and nutrition.”
The organization started with a small garden at Kihei elementary–one enthusiastic teacher and three raised beds in 2008. Now it’s a 10,000 square-foot school garden with 29 teachers and more than 950 students participating in the outdoor learning programs.
“The earlier we start, the better,” says Surry. “We have learned that our keiki are the ones who inspire changes in the home and inspire teachers, administration and others to devote their resources to programs at have the potential to change a sorely deficient industrial food system. A profound movement is developing to return to a community-based agricultural system where the majority of food you eat is within walking distance from your home and neighbors share harvests with neighbors. Most importantly, this community-based food system makes fresh organically grown fruits and vegetables available to everyone–regardless of their economic status. All it takes is a willingness to step into a garden, plant a seed and nurture it.”
Grow Some Good has also nurtured relationships in the community with local chefs like Brian Etheredge and Christopher Kulis with Capische; private Maui Chef Dan Fiske, Cameron Lewark with Spago, Eric Mitchell with The Outrigger Pizza Company and others that come to campus to lend a hand in the gardens and play a big part in the harvest festivals.
“We’ve found that when students participate in growing, harvesting and preparing food with garden produce, they are much more likely to taste it and discover they actually like eating fresh fruits and vegetables,” says Surry. “During the Harvest Festival, students help to prepare the recipes with chefs as mentors. Each student has place mats and kid-friendly kitchen prep tools–such as vegetable peelers, citrus juicers and plastic serrated knives–to participate in making the recipes. Popular recipes have included garden veggie pizzas, Asian stir fry, sweet potato gnocchi and butternut squash soup–especially popular are ‘green pizzas’ with basil pesto, carrots and other garden veggies as toppings.”
Their five core members include co-founders Kathy Becklin, Nio Kindla and Surry as well as Kerry Wilkins and Terry Huth. The group is busy raising funds through their annual tasting event “Taste of School Gardens” to be held on Mar. 8 at Hotel Wailea.
They’re also actively seeking new partnerships, interns, volunteers and looking to increase positions, too. Organizations like Community Work Day have gotten involved in the past, assisting with the initial setup at Lokelani Intermediate, but now that Federal grant funds have dried up, the organization will seek other grants and affiliations.
“Our goals for the coming year include increasing staff to help install and manage current and additional school garden programs, including school garden coordinators, a farm manager overseeing multiple schools and mentor Good Agricultural Practices, volunteer coordinators, etc.,” says Surry. “We are collaborating with Maui School Garden Network, Sustainable Living Institute of Maui and UH CTAHR to pool resources and provide support and education to schools in the community.”
Their annual gala fundraiser is a huge part of maintaining their self-sustaining goals. This year the event has expanded, offering more elegant tastings stations then ever, and includes Brown Chicken Brown Cow as musical entertainment and Dean Wong in the role of Master of Ceremonies. The hoedown starts at 5pm with advance tickets $89 going up to $99 at the door day of the event. The dishes at the event (see list) will feature school garden grown ingredients, as well as locally brewed beer and fine wine.
As it is now, school gardens cannot sell their produce to the cafeterias, and providing their own revenue streams from gardens is not enough. The idea that the school has to grow their own crops for lunch is formidable, and for now they’re happy growing food for educational purposes. Grow Some Good gets temporary permits from Department of Health to do their pop-up cafes in the gardens and classrooms.
“Regarding school garden produce for a public school’s official lunch program, we aren’t there yet,” says Surry. “Currently, the [Department of Education] DOE requires all food vendors to be USDA certified. In many other regions across the country, schools have been able to work through these issues with the DOE. For example, local non-profit organizations–such as SlowFood in Denver–have negotiated with DOE on a certain set of Good Agricultural Practices that all school gardens participating in lunch programs must adhere to. Slow Food Denver has also taken on the role of certifying school gardens and training coordinators according to this criteria. It’s really about getting the right people to the table at all levels to collaborate on a system that can work at a local level and that’s affordable for school gardens.”
Some other school success stories that inspire Grow Some Good include Lahainaluna’s school garden, which sells herbs to Chef Paris Nabavi and grows native plants and ornamentals for sale to landscapers. Haiku Elementary and Carden Academy grow seeds and starts for sale at school ho’olauleas and other community events.
For Grow Some Good, the challenge is meeting demand for setting up and maintaining school gardens with matching resources available. They can affiliate with local businesses (which “adopt” the gardens) and setting up PTA alignments and administration support is critical. Some schools have designated part-time teacher positions as school garden educators, while others partially fund these positions through PTA fundraisers.
“We measure success by the smiles and excitement from students when they get to visit the garden and explore, nurture, harvest and prepare healthy recipes with garden-grown ingredients,” says Surry. “The feeling that every moment we create in the garden plants a seed for our future on these islands and beyond. The gratification in knowing that these life changing lessons are having a direct impact on our next generation of farmers, teachers, chefs and scientists–who will be taking care of us and the ‘aina someday. I’m thankful that they are first learning to take care of themselves. I know we are making a difference when teachers who have students that struggle to comprehend concepts in a text book see the light bulbs go on when these students have a hands-on experience with nature.”
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Grow Some Good currently provides school garden support services to nearly 2,500 students and their families…
Kihei Elementary School: More than 950 students participating in curriculum-focused classes in two-week rotations in the garden (Pre-K through fifth grades). Theme gardens include Pizza Garden, Gardens of the World, Hawaiian plants and Native American Three Sisters. There are Maui Family YMCA A+ after school programs and Camp Nalu during breaks. The YMCA A+ program also connects parents and home gardens during a monthly plant adoption program called Plant It Maui.
Lokelani Intermediate School: Approximately 600 students participate in this program as part of the curriculum in science, history, health, social studies, Hawaiian studies, etc. (sixth through eighth grades). They recently completed a major terrace project featuring native plants and food in the center of campus. They established the HOKU (Helping Our Keiki Understand) program, designed to give students hands-on learning experiences and instill a sense of place and their responsibility for ‘aina and community. Friends of Rachel Club (a local version of the National Rachel’s Challenge anti-bullying, pro-kindness campaign) plants flowers in a Peace Garden to commemorate acts of kindness on campus. Cathy Fitzpatrick, a seventh grade teacher, does healthy recipe demonstrations through her container garden.
Kamali’i Elementary School: All classes K through fifth grade visit the garden in three-week rotations to support curriculum (math, science, Hawaiian studies, social studies) in this outdoor classroom with more than 600 students working the garden. The outdoor space has nearly doubled with new gardens and irrigation systems. The PTA has also partnered with Grow Some Good and found matching local businesses to fund a part-time school garden coordinator.
Kihei Charter Middle School: Headed up by teacher Maria Robinson, the program currently serves about 200 students. Grow Some Good leads a series of garden classes, provides tools, plants, seeds, technical expertise, garden planning and design, organic pest control support and composting.
Wailuku Elementary School: Partnering with 21st Century Learning Centers Baldwin Complex grant and established after school and summer program that has served approximately 150 K through fifth grade students since 2013. Theme gardens include a Pizza Garden (tomatoes, basil, oregano, zucchini and eggplant), a Pollinator Garden, Hawaiian plants and Native American Three Sisters (squash, corn and beans). This program will need to be independent by next year as the 21st Century grant is coming to an end. They’re working with Lehn Huff at Maui School Garden Network to sustain the program.
Kahului Elementary School: This project, involving 150 first grade students, is Grow Some Good’s newest project. It provides support with garden classes, tools, plants, seeds, technical expertise, garden planning and design, organic pest control support and composting. Theme gardens include a Pizza Garden, Salad Bowl Garden, a Pollinator Garden, Gardens of the World–Polynesia featuring Hawaiian plants. The project supported with an initial startup grant with Maui School Garden Network and Hui Malama Learning Center.
Baldwin High School: Grow Some Good’s first high school program is in partnership with the 21st Century Learning Centers grant and Maui School Garden Network. This garden works with the Workplace Readiness department and several student leadership groups to design and install a garden learning center for students, parents and other community members. It’s designed to support STEM curriculum and provide learning modules that inspire home gardens and a small farming enterprises.
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Taste of School Gardens
Mar. 8, 5-8:30pm
Spago Chef Cameron Lewark
• Maui Chopped 20 Vegetable Salad
• Macadamia-Herb Dressing with Crisp Kula Greens and Feta Cheese
Capische? and Il Teatro Chef Brian Etheredge
• Pumpkin Gnocchi with Garden Vegetables, Sage, Lavender and Brown Butter
• Kampachi Crudo, School Garden Herb Salad, Fried Capers, Uni Vinaigrette
The Market by Capische Chef Christopher Kulis
• Kale Salad, Crispy Bread Fruit, Surfing Goat Cheese, Citrus Vinaigrette
Four Seasons Resort Maui – Ferraro’s Bar e Ristorante Chef Roger Stettler
• Rotisserie Roasted Island Catch, Smoked Yellow Tomato Coulis
• School Garden Herbs & Vegetables Salad, Citrus & Maui Olive Oil
• Tortellini in Brodo
PrivateMauiChef.com Chef Daniel Fiske
• Opakapaka Fish Bone Soup, with Tuna Belly, School Garden Super Greens, Tomato, Cilantro, Soba Noodles and Crispy Wonton
• Local Tomato and Galangal Vegan Broth, with Hamakua Ali’i Mushrooms, School Garden Super Greens, Tomato, Cilantro, Soba Noodles and Crispy Wonton
The Outrigger Pizza Company Chef Eric Mitchell
• Mediterranean Pizza made with Eggplant, Red Onion, Kalamata Olives, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Feta and Pesto. Served with or without chicken
• Marinara Pizza made with Tomato, Olive Oil, Mozzarella and Basil
• School Garden Herb “Green Pizza” made with a variety of School Garden Herbs and Olive Oil.
Monkeypod Kitchen by Merriman Chef Corey Waite
• Tabbouleh Salad with Tomatoes, Cucumber, Farro, Toasted Ricotta Salata, Italian Parsley and Meyers Lemon
Café Carmen Chef Brian Murphy
• Falafel Lettuce Cup’s
• Tomato, Cucumbers, Tzatziki Sauce
Fabiani’s Pizza & Bakery Chef Nicholas Porreca
• Green Papaya Steak Salad
• Grill Skirt Steak, Cherry Tomatoes, Mint, Macadamia
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[Here’s a link to an article by Ilima Loomis that ran a few years ago in The Maui News on the issue of school gardens providing food for the cafeteria lunch programs.]